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Roadway Safety Tools for Local Agencies (2003)

Chapter: 5 DEVELOPING A LOCAL SAFETY IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM: THE BEST SAFETY TOOL

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Suggested Citation:"5 DEVELOPING A LOCAL SAFETY IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM: THE BEST SAFETY TOOL ." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2003. Roadway Safety Tools for Local Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21959.
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Suggested Citation:"5 DEVELOPING A LOCAL SAFETY IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM: THE BEST SAFETY TOOL ." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2003. Roadway Safety Tools for Local Agencies. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/21959.
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23 Although there is widespread support for the concept of a program to enhance the safety of local roads and streets, effective implementation of such a program is much more challenging. The primary roadblock to implementation is the lack of resources, including both financial and personnel needs. Because of these limitations, most local agencies are able to concentrate only on their current pressing concerns. Adding a safety program is considered a great idea; however, many local agencies view this as a luxury they cannot afford. Often-stated concerns have impeded the development of a programmed approach, to the detriment of local road safety. Two such concerns are 1. If a safety issue is identified and then not corrected, this situation will result in an open invitation to tort liability if a crash occurs. 2. Similarly, if a safety issue is corrected in one location but not at all similar locations, and a crash occurs at one of the locations not fixed, the prevailing view is that there will be the loss of a tort liability lawsuit. The purpose of this chapter is to alleviate these concerns, so as to develop a practical local safety program. The pri- mary emphasis is that the application of safety improvement program tools presented here are very affordable and practical. The safety program is developed by integrating and docu- menting the selected tools into the local road and street agency’s overall transportation program. Each agency must determine what works in its environment, because there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but there is a basic structure cen- tering on the need for safety to become a priority program. The framework of a program consists of the following elements: identifying safety issues, identifying possible so- lutions, selecting and implementing a solution, evaluating the effectiveness of the solution, and developing a written record. To some this effort may seem to present a hurdle that cannot be overcome. It is often expressed that with limited resources and the large number of miles under a local jurisdiction, developing a program is not practical. However, this is just a framework and one that can be followed by any agency within its resource limitations. Each agency should “begin with the basics” and tailor a program using the concepts presented here. • Subclassify the local road network. (See the following sections of this chapter and also Appendix I.) • Develop a program to assess local safety issues. – It may be a reactive program (see chapter two), CHAPTER FIVE DEVELOPING A LOCAL SAFETY IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM: “THE BEST SAFETY TOOL” – It may be a proactive program (see chapter three), or – It may be a combination of both. • Implement your safety program. • Identify possible solutions for identified safety issues. (See Appendix H and the Summary of Safety Tools that concludes this chapter for specific reference sources.) • Seek funding for alternative solutions. Funding alterna- tives can include contacting the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety or the state DOT. • Document the safety program and its results. Implement the program and document the results on a continuing basis. The local road subclassification will help to frame the various safety alternatives that are practical and best to apply. The following subclassification is one alternative for a local rural jurisdiction (see Appendix I) and was developed specifically to help local rural agencies develop a proactive approach to safety. It can assist local agencies in overcoming two major obstacles: (1) assessing the safety issues of all roads at one period of time, which is generally beyond local resources; and (2) that improvement alternatives vary widely and the “ideal” solution may be far from a practical and affordable solution. An alternative approach is discussed in the annotated reference Arizona Local Government Safety Projects Analysis Model (21). There are also other local road subclassifica- tions that rural and urban agencies may want to consider. Several recent classification alternatives are discussed in more detail in the AASHTO Guidelines for Geometric Design of Very Low-Volume Local Roads (ADT ≤ 400): 2001 (23). This publication uses a functional classification based on the pri- mary type of road use as follows: Rural roads are classified as • Rural major access roads, • Rural minor access roads, • Rural industrial/commercial access roads, • Rural agricultural access roads, • Rural recreational and scenic roads, and • Rural resource recovery roads. Urban roads are classified as • Urban major access streets, • Urban residential streets, and • Urban industrial/commercial access streets. Tools that may aid in these approaches include a GIS-based inventory and a sign and road management program. Docu-

24 mentation of the implementation and ultimately desired improvements is an important component of this approach. Continual assessment of the needs of more of the system and implementation of safety improvements each year both lead to a safety program. If an agency had unlimited resources, developing a safety program would be straightforward. However, in the real world, a more practical approach is to chip away at the safety needs of the system. The use of a subclassification system provides a realistic approach to stratifying the local road system and identifying the road safety improvements that fit the user needs. Cost-effective, this method allows for the develop- ment of solutions that recognize and recommend staging a series of improvements when resources are limited. Fre- quently, an improvement will be applied that will result in a major safety benefit, but that does not satisfy the prevailing guideline for safety design. Too often, local agencies are de- terred from developing a safety program because resources are not available to satisfy prevailing standards. However, by acknowledging that unlimited resources do not exist, particu- larly at the local agency level, an agency can enhance safety in an affordable manner. The value of a local road and street subclassification is illustrated with the following hypothetical examples, one rural and one urban. The first is based on an actual case study. Rural example—This particular county has more than 1,000 mi of local roads within its jurisdiction. Traffic vol- umes on the various roads range from under 50 vehicles per day to more than several thousand vehicles per day. There are many safety deficiencies; however, most do not result in crashes, although when a crash occurs, prevailing roadway deficiencies are often a contributing factor. Local tort liability claims are prevalent and the local county agencies have pooled their insurance resources owing to the inability to obtain affordable insurance. There is no safety program. Resources are limited, and the number of tort claims is increasing as road traffic and development in the rural areas increases. Local roads are both paved and unpaved. There is a recog- nized need to improve safety, but an uncertainty about how to go about it. The recommended proactive approach is to use the con- cept of a subclassification to begin developing a local road safety program. This allows the agency to advance from the status of a nondefined or nonexisting program to an active program. In the past, the recommended approach was based on the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) (65). The HSIP was a front-end-loaded identification of safety needs for the system. Then, given these needs, priorities were established for implementation. The subclassification modi- fication provides a reduced front-end cost loading. After the network has been subclassified, a realistic number of miles of each subclassification are identified each year to pinpoint safety issues. This programmed approach tailors the improve- ments to reflect the resources and needs associated with each type of road and results in a set of realistic recommendations. The importance of this proactive approach is to establish credibility by using an outside assessment of the safety issues, and to then implement the improvement alternatives that fit the subclassification of the road. The focus is on the real world of limited resources, recognizing the many needs to be met on the extensive local roadway systems. This approach is the beginning of a safety program. Materials developed for a local rural agency training pro- gram for using this proactive approach, in the context of the RSAR, can be found in Appendix I. In addition to the tool kit, a sample RSAR report is provided to illustrate the docu- mentation provided. The final step is the implementation of selected safety issues and the documentation of the decisions made. Urban example—This city has limited resources and faces a situation similar to that of the rural county. Growth is occurring and crashes are increasing, primarily at inter- sections. The question is “Will the basic reactive crash program identify needed safety improvements?” The advan- tage for smaller local agencies with limited resources is that the basic method of reactive crash analysis is a low-cost and practical approach that produces proven benefits to improv- ing locations, based on less rigorous analysis evaluations. Local agencies can often apply the basic method by directly contacting their state DOTs for computer records of yearly crash reports and then requesting a more detailed analysis from the DOTs. More detail is needed, however, to document that reactive crash analysis is the basis for the local agency safety program. Most importantly, it is necessary to document the improve- ments made and to reassess their effectiveness after imple- mentation. Closing the loop to ensure that safety has been improved is important and may result in fewer successful tort claims and lower liability insurance.

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TRB's National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Synthesis 321: Roadway Safety Tools for Local Agencies examines the safety tools and procedures that are practical and relatively easy to apply, and that can be implemented by agencies with limited financial support and personnel. Recognizing the wide variation in the operations and responsibilities of local agencies, the report acknowledges that the level of expertise in transportation safety analysis also varies greatly.

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