by Peter Lemack, Brian Coolidge, and Priya Sankalia with support from Stacey Schwartz
Synopsis: Road safety is a growing issue of concern throughout the US. Municipalities need to keep their citizens safe and their streets usable by drivers, bikers, and pedestrians alike. But how can cities gather reliable information about road safety and how can they apply it?
AppGeo is using our expertise in GIS to analyze and improve how we create our roads. This webinar (recorded on April 3rd, 2019) brings together Peter Lemack, GIS Consultant at AppGeo, Priya Sankalia, Project Manager at AppGeo, and David Breeding, Director of Analytics at AppGeo, to discuss the benefits and techniques of achieving road safety through data.
Lemack: “In 2017 over 37,00 people were killed in traffic crashes… I think we can all agree these numbers are too high. To try to reduce these fatalities, the federal highway and US DOT are engaged in a ‘Road to Zero’ campaign, where they are trying to limit fatalities to zero by the year 2050… But how do we accomplish the goal of zero deaths by 2050? At a state and local level, capital improvement projects that focus on better street lighting, signage, and striping. Enhanced pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure such as sidewalks and bike lanes. Then as an organization aligning funding with safety needs.”
Crashes on roadways are responsible for thousands of deaths each year in the US. Sadly many of these deaths are preventable. Too often accidents are the result of unsafe or insufficient infrastructure. By investing into our road infrastructure we can save thousands of lives each year. But getting public spending on safety is only half the battle. Governments must also determine what infrastructure they need and where to put it. That’s where safety data analysis comes in.
Who’s Data is this?
Lemack: “This safety analysis, this data collection is a national effort. Feds, the state, and you as a municipality are all engaged together. The national effort is a collection of roadway inventory of all public roads. The states and federal highway have been working on two programs over the past few years. The first being performance monitoring, where GIS data for all local roadways are collected and roadway characteristics are extracted along those roads. The second is the model inventory of roadway elements, this is information that pertains to all roads but it has much more of a focus on safety.”
Federal and state agencies have worked together to create a comprehensive database of roadway data that covers the entire US. With data from thousands of public roads all over the country, municipalities can finally begin to answer questions about what works and what doesn’t for road safety. This also allows municipalities to apply for state and federal funding to improve specific roadways and create safety measures.
How Does Data Make Our Roads Safer?
Breeding: “There is rich data out there in the world, which makes it approachable. Oftentimes one of the biggest challenges is often getting our hands on the data to get started. But we need to figure out how to make sense of what’s going on… The most basic place to get started is to get that crash data on a map. We pulled down the data and we took one of the most basic variables, injury type, was there an injury or not… And we looked to see if we could see any patterns just visually, before doing any other additional analysis… Putting points on a map is a really good start, but how do you make further sense of this?”
With so much roadway data out there it can be overwhelming, but by visually representing variables such as crashes or injuries municipalities can easily get a sense of where there is room for roadway safety improvement. Further data analysis can tease out even more nuanced interactions and reveal the need for safety measures where it might not be obvious. Accurately identifying the source of danger in a roadway is essential for fixing it. Data on weather, traffic volumes, street visibility, nearby shops, or details of the vehicles themselves can all reveal a lot about what specific factors make a roadway safe or unsafe.
Using roadway data to identify and improve roadway safety has already seen success in states like Massachusetts and Connecticut. Redesigning intersections to be safer, adding additional signage, and creating more options for non-car commuters are all examples of data-driven roadway safety changes. It’s important for municipalities to remember that they work alongside state and federal agencies. Sharing data with your state can help ensure accurate data for your area, help secure funding for roadway safety projects, and ultimately make your city safer.