DFW Regional Transportation Council Aims for Zero

Dallas – Forth Worth, along with every other Texas MPO, adopted safety targets set by TXDOT that continue to project increasing deaths year-over-year. However, the Regional Transportation Council (RTC), the decision making body for the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), demonstrated initial steps towards meaningful advances in transportation safety.

The council added an aspirational regional goal to its resolution, stating that “even one death on the transportation system is unacceptable.

While this declaration is not reflected in the performance measures – there is no formal timeline for reducing traffic fatalities – the leadership displayed by the RTC positions the MPO to adopt more ambitious safety targets.  Doing so will require the identification and establishment of appropriate data sources that will enable precise tracking of individual components of safety goals. CAMPO, the Austin region MPO, recently took these steps through an agreement with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

After adopting the safety targets, RTC Chair Rob Franke, P.E. and Cedar Hill Mayor, remarked that, “I think it was November of 2000, the last time we had a day in Texas where someone wasn’t killed on the highways.

November 7, 2000, was the last day in Texas with zero traffic deaths.

[Dallas Skyline Credit: Dave Hensley, Creative Commons License, via Flickr]

San Antonio region envisions zero traffic deaths

Of the 10 largest Texas MPOs Farm&City investigated, the Alamo Area MPO (AAMPO), which covers the San Antonio region, seems to be most seriously pursuing Vision Zero – a deliberate approach to end traffic deaths.

Along with every other Texas MPO, AAMPO adopted the TxDOT safety targets that assume a continuous increase in the total number of fatalities on Texas roads. But the devil is in the details.

The City of San Antonio has a Vision Zero Initiative with a holistic, multimodal approach to eliminating traffic deaths. The staff presentation (beginning on page 45) to AAMPO is remarkably forward-thinking in outlining such a path.
AAMPO’s Technical Advisory Committee and Bicycle Mobility Advisory Committee recommended adoption of the state guidelines, but the Pedestrian Mobility Advisory Committee recommended a target of zero traffic fatalities by 2040, 470 fewer overall deaths than the other plan.

The Alamo Area MPO spent 51 minutes at their January meeting presenting and discussing transportation safety before adopting safety targets. Other major Texas MPOs spent about 5 minutes on these goals.

A culture of safety
This ambitious proposal – zero deaths – is a reflection of the local safety culture. Most Texas MPOs held a short staff presentation on the TXDOT safety targets, followed by no discussion, and unanimous adoption of the TXDOT targets, although Austin’s CAMPO had a very meaningful, yet shorter discussion. The AAMPO Transportation Policy Board, however, spent over two hours between their December and January meetings.

San Antonio Councilmember Shirley Gonzales led a productive discussion on the need for safety to be the top consideration in all transportation policy decisions. The body also reflected on the fundamental multimodal approach to transportation that exists in safer cities abroad.

In discussion before voting to adopt the weaker TXDOT measures, AAMPO Transportation Policy Board members expressed their desires to actually achieve a meaningful reduction in road fatalities while balancing concerns that such ambitious targets would limit further funding.

Regional transportation planner Allison Blazosky lamented the “apprehension” that is felt state-wide. Fear of future funding restrictions is a ubiquitous deterrent perceived by various elected officials on Texas MPO decision making bodies – even where there is general agreement on a desire to pursue safety more strongly, such as adopting a Regional Vision Zero Action Plan. Blazosky reports on her analysis of current federal transportation policy that “there is no evidence that this is a concern under the present method of federal funding administration through state agencies.”

Perhaps Texas transportation officials could reconsider their weighting of the perceived risks of potentially not meeting ambitious safety targets versus the ongoing daily carnage of traffic deaths on our streets.

[Riverwalk image credit: Pedro Szekely, Creative Commons License, via Flickr]

CAMPO makes meaningful strides toward a Regional Vision Zero Action Plan

At their last monthly meeting on February 12th, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) Transportation Policy Board (TPB) agenda included adoption of Safety Performance Measure Targets. Farm&City has been working for the last six months with a coalition of nonprofits and citizen activists across the Austin region to provide analysis and best practices to the members of the TPB on the potential benefits of a Regional Vision Zero Action Plan, including a letter-writing campaign just before last month’s TPB meeting.

CAMPO, like all Texas MPOs, had the option to support TXDOT’s statewide safety targets or to pursue their own goal and metrics. Either way, they were federally mandated to adopt a safety performance target by February 27. The Texas Strategic Highway Safety Plan (pdf) calls for a 2% reduction in projected fatalities, which actually translates into an increase in statewide traffic fatalities from 3,773 in 2016 to 4,241 lives lost in traffic in 2022.

Members of the public (including Farm&City staff), spoke during the public comment period to advocate for more ambitious targets in line with a Regional Vision Zero Action Plan. TXDOT itself is nominally committed to the Vision Zero goal of eliminating all traffic deaths, though they have not set any timelines or official milestones. The TXDOT safety targets continue to project increased year over year traffic fatalities.

The transportation policy board expressed interest in pursuing a Regional Vision Zero Action Plan during discussion. There were several inquiries as to how the 2% figure could be a reduction if it projected an increase in fatalities.

The board ultimately approved the state safety targets after Chair Will Conley emphasized that doing so would not prevent the adoption of more aggressive safety targets. The next item on the agenda began exactly that process.

According to Transportation for America, the greatest factor preventing MPOs nationwide from pursuing safety is the lack of robust and targeted data sources. However, TXDOT has been doing a relatively good job in recent years of making data available to citizens, local jurisdictions, and MPO staff through the CRIS system.

Following the adoption of TXDOT safety targets, Item 9 from the agenda included approval for CAMPO staff to sign and fund a quite remarkable agreement with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI) that includes addressing this gap in data and analysis. This item was approved. The four elements of the agreement with TTI include development of: a Regional Crash Database, a Regional State of Safety Report, Development of Safety Performance Measures, and a Regional Traffic Safety Plan. CAMPO Executive Director Ashby Johnson also announced the formation of a Regional Safety Council.

We applaud these courageous and responsible steps. Yet there seems more to be done at the TPB level to get to a Regional Vision Zero Action Plan. Austin Council Member Ann Kitchen asked CAMPO staff during the TPB meeting to report back soon to the TPB with a better understanding of what doing a real Regional Vision Zero Action Plan would entail, to which Johnson simply replied “yes, ma’am.”

[Crash image credit: Ruin Rader, Creative Commons License, via Flickr]

Mini Report: The Costs of Distracted Driving in Texas

This summer, the Texas legislature conducted a rapid fire special session. With twenty topics on the call, only about half ended up making it to Governor Abbott’s desk and many were left lingering in committee.Farm&City stood with police departments, family members of victims of traffic violence, and  other safety and health advocates to oppose an attempt to go backwards on Texas distracted driving laws, HB 171.

And we won. The bill was left pending in the House Transportation Committee because it did not have enough votes to pass out of committee, following a passionate hearing (video).

We prepared a mini report for the hearing to make sure that lawmakers understood the extent of the problem of distracted driving in Texas and the costs to Texas families. The estimated impact of distracted driving in Texas is between 2 and 3 billion dollars a year, with at least 455 deaths across the state attributable to distracted driving. As explained in the report, we believe the actual number of deaths caused by distracted driving in Texas is much higher.

The Costs of Distracted Driving in Texas – House Version (pdf)

In 2019, the Texas legislature needs to take up smart, comprehensive statewide reform to end the scourge of distracted driving deaths in Texas. We look forward to assisting in finding the optimal way to do it.

[Crash image credit: Ruin Rader, Creative Commons License, via Flickr]

How much do traffic crashes cost the people of Texas? (A: $162 Billion)

Traffic congestion costs the people of Texas over $14 billion a year in terms of lost time on the freeways, according to our tabulation of the Texas Transportation Institute’s 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard. Most Texas elected officials have supported dramatic moves to fund road projects attempting to address this issue. The people of Texas voted to constitutionally require road spending in 2015, and the Texas officials have focused on the “Texas Clear Lanes” project to try to reduce the costs of congestion.

But speeding up traffic is not the only overarching strategy concern that Texas could be focusing this level of attention on, and it is possible that a larger cost is imposed on the people of Texas every year that has nothing close to the level of attention.

Every day, ten people die on the roads of Texas, fifty people suffer incapacitating injuries – loss of limb, brain damage, or other life-changing trauma, and 4,000 other people are involved in traffic crashes not resulting in a death or serious injury.

What are the costs of all these traffic crashes?

In 2016, 3,773 people died in the Texas transportation system, 17,582 suffered incapacitating injuries, 81,704 suffered non-incapacitating injuries, 165,790 people were listed in crash reports as “possible injuries,” and 1,212,833 were involved in crashes without observed injuries, according to TXDOT statistics.

The National Safety Council provides guidance on estimating the economic and comprehensive costs of traffic crashes. TXDOT uses this method to publish its own estimate of the annual economic costs of crashes, concluding that the people of Texas incurred a cost of $38.6 Billion in actual 2016 costs from traffic crashes. So we tabulated the total economic and comprehensive costs of Texas traffic crashes in 2016 using the several methods explained in the NSC memo.

Yet to compare to the TTI estimates of congestion costs, we should use the NCS comprehensive costs methodology, which includes lost quality of life, both for people with shortened lives as well as those living with injuries. Using this estimate, the people of Texas suffered an estimated comprehensive cost of traffic crashes of $162 billion from the crashes that occurred in 2016.

[Featured image credit: Ruin Rader, Creative Commons License, via Flickr]