Anatomy of a Road Safety AssessmentAdam Howell, Communications Specialist
What is road safety and how do we improve it? The problem may seem simple, but often times different perspectives, opinions, and concerns reveal the answer to be much more complex then we might have originally thought. This is the challenge that the residents of a neighborhood in the Town of Clarence New York faced when dealing with concerns about speeding and reckless driving in their community.
Several months of discussions and numerous conversations between the community members, local highway officials, and law enforcement failed to put people on the same page in terms of finding a solution that satisfied all parties. Highway Superintendent Jamie Dussing eventually decided to contact the Cornell Local Roads Program for support and guidance in conducting an informal road safety assessment as an effort to bring people together and discuss potential solutions.
The residents living in the Clarence neighborhood surrounding the roads of Old Post East and West near Transit Road had been worried for some time that drivers were speeding, over-accelerating, and otherwise recklessly driving through their community. Their concerns about the safety of the families living in the area spurred residents to action. Conversations involving local law enforcement, the town highway department, school district officials, and neighborhood residents were helpful but ultimately more assistance was needed to bring all the community partners together for a single day of discussion on ideas and solutions.
Involvement from all affected parties in an organized setting proved vital to getting everyone on the same page. The importance of sharing information, learning about the different options available to make the area safer, and making sure all residents’ concerns were heard would become critical for taking positive steps forward.
On September 19th, 2017, Clarence Highway Superintendent Jamie Dussing brought together members of the community, local law enforcement, and elected officials, to meet with David Orr, P.E. of the Cornell Local Roads Program to conduct the informal road safety assessment. The road safety assessment was comprised of two key components; an on-site visit to the area of concern for direct observation, and a community meeting involving all stakeholders where a dialogue could take place.
The site visit involved an active investigation of the area in question. Participants walked along Old Post West making observations and discussing particular problem sites. Residents had the opportunity to point out their concerns and experiences from their unique vantage point as citizens who live in the area.
Following the site visit, a sit down meeting took place between the parties involved. During the meeting, important facts and statistics were shared from local law enforcement and the highway department. David Orr led the discussion which included the pros and cons of different engineering solutions and the overall aspects of addressing safety.
Most importantly, the community meeting involved more than just discussions on technical solutions or an increased law enforcement presence; the conversation allowed groups to share thoughts, step away from their preconceived notions, and learn from one another. In the end, everyone found that better cooperation could occur by gaining a new understanding of each other’s views, limitations, and roles in addressing the problem.
In the case of the Clarence road safety assessment, the participants learned that sometimes raw data can paint a different picture.
Traffic compliance and risk data was collected on September 18th, 2017 by a stealth radar sign for a 24 hour period looking east bound on Old Post West which has a posted speed limit of 25 mph. The data was broken down between drivers who are compliant, drivers who are considered low risk (driving less than 10 mph over the posted limit), drivers who are medium risk (driving between 10 and 20 mph over the posted limit), and finally those who are designated high risk (driving 20+ mph over the posted limit). The “stealth” aspect of the monitoring came from the fact that the device did not have a lit up display or any other obvious signs of active traffic monitoring which could otherwise affect driver behavior and skew the data. In the end, the data showed that the vast majority of vehicles monitored were either compliant or low risk.
Representatives from local law enforcement were also personally available to take part in the on site visit and met with residents afterwards to hear their concerns. One interesting aspect of what the police discussed was the difference between how a person viewing oncoming traffic from a stationary position perceives speed as opposed to how fast a vehicle is actually traveling.
Superintendent Dussing offered his own perspective on the matter including the competing desires between some residents who want physical deterrents installed and those who would find such devices a nuisance or even safety hazards.
During the discussion the pros and cons of traffic calming were discussed including the use of physical measures. The traffic calming ideas discussed included speed humps, additional signage, chicanes, bulb outs, narrowing up the road, and work at the intersections.
Finally some of the most important information came from the residents of the neighborhood speaking up about their concerns. A commitment to addressing issues surrounding safety and an understanding that the local community had been heard were some real benefits for all those involved. All parties will continue to stay engaged and move forward because at the end of the day, the goal of improving safety is the same for everyone.
How You Can Perform Your Own Road Safety Assessment
An informal road safety assessment is a great way to bring together community partners in an effort to encourage a positive dialogue about safety, learn from different perspectives, and to formulate a plan to address a particular safety issue. Decide up front if you want a formal report or just informal notes of the discussion. While the formal RSA is a good idea, if it is a barrier to working out solutions, go with the more informal approach. Be sure to include multiple perspectives and look at all modes (cars, trucks, bikes, bus, pedestrians, and bicyclists) of traffic.
Step 1. Organize the stakeholders
The process works best when concerned parties and community stakeholders are involved. Find an individual willing to lead and then start organizing the people, dates, schedule, and whatever information may be relevant to the problem. Contact local officials such as highway, police, fire, postal, and school district representatives. Elected officials and private service contractors who frequent the area such as waste haulers can also be included. At the end of the day the group size should be limited to a maximum of 9 or 10 participants. Too many more and the discussion can be hard to complete during the road portion.
Step 2. Site Visit
Conduct a thorough, well organized site visit that allows all participants to get a first-hand look at the problem. Encourage residents to point out particular problem areas and have all people in attendance take notes. Law enforcement and other local government officials may be able to provide additional information in the form of traffic counts, speed studies, law infractions, crash data and other relevant information.
Step 3. Meet and begin the conversation
Find a meeting place where all parties can gather in an organized setting, away from the site, to discuss the problems found. Encourage a positive dialogue and organize the concerns and proposed solutions presented. Make sure there is someone to take notes to provide to the group after the fact. Local officials can provide different options for enforcement or structural changes to the area, while residents can share information about particular problems that officials may not know about.
Step 4. Create a plan and implement solutions
Make a commitment to try ideas. Sometimes the way forward can be in the form of education for local residents while other times more active measures such as structural modifications or increased enforcement may need to be implemented.
Step 5 follow up and don’t be afraid of change
Remember, nothing is set in stone! Prefect remedies to complex problems are rarely found on the first try. Sometimes a solution must be tried more than once while other times a new course must be plotted. Keep in touch with all involved parties and keep pressing forward. Clarence is developing additional options now, but it takes time (and money) so be patient.
* Note that the road safety assessment conducted in Clarence was not a full Road Safety Audit, but a lot more than the traditional safety review. The major differences were that a formal RSA report was not generated and the team included the residents and the highway department. While the need to have a formal report was explained, the community wanted to start with this hybrid approach to see if a consensus can be reached without a need for the formal report.
For Information on a Formal Road Safety Audit see: