A Vision for Smarter and Safer Cities

As the world adopts smart lights, smart homes, smartphones, and smart cars, the real question we need to ask is this: Today’s cities are “smarter” than ever, but are they safer?

By Dave Braunstein

Safer cities are often associated with crime rates, but this fails to include an integral aspect of public health and safety: our roads. Transportation is an overlooked but important determinant of how safe a city is. Road safety is not just limited to car crashes and aggressive driving but includes near-misses, as well as motorcycle, bicyclist, and pedestrian collisions that cost life and limb and billions of dollars in medical care, property damage, and lawsuits each year. In the United States alone, traffic crashes are a leading cause of death in people aged 54 and below. To put it into perspective, that is 40,000 deaths annually and 4.4 million injuries requiring medical attention — a significant majority of which can be prevented.

Ensuring road safety is a shared responsibility among all road users, and both public and private sector stakeholders have roles here. At Together for Safer Roads (TSR), we leverage research-based approaches to road safety and help pave the way to Vision Zero by establishing specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound (S.M.A.R.T) targets in needful locations to reduce traffic crashes, facilitating innovative public-private collaborations, and securing integrated funding for road safety initiatives. As a corporate social accelerator, TSR champions road safety by leveraging cutting-edge technologies and innovative solutions in partnership with well-intentioned corporate contributors who make road safety a priority.

TSR and Transoft Solutions worked with the City of Bellevue, Washington to conduct the first-ever network-wide near-miss study using Bellevue’s strong existing network of speed and red-light cameras. This data set provided traffic safety professionals with an excellent view of the streets. Using predictive analytics at scale, the results of the study revealed a positive correlation between near misses and collisions, evidencing future crashes, and supported the need for video-based monitoring and areas for improvement.

Bellevue is using the citywide analysis to improve its Vision Zero Action Plan. There is great potential to go further. Imagine scaling Bellevue’s 80 cameras covering 34-square miles on a much larger scale. Public and private sector leaders who work together could address root causes — roads make the solutions sound like they are all about infrastructure before people are injured or worse.

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Key findings from the groundbreaking near-miss study in Bellevue, Washington (Source: Seattle Times)

Cal/Amp, a global safety technology solutions pioneer and a TSR board member, launched a school bus tracking solution called “Here Comes the Bus.” The technology delivers real-time school bus arrival and departure notifications to parents and guardians via alerts and is part of their suite of school transit safety solutions.

You may be asking why school buses are coming up here, but Cal/Amp is leaning on their innovative technology to protect the most vulnerable road users of all — children. During COVID-19, this app was used to alert families about meal and homework deliveries, and as a result, promote better social distancing by preventing trips to the grocery stores or food pantries. Here Comes the Bus, used by 125 school districts and 75,000 users, won the Best Consumer Technology Innovation Award at the 2020 High Tech Awards.

Through the Global Entrepreneur Program (GEP), TSR partners with early-stage companies to reimagine solutions that reduce crashes and fatalities on the world’s roads. Populus, a GEP program participant, leverages urban mobility data for municipalities and private companies to enhance road safety initiatives. Their “Street Manager” tool and Open Streets Initiative helps cities identify and communicate new street policies, including street closures due to emergencies, construction, special events, or temporary COVID shared streets.

Their solutions are part of a changing dynamic allowing for Vision Zero progress by reducing vehicle usage on streets, for both temporary and permanent reasons. An example of this includes opening streets to cyclists and pedestrians to create expanded space for social distancing.

The above examples serve as a few of many meaningful case studies of the work being done in pursuit of Vision Zero. However, a persistent challenge lies in the funding and resources available to smaller and medium-sized organizations that do not have the ability or best practice knowledge to engage in these efforts like bigger corporations.

To meet that challenge, TSR is launching a new initiative: The Vision Zero Technology Fund (VZTF), which will focus on empowering and equipping small- and medium-sized essential service fleets with access to the resources necessary to scale road safety efforts through investment in innovative road safety technology. Non-profits, schools, patient transport services, and more will be eligible for grants. TSR members UPS and Cal/Amp are blazing this path as presenting sponsors. Join us as a meaningful contributor to the VZTF to scale our road safety efforts.

After all, road safety is a shared responsibility that concerns every road user, regardless of sector, state, or profession. Join us as we make cities not just smarter, but safer, too. To find out more, you can get in touch with us at communications@togetherforsaferroads.org.

[This article is sponsored content courtesy of Together for Safer Roads, the official sponsor of the Vision Zero Cities Journal. This article was originally published in Transportation Alternatives Vision Zero Cities Journal as part of the 2020 Vision Zero Cities Conference.]

David Braunstein is President of Together for Safer Roads. Braunstein’s leadership has helped scale and sustain the global coalition’s efforts to improve road safety and save lives. He is responsible for overseeing the organization’s strategic direction on behalf of Together for Safer Roads’ Governing Board and membership, implementing Together for Safer Roads-supported local demonstration projects, advancing TSR’s thought leadership, building key partnerships, and increasing the coalition’s connections to the international road safety community. Braunstein holds an MBA from Cornell University and a bachelor’s degree from Colgate University. He, his wife, and two children reside on Long Island, NY. He is an avid soccer player and enjoys traveling, hiking, and cooking in his free time.