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Integrating Safety in the Rural Transportation Planning Process

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4.0 Linking RPO Planning Documents

RPOs looking to institutionalize safety into the planning process should begin by seeking opportunities to link other plans with an RPO's existing planning work, such as utilizing appropriate concepts and strategies from the state's strategic highway safety plans to feed the rural regional long-range planning process. In rural areas that currently do not complete a regional long-range plan, safety strategies can be addressed and become institutionalized policies through integration into other plans, such as local comprehensive plans and other modal plans.

4.1 Strategic Highway Safety Plans

A strategic highway safety plan is a statewide-coordinated safety plan that provides a comprehensive framework for reducing highway fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads. States should update SHSPs at least every five years, and they must include several characteristics:

Based on data, each state's SHSP establishes statewide goals, objectives, emphasis areas and strategies within the document. Those emphasis areas and strategies guide the initiatives that state, regional, and local safety stakeholders take to improve safety. The emphasis areas also determine the ranges of activities that a state can spend its Federal Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) dollars on.

The overall goals and emphasis areas of an SHSP can be informative for shaping an RPO's conversation about safety within the region and eventually safety goals and objectives in the LRTP. Several questions an RPO might ask itself about the SHSP include:

Implementing State Safety Efforts within a Rural Region

The Meramec Regional Planning Commission in Missouri staffs a roadway safety coalition that localizes larger-scale efforts by promoting safety messaging, encouraging the use of seat belts and booster seats, discouraging drinking and driving, and discouraging distracted driving.

Law enforcement, fire departments, EMS personnel, educators, healthcare professionals, and the public are invited to participate in the coalition and learn more about its efforts to reduce fatalities and accidents.

The coalition's activities include working with area businesses to stencil safety messaging in business parking lots, encouraging teens to drive safely, and increasing child restraint inspection stations within the region. These efforts are conducted in support of achieving a statewide target of reducing annual fatalities to 700 by 2016.

These questions provide a starting point for adopting the SHSP in the RPO regional planning process. The SHSP may provide useful information and a framework for the LRTP, but even regions without a long-range plan can consider how its statewide strategies fit in with a region's vision for safety, how to better engage safety stakeholders in the transportation needs identification process, and how to communicate safety information to decision-makers and stakeholders, who also are transportation users.

4.2 Local Comprehensive Plans

Local comprehensive plans are generally visionary, with defined goals and objectives developed at the community level rather than regional transportation planning level. The comprehensive plan sets local policy for transportation, land use, utilities, recreation, housing, and other issues by connecting physical design and development of a place with its social and economic goals. Most importantly, the comprehensive plans provide a glimpse into future land use. Accounting for this element in transportation plans is extremely critical as a transportation system that does not adequately serve the evolving land use will undoubtedly have safety issues.

As RPOs develop their regional plan, it is useful to consult the existing local comprehensive plans to ensure as much consistency as possible among the local government plans in the region and the regional transportation vision, goals, objectives, and strategies. Complete agreement is not always possible, but having mutually supportive planning documents to any extent is beneficial in achieving the goals of these plans that are created at overlapping scales.

Many RPOs and other regional planning and economic development organizations assist with local comprehensive planning on a periodic basis. Transportation is typically included as an element of a comprehensive plan, and RPOs might complete the transportation chapter or an entire comprehensive plan for the local governments, either through their work program with the state DOT, through local government member dues, or as a fee-for-service option. Serving in this consultant role gives RPOs the opportunity to raise questions and issues about safety with the leadership of the entity developing the plan. For example, a locality might be interested in exploring the concept of Complete Streets to adopt a local policy, and an RPO's planning staff could provide information on how Complete Streets affect safety for all users of the transportation facilities in the area.

An RPO might also analyze the connection of land use to transportation, for instance, analyzing where parking exists in the plan, where access points exist, where pedestrian facilities exist, where are likely destinations for travelers in an area and how are they likely to get around, and how people can safely access destinations. Even without a travel demand model, discussing how land use decisions and access management might affect traffic and traffic safety is a topic planners can initiate with localities as they undergo a comprehensive planning process.

4.3 Other Modal Plans

Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety

The Albemarle Rural Planning Organization in North Carolina completed a bicycle plan in 2013 that will improve opportunity for and safety of traveling by nonmotorized modes as it is implemented within the region.

The plan analyzes current conditions of the bicycle transportation network, a recommended network, prioritized strategies and low-cost improvements, tools for integrating bicycle considerations into codes and local ordinances, and recommendations for programming. The current conditions section analyzes not only the existing transportation network, but also regional land use patterns and settlement types. In addition, the RPO conducted an equity analysis to identify where underrepresented populations reside to target public involvement there.

The impetus for the plan included improved public health, transportation options, and support for tourism-related activities, since this region includes the tourism sector-reliant Outer Banks and other coastal communities. Safety was also analyzed, given a number of crashes in rural areas outside municipalities.

The plan identifies goals and objectives, with many of the objectives crafted to be measurable outputs and outcomes.

In addition to the Federally required plans for states and MPOs, many other plans could be referenced in RPO plans or developed with safety in mind. For example, Title 23, U.S.C. encourages states to develop state freight advisory committees and to adopt state freight plans. At this point, most RPOs are not involved in state freight advisory committees, but they might have a role to play in commenting on how implementation of a state freight plan would affect the safety of freight movement and the traveling public in their region.

Bicyclist and pedestrian safety is very important, given the relative risk to non-motorists traveling in a transportation network with limited sidewalks and bike paths common in many rural areas and small towns. Bicycling and walking also are low-cost forms of transportation for short trips, and many transit users cycle or walk to complete their door-to-door travel to a destination, making their safety for the trip a multimodal issue. Rural tourism in many places includes nonmotorized travel to access destinations, making safety of bicyclists and pedestrians an economic issue as well.

As a result, RPOs are increasingly developing regional bicycle and pedestrian plans as part of their overall work program, or assisting localities with developing their own nonmotorized transportation plans. Safety is an integral aspect of these plans, including determining the appropriate kinds of facilities for cyclists and pedestrians in different rural contexts, depending on land use and traffic levels.

RPOs often complete coordinated human services – public transportation plans, as well as assist with other public and community transportation planning as needed in their region or state. In the course of conducting outreach to transportation providers in coordinated planning, RPOs often take the opportunity assess safety related to transit travel. Transit operators are an important stakeholder group for identifying potential safety issues, for the vehicles, location of bus stops, appropriate pull off areas, and passengers, as they travel door to door. The information can guide the development of safety-related goals, objectives, and strategies in the regional plan, or methods for improving the safety of coordinating services.

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Page last modified on February 12, 2015.
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