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Resisting the Campaign for Safer Streets

Reducing traffic deaths is a compelling proposition, but it gets complicated when trying to make it so.

An AI-generated image depicting a residential street with traffic-calming features and row houses on both sides.
The podcast cover image for this The Future in Context (TFIC) episode features an AI-generated image of a neighborhood with traffic-calming features such as bike lanes and curb extensions. (DALL-E 3)
Listen to this episode on the player below or subscribe for free on YouTube or the podcast app of your choice — Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Audacy and Audible.

Reduced enforcement of traffic laws, increased rates of driver impairment, cellphone distractions and street designs that prioritize speed have helped reverse long-standing traffic safety gains in American cities.

Programs like Vision Zero, aimed at eliminating traffic deaths, face challenges in implementation and efficacy, though success stories like Hoboken, N.J., offer hope. Federal initiatives such as Safe Streets and Roads for All provide substantial funding opportunities for cities to enhance street safety. However, administrative barriers may hinder smaller municipalities from accessing these resources.

In TFIC’s occasional series, Your Mileage May Vary, Senior Writer Skip Descant (Government Technology) and Senior Writer Jared Brey (Governing*) explore how controversies around street design interventions — so-called traffic calming — like bike lanes and curb extensions highlight the challenges of balancing various transportation needs and navigating public perceptions. Technology plays a crucial role in supporting infrastructure improvements, from speed monitoring to data-driven safety assessments. In the aftermath of the Baltimore bridge collapse, the daunting task of rebuilding underscores the importance of robust infrastructure planning and response mechanisms.


Here are the top 5 takeaways from this episode:

  1. Traffic Safety Trends: Despite long-term declines in traffic fatalities, American cities have experienced a concerning uptick in traffic-related deaths and collisions, particularly during the pandemic, attributed to factors like reduced enforcement and increased impairment.
  2. Challenges of Vision Zero: While programs like Vision Zero aim to eliminate traffic deaths, implementation faces hurdles, with mixed success in cities like San Francisco. Strategies include redesigning streets for safety and setting ambitious goals, but efficacy varies across contexts.
  3. Federal Funding Opportunities: Federal initiatives such as Safe Streets and Roads for All offer substantial funding to enhance street safety, but smaller municipalities may face administrative challenges in accessing these resources, highlighting the need for capacity-building support.
  4. Controversies in Street Design: Controversies around street interventions like bike lanes and curb extensions underscore the challenges of balancing diverse transportation needs and navigating public perceptions, with technology playing a crucial role in supporting infrastructure improvements.
  5. Lessons from Infrastructure Failures: Infrastructure failures like the Baltimore bridge collapse highlight the importance of robust planning and response mechanisms, underscoring the daunting task of rebuilding and its potential impacts on regional and global trade.
Related Links to stories referenced in the episode:

Our editors used ChatGPT 4.0 to summarize the episode in bullet form to help create the show notes. The main image for this story was created using DALL-E 3. Governing is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.
Paul W. Taylor is the Senior Editor of e.Republic Editorial and of its flagship titles - Government Technology and Governing.
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 Yreka, Calif.
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for <i>Government Technology. </i>She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Montevallo and a graduate degree in public relations from Kent State University. Silver is also a published author with a wide range of experience in editing, communications and public relations.