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Take the Friendly Road: Santa Monica’s Education Effort To End Traffic Fatalities

April 29, 2019 10:58 AM
by Jason Kligier

Take the Friendly Road: Santa Monica’s Education Effort To End Traffic Fatalities

Southern California is infamous for its reliance on cars as a means of transportation, but the stereotype doesn’t necessarily hold water. In fact, Santa Monicans walk to work at a rate that’s double the national average. Add to that the fact that on any given day, half of all Santa Monicans take to the streets by foot or bike. That means there are some 46,000 of our neighbors walking down sidewalks, pedaling in bike lanes, and crossing streets in our city every single day.

And yet, 40 percent of Santa Monicans say they feel uncomfortable walking around in the city. That feeling of discomfort is not unfounded when you consider the sobering statistic that in 2017, nine people died in traffic-related incidents.

That’s nine people too many. And while it may seem that traffic-related deaths are an unavoidable reality in a city as multimodal as Santa Monica, the fact is — they’re not. That’s why Santa Monica has launched Take the Friendly Road — a proactive traffic safety outreach and education effort to achieve zero traffic deaths by the year 2026.


A Game-Changing Way To Think About Road Safety

Take the Friendly Road is a “Vision Zero” approach to increasing road safety. Vision Zero is a worldwide movement affirming the idea that everyone has the right to move about a city safely, and that systems can be put into place to support that. And it’s fundamentally different from the older road safety philosophies.

Just how is it different?

  • It uses hard data and analysis to inform transportation planning decisions
  • It emphasizes collaboration between transportation planners, engineers, policymakers, traffic enforcement, and the community to ensure that all factors are considered when it comes to putting systems into place
  • It makes room for human error; after all — none of us is perfect when it comes to walking, driving, and biking — but if healthy road designs are put into place, severe and fatal crashes can be prevented

And, here’s the most important part: it works. Cities that have adopted a Vision Zero approach have seen dramatic improvements in safety. For example, four years into their Vision Zero campaign, San Francisco experienced a 41 percent decrease in traffic fatalities, bringing the number of fatalities to the lowest on record since they began counting in 1915. Likewise, traffic deaths in New York City dropped to a record low in 2018, five years after they committed to a Vision Zero approach. Similar statistics can be found in cities worldwide — it’s a model that works.


First Stop To Zero Traffic Fatalities: Adjustments to Road Infrastructure

In keeping with Vision Zero goals, Santa Monica has made — and is continuing to make — thoughtful, data-driven adjustments to road infrastructure that improve the safety of everyone traveling in our streets. We’re reprogramming traffic signals, adding bike lanes, and building sidewalks. We’re revamping crosswalks, improving street lighting, and constructing curb extensions. You’ve probably noticed some of these upgrades taking place, in locations like Bergamot Station, Ocean Park Boulevard, and around Edison Language Academy — and we’ve got more changes coming.

We’ll also be undertaking a major safety study on Wilshire Boulevard. Data gathered from this study will help inform near and long term infrastructure projects that will continue to ensure the safety of everyone traveling on Wilshire in an increasingly multi-modal city.


Join Us On the Friendly Road

Santa Monica’s transportation planners and data analysts are busy evaluating road safety and putting new measures into place, but road friendliness can begin now — with you and me. After all, getting to zero traffic fatalities is a high call, and it will take the collaboration of all of us.

So how to start? By becoming more mindful about the ways we travel in the city. It doesn’t require a heave-ho of effort; it just involves small readjustments of our lesser habits on the road. For example:

  • Turning off distractions, like our phones
  • Making eye contact at crosswalks
  • Slowing down
  • Practicing patience in traffic or when encountering a fellow traveler with poor road manners
  • Waving thanks and hello... instead of using other (ahem) hand gestures that only breed frustration and offense

Image description: Stencils have been installed at 10 priority network intersections, reminding people to stop, look and wave as they make their way around Santa Monica.

You’ll be seeing reminders of these small changes we can make all around the city — on signs, street light banners, and on the sides of buses, recycling bins, and construction sites. Take them to heart. Abiding by them does make a difference.


Molding the Culture of Santa Monica

In an op-ed for the New York Times, David Brooks writes, “Driving is precisely the sort of everyday activity through which people mold the culture of their community.” We’re apt to agree. The way we drive is reflective of who we are as people, and what we value.

So as we Take the Friendly Road, we’re hoping to build a culture in Santa Monica that’s forgiving instead of vengeful, patient instead of pressured, kind instead of mean-spirited, and calm instead of chaotic.

We already believe that these greater virtues are at the core of what Santa Monica represents as a community; we just need to make a few — friendly — adjustments.

For more information, join us in creating a safe and friendly Santa Monica at smgov.net/friendlyroad.

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