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Evaluation of the Focused Approach to Pedestrian Safety Program

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III. Findings

This section describes the major findings from the interviews. The findings are divided into three categories: Program outcomes, Program delivery, and Program evaluation.

Program Outcomes

Based on the five locations in the study sample, the Focused Approach to Pedestrian Safety Program has achieved many of its short-and long-term goals. Following are some highlights of the results reported by interviewees.

The Program raised the visibility of pedestrian safety in focus locations.

The “focus location” designation raised the awareness and visibility of pedestrian safety in the locations studied. It helped stimulate dialogue on pedestrian safety that probably would not have otherwise occurred. The most striking example of this was in Chicago. Staff from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) were surprised to learn that the city of Chicago had the third-highest number of pedestrian fatalities in the country. Until then, their regular safety data analyses did not include pedestrian safety.

Before considering actions to improve pedestrian safety, CMAP wanted to understand the nature of the problems such as high-injury locations and typical crash causes. Without this information, choosing the best pedestrian safety measures would be difficult—educated guesses at best. CMAP took advantage of the technical assistance offered by the Focused Approach to Pedestrian Safety Program for help conducting the extensive data analysis necessary to allow for sound judgments about pedestrian safety improvements. The results of the data analysis were used to decide how to best approach pedestrian safety problems. For example, the mayor of Chicago commissioned the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Council to provide guidance on pedestrian issues in the city.

The Program also gave pedestrian safety issues legitimacy as an important component of overall transportation safety. For example, many interviewees commented that engineers, in particular, who participated in the training left with a new awareness and sense of responsibility for pedestrian safety. In New York, interviewees said that, because of the Program activities, traffic planners have elevated the importance of pedestrian safety so that it is no longer secondary to traffic flow. Other interviewees noted that, because the training was sponsored by the Federal government, it gave the topic more legitimacy than locally generated training would. This has helped build support for “mainstreaming” pedestrian safety considerations so that they are part of the normal transportation project development process rather than being considered a special task and often included as an afterthought.

The Program helped draw attention and resources and generate momentum for addressing pedestrian safety issues.

FHWA’s involvement in the Focused Approach to Pedestrian Safety Program, combined with out-of-state course instructors, gave the topic a gravitas and credibility that locally produced awareness and training initiatives had not. Interviewees reported that the focus location designation conveyed the severity of the problem to others and frequently drew additional state and local funding for pedestrian safety initiatives. For instance, interviewees in Michigan stated that they did not use any of their targeted safety funding to address pedestrian safety until after participation in the Program.

The Program also generated momentum for improving pedestrian safety. For example, California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), which has had four employees dedicated solely to pedestrian and bike safety since the late 1990s, took advantage of the Program’s activities to begin to focus and expand its pedestrian safety work. They used the focus state designation to “take all the training they could get.” Similarly, Chicago interviewees said that the focus city designation helped draw resources to pedestrian safety tasks. One interviewee noted “enforcement people didn’t realize what they could do or that they could advocate for improvements in pedestrian safety.” Including personnel from a variety of organizations in the courses also helped spread the momentum generated by the courses to non-transportation agencies Interviewees from New York said that the high number of course offerings, and subsequently course attendees, helped create a critical mass of city employees across several disciplines—planning, operations, law enforcement, design, and construction— that has helped shift priorities toward greater concern for pedestrian issues.

The Program improved participants’ understanding of and attitudes toward pedestrian safety issues.

The Focused Approach to Pedestrian Safety courses, technical assistance, conference calls, and web conferences helped participants better understand and appreciate pedestrian safety issues. Some interviewees said that the training made them more aware of the importance of pedestrian safety. For course attendees who were already familiar with pedestrian safety issues, the courses reinvigorated their interest in pedestrian safety. As one interviewee said, “The training gave deeper knowledge and more confidence to implement changes. A lot of what is currently being implemented is due to attitude changes as a result of the training.”

The training was particularly valuable in reinforcing the importance of pedestrian safety among engineers, who tended to have less exposure to pedestrian issues than planners. For example, some interviewees said that engineers were often not aware that many pedestrian countermeasures are relatively inexpensive. As one interviewee remarked, “Some engineers came in confident that they knew enough about pedestrian safety but came out with their eyes opened a little.”

The Program increased the ability and confidence of participants to advocate for pedestrian safety improvements.

The Program helped draw resources to pedestrian issues by improving the ability of local transportation professionals to communicate effectively the importance of pedestrian safety. The courses and conference calls, for example, provided presentations and real life examples of “before and after” cases that participants found helpful when advocating for pedestrian safety improvements in their jurisdictions. One interviewee noted, “The Program really provided support for things the staff knew about, but the public is unfamiliar with.”

Some interviewees commented that the Program increased participants’ confidence in proposing and defending pedestrian safety initiatives. One interviewee from a rural county reported that the county was reluctant to take risks on unfamiliar pedestrian safety countermeasures because of the possibility of failure. However, when the Federal government promoted these countermeasures and provided guidelines for their implementation, the county became sufficiently confident in the practices to introduce them to local communities. Another interviewee said the courses gave staff increased confidence that allowed them to be more aggressive and confident about implementing pedestrian safety countermeasures.

The Program provided participants with practical tools and techniques for assessing and solving pedestrian safety problems.

Interviewees stated that the courses expanded their knowledge of techniques for assessing pedestrian safety problems and developing strategies and countermeasures to address these issues. One interviewee said that the courses helped engineers understand how to implement pedestrian access accommodations and crash reduction strategies. Another interviewee noted that he saw a real shift in the state ’s approach to pedestrian safety. After participation in the training, DOT staff began to consider a much broader array of options for addressing pedestrian safety. Another interviewee echoed that sentiment, noting that the courses gave the team working on the pedestrian/bicycle focus area of the State Strategic Highway Safety Plan an increased understanding of pedestrian issues and a broader set of solutions for addressing them.

Participants said that the most valuable parts of the courses were the visual examples and the field exercises involving analysis of pedestrian safety problems at a real-world location, especially locations already targeted for pedestrian safety improvements. For example, the field exercises for the courses offered in Atlanta studied a location that the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) had already slated for various improvements, including some to address current pedestrian safety problems. The project will include some of the suggestions generated by class participants. The consultant working on the project reported that, “GDOT has always been open to new ideas on pedestrian safety, but there was a real shift with this project. The scope of work was more specific and complete—not the typical generic version.”

After participating in the Program, GDOT engineers are looking at options that they might not have considered without the Focused Approach to Pedestrian Safety courses. In the past, the engineers were concerned about the potential effect of pedestrian improvements on traffic flow in the location. The course made them realize that “the impact [of pedestrian safety improvements] is not so significant for vehicles, and the proposed improvements for pedestrian safety were more important.”

The Program helped create and strengthen partnerships among professionals from a variety of disciplines to work on issues related to pedestrians and pedestrian safety.

Attendees’ Accolades

“Quality of presenter was absolutely phenomenal.”

“Kudos to FHWA”

“My enthusiasm for pedestrian safety has spread to others in my office.”

“Courses definitely addressed a need.”

“Training has definitely led to changes in attendees included law enforcement personnel, how [course attendees] consider pedestrian issues in their projects.”

“The Focused Approach to Pedestrian Safety has addressed “willful ignorance” by raising the visibility of pedestrian safety.”

The Program provided a forum for a cross-section of professionals to share ideas and concerns about pedestrian safety. In each focus location, a diverse set of professionals participated in the Program’s learning opportunities, including people from inside and outside the transportation planning and operations community. In addition to transportation engineers and planners, attendees included law enforcement personnel, public health professionals, and public officials from a variety of state and local government agencies. Some locations also included advocacy groups and consultants. This mix played an important role in initiating or strengthening conversations between transportation professionals and their counterparts in other disciplines. In addition, the attendees’ diversity encouraged an interdisciplinary approach to pedestrian safety and promoted the development of partnerships to implement solutions.

In Chicago, attendees took advantage of the opportunity provided by the pedestrian safety courses to expand their network of colleagues and create a diverse “community of practice.” In Michigan, interviewees said that including attendees from professions not directly related to transportation increased awareness and understanding of the connection between planning, engineering, operations, and public health and safety.

The Program spurred changes in policies and business processes aimed at improving pedestrian safety.

Interviewees provided many examples of changes in pedestrian policies, procedures, and business processes that they believed came out of knowledge and skills included in Program activities. While some of these changes were in process before the Program, interviewees reported that the Program gave them more momentum.

Following are a few of examples of these changes:

The Program has played a role in creating new institutional structures and forums or strengthening existing structures focused on pedestrian safety.

Below are some examples of institutional structures that were created or strengthened as a result of the Program:

The Program has resulted in a greater consideration of pedestrian safety in the planning process.

Several of the focus locations have instituted new or improved procedures for collecting and analyzing pedestrian crash data. In addition, some locations have developed or are developing Pedestrian Safety Action Plans informed by content from the training and technical assistance provided by the Focused Approach to Pedestrian Safety Program. Other areas have incorporated more pedestrian-safety-related projects in their Strategic Highway Safety Plans, Unified Planning Work Programs, and regional transportation plans. For example:

Many pedestrian improvements have been implemented or are under consideration in the focus locations since participation in the Program.

Interviewees in every focus location gave examples of pedestrian improvements that have been implemented as a result of the Focused Approach to Pedestrian Safety Program. Improvements ranged from modest, small scale, inexpensive countermeasures up to major infrastructure changes. Small-scale changes include zebra striping on crosswalks, high-visibility signage, and in-pavement crosswalk lighting. Interviewees also mentioned countermeasures that require a bit more resources to implement but do not fundamentally change traffic patterns in the area. These include countermeasures such as pedestrian countdown signals; new mid-block crosswalks; and, at intersections of a high-volume arterial and very low-volume collector, traffic signals for which the arterial signal is “dark” unless a pedestrian presses a button to trigger the traffic signal to change to red on the arterial and allow the pedestrian to cross. Other countermeasures have fundamentally changed traffic patterns in an effort to improve pedestrian safety. These include installing pedestrian refuge islands, speed humps, and narrowing the roadway to encourage drivers to reduce their speed.

As one interviewee commented, some of these advances in pedestrian safety might have happened without the Program presence, but they definitely would have taken longer. “The Program channeled everyone’s interest and helped them to clearly focus on what could be done.”

Program Delivery

There was no single model used by all the locations for delivering courses.

Each focus location implemented courses slightly differently, depending on its individual needs and circumstances:

The courses were the predominant and most successful Program component.

Interviewees were overwhelmingly positive about the courses. Some of the many reasons interviewees found the courses valuable and relevant to their jobs were that they:

The demand for training far exceeded the supply.

Interviewees’ most frequent comment was that the demand for the courses was far greater than the number of participants they could accommodate. As one interviewee stated, “My only recommendation for improvement is to offer more courses.”

Some locations, most notably California, found creative solutions for meeting the unmet demand for training.

Some of the focus locations instituted follow-up training initiatives to expand the Program’s reach:

Management support helped raise the priority of pedestrian safety.

Several interviewees said that upper management support was important because it demonstrated the importance of pedestrian safety. In MDOT districts, the courses were introduced by senior management. This promoted buy-in from attendees by showing that MDOT takes pedestrian safety very seriously. In other locations, interviewees said that the lack of obvious support from senior managers made them feel that pedestrian safety was not near the top of their agencies’ priorities.

Participants said that the conference calls and web conferences were valuable because they offered the opportunity to learn from peers addressing similar problems.

Interviewees who participated in the conference calls and web conferences were very pleased with them. They appreciated the opportunity to share ideas with colleagues from around the country. They also liked that these events focus on state and local issues. They reported that the calls provided them with useful information on best practices and gave them access to presentations created by conference call attendees that they could use in their own areas. However, every interviewee who had participated in conference calls and web conferences said that these events tended to be overshadowed by more pressing needs. Very few interviewees reported participating in more than a few calls. Several interviewees said that they have not participated consistently because they did not receive information about the date of the telephone and web conferences and the topics to be covered.

Although only two of the five locations studied—Chicago and Georgia—took advantage of FHWA’s offer of technical assistance, they both found it very valuable.

Chicago and Georgia both reported that they benefited significantly from the technical assistance they received. Before moving forward with any pedestrian safety initiatives, including the pedestrian safety courses, Chicago wanted to conduct a thorough analysis of pedestrian safety data to understand the nature of the pedestrian safety problems. This data analysis was complicated because, while Chicago had been collecting safety data from several different sources, it had not compiled or analyzed pedestrian data. Chicago took advantage of FHWA technical assistance for help with this task. The data analysis was an important catalyst for prioritizing pedestrian safety initiatives undertaken in the Chicago area.

The state of Georgia requested technical assistance to help develop its statewide PSAP. Interviewees were very pleased with the technical expertise of the consultants hired by FHWA and felt that they helped Georgia create a comprehensive and practical Pedestrian Safety Action Plan. Some interviewees felt that the state PSAP probably would not have been completed without this technical assistance.

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Page last modified on January 31, 2013.
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