Today the members of the Houston-Galveston Area Transportation Policy Council (TPC) discussed the re-establishment of the Regional Safety Council, a body that would study comprehensively and across disciplines how to improve transportation safety and reduce traffic-related deaths and serious injuries throughout the 13-county Gulf Coast region. If this sounds a lot like a Vision Zero Task Force, you aren’t the only one thinking that.
Even though Jeff Kaufman, a Chief Planner for H-GAC who specializes in transportation safety and the one leading the presentation today didn’t call the Regional Safety Council a Vision Zero Task Force, one can’t help but see the huge opportunity it presents for the group to take up this charge.
The Safety Council’s objective is clear: engage leaders from diverse sectors (25 members total) such as engineers, law enforcement, safety advocates, educators and more to find lots of ways to reduce the epidemic of traffic deaths in our region. Council members would serve a 2-year term, and would provide recommendations to the TPC on how to pursue safer transportation policies and investments. Initial proposed activities for the RSC would be to:
- Produce a State of Safety Report
- Create a Regional Safety Plan
- Determine Safety Performance Measures
- Develop Partnerships to Expand Outreach and Education
- And Recommend Safety Investments
Every two years the TPC decides how to spend about $2.5 billion on transportation projects in Houston and the 133 surrounding cities, through a process called the TIP Call for Projects, part of the Transportation Improvement Program. For many years, spending has heavily favored new road building and highway expansion, increasing regional vehicle miles traveled and cars traveling at high speeds - two of the key factors that cause increased traffic fatalities. Amongst other things, a Regional Safety Council could provide recommendations to the TPC that prioritize regional spending for projects that reduce VMT and speed - and save lives as a result.
Initially listed Safety Areas of Interest covered the gamut:
- Alcohol related
- Distracted driving
- Red-light running
- Railroad crossings
- Large trucks
- Seat-belt usage
- Young drivers
- Elderly drivers
- And Work zones
612 people died in the Houston Metro area last year in traffic crashes (compared to 377 murdered in the same footprint), half of which were alcohol-related and 20% of which were pedestrians or bicyclists. Nearly 18,000 people were seriously injured in 130,000 serious crashes. Beyond the loss of human lives and the families and friends that are impacted by these largely preventable tragedies, the economic cost to the region in 2014 was nearly $5.7 billion in response services, repairs, medical costs and lost incomes. Although H-GAC and TXDOT are still working through 2015 numbers, Kaufman (who’s seen the numbers) told the TPC this morning that the problem is getting worse. The Houston-Galveston region has a traffic safety disaster on it’s hands.
In January of this year Houston Tomorrow released a report, Vision Zero: Toward a Vision Zero Action Plan for the City of Houston, with the hope that initial action by the City of Houston would help spur a regional movement. Comments following the presentation by TPC members who represent other cities expressed keen interest in their communities in taking this challenge on, with many members specifically calling for further action on distracted driving at the state level. While the City of Houston has not yet made a clear Vision Zero commitment, it is promising that the regional conversation is underway.
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