Transportation

More Mass Transit Riders Mean Fewer Traffic Deaths, Study Shows

A recent study by the American Public Transportation Association found that the traffic fatalities fall the more residents rely on buses and trains.

by / September 13, 2018
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Public transit is 10 times safer, per mile, than traveling by car. This is part of the findings included in a recent report by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).
 
The analysis examined data by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Transit Administration, and was a project jointly led by APTA and the Vision Zero Network
 
“Overall, the research shows that metro areas with higher public transportation use have lower roadway traffic fatality rates,” said Paul Skoutelas, APTA president and CEO, in a conference call with reporters Aug. 29.
 
The study comes as more communities adopt Vision Zero transportation planning, which aims to eliminate all traffic deaths and severe injuries. The movement began some 20 years ago in Sweden and has since been adopted by more than 30 communities in the United States.
 
New York and San Francisco — two major cities adopting Vision Zero policies — have seen traffic deaths reduced 28 percent and 41 percent respectively in the last four years.
 
Vision Zero was established in San Francisco in 2014, following the deaths of seven pedestrians in December 2013.
 
“There was a recognition at that point in our city that we were no longer going to accept the fact that people are going to get killed just as they try to get around the streets of San Francisco,” said Ed Reiskin, director of transportation at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, during the call.
 
Vison Zero, which addresses policy directions, education, traffic enforcement and other areas, is a partnership among a number of city agencies in San Francisco, as well as community organizations.

Prior to Vision Zero, about 30 traffic-related fatalities occurred in San Francisco annually, said Reiskin. In 2017, that statistic was reduced to 20.
 
“That was the lowest number of traffic fatalities in San Francisco since we started keeping track of that statistic, I think in 1915,” he remarked.
 
An analysis found that 13 percent of streets in san Francisco are home to 75 percent of the severe and fatal traffic collisions. By taking a close look at where fatalities happen in San Francisco, the city has been able to refocus street design and other efforts to make the routes safer for not only motorists, but pedestrians and cyclists as well, Reiskin said.
 
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported more than 37,400 traffic deaths in 2016, a 5.6 percent increase above the previous year. And the number of traffic deaths per 100,000 people in major cities tend to fall as the number of transit trips per capita increases.
 
“Simply put, a small increase in public transit use can result in a dramatic decrease in traffic fatalities,”  Skoutelas said.
 
The study shows that in cities with public transit, traffic fatalities can be reduced 40 percent when residents increase their public transit trips to 40 annual trips per capita from 20 trips per capita.
 
Transit provides an option for riskier drivers — inexperienced, distracted, drowsy or elderly — which when used, can help to make roadways safer, say experts.
 
“Public transit even benefits those who do not use it and are otherwise safe drivers and reduces the risk of being the victim of other drivers’ mistakes,” said Bella Dinh-Zarr, member of the National Transportation Safety Board.
 
The findings come as transit agencies across the nation struggle to reverse trends of falling ridership. During the first quarter of 2018 transit ridership declined 3.9 percent, compared to the same period in 2017, according to APTA statistics.
 
Ridership fell across all sectors. Bus ridership fell 5.0 percent nationwide, while ridership on subways and elevated trains fell 3.8 percent. Ridership on light rail — which includes streetcars and trolleys — fell 5.6 percent.
Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.