We’ve only been in business for about a year and a half at this point, but one of our early focuses has been helping assist campaigns aimed at changing federal, state and local laws to improve traffic safety.
After a recent win this week, I was feeling a little bit proud of what we’ve been a part of and I thought rounding them up would be fun. We’ve been part of some pretty successful and groundbreaking campaigns in just a short time. So in order, a little bit about the campaigns we’ve contributed to:
Zero Traffic Deaths
Our first campaign, right after we launched, was helping with communications on the #ZeroTrafficDeaths campaign led by a consortium of groups. The aim was to get the federal government to commit to a goal of zero traffic deaths by 2050. I was only involved with this campaign at the early stages. However, it is very exciting to see about a year after the campaign began, Pete Buttigieg made the commitment — which is an important paradigm shift in federal policy and puts us more in line with international peers and best practices (and increasingly progressive U.S. states as well).
Crash Victim Rights and Safety Act
Our next project, campaign wise, was a package of legislative reforms proposed in New York State under the banner of the Crash Victim Rights and Safety Act, including things like lowering speed limits, and adding three-foot passing laws for cyclists. The first year I worked on this, with Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets, despite what I consider a heroic effort led by heroic mother Amy Cohen, who criss crossed the state holding press conferences next to a casket (props are important), we came up short and none of the bills passed, which was mega disappointing.
HOWEVER, Transportation Alternatives and Amy Cohen do not give up easily. This year, the package was modified and reintroduced and I came back on to help. I am so, so excited that just this week, we passed two of the key measures. One of them will provide significantly increased funding to municipalities that add “complete streets” features in their road projects. Another will allow NYS cities to lower speed limits. A third measure that will improve drivers education also passed.
It was a big exciting moment in the field, in the early days of the Biden Administration after Pete Buttigieg had been named Secretary of USDOT.
A lot of reform-minded people I have known and worked with in the industry for years were very excited about the opportunity to address some engineering regulations that are a major obstacle to innovative safe street designs, like protected bike lanes, colorful crosswalks — the envelope-pushing designs that make cities nicer a lot of coastal cities have been experimenting with for years.
One of the big obstacles to more people-centered infrastructure is this obscure engineering manual called the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which tells engineers how to design streets, but is based on a sort of outdated Highway-era mentality. So when it was up for revision recently, after more than a decade, it was seen as a big opportunity to implement some long-overdue safety reforms. In this campaign I was working for America Walks, but other major groups like NACTO, the League of American Bicyclists and National League of Cities were all engaged and pulling the same direction.
We haven’t actually seen the outcome of this one yet; USDOT has not released its policy. But I am optimistic, given the quality of people who are working at USDOT right now, that we will see a dramatic improvement.
Healthy Streets LA
More recently we have done a little work to support the Healthy Streets LA campaign, which is a citizen-led ballot initiative to overhaul Los Angeles’ streets to support a more balanced and sustainable transportation system, with more space for bikes, buses and pedestrians.
The group backing the measure needs to gather 10s of thousands of signatures to bring it to the ballot, but they are well on their way and it legitimately is very exciting.
This is a minor project for us, but we have been a little involved as well with promoting efforts to decriminalize (“jay”)walking in California and elsewhere. Some of this work has happened under the banner of America Walks, which has made it a policy priority, and some of it we just took on pro bono. Our founder, Angie Schmitt, testified twice in favor of eliminating these restrictions, which disproportionately affect young Black and Latino men, in the California legislature.
Again this has been a minor focus, but we’ve also been involved, through America Walks, in supporting changes to NCAP (The New Car Assessment Program) or the U.S.’s woefully outdated and toothless five-star vehicle safety rating system. Comments are being accepted on that through next week, BTW. And for the first time they will include ratings for pedestrian safety (a big win and something I advocated for in my book.)
All of which is to say, we have a pretty good track record at this point of supporting campaigns — with writing, social media, some media outreach and strategy — at this point. We’re excited to share what we’ve been able to help accomplish. Some of these reforms will have wide ranging, lasting positive impacts.