MORPC Matters: Central Ohio working to end serious traffic crashes

KERSTIN CARR
Kerstin Carr

Most of us take it for granted to safely arrive at our destinations, whether we're driving, walking, biking or using transit.

Yet July was the deadliest period on Ohio roads since 2007, with 154 traffic-related deaths reported. Compared to July 2019, motorcycle fatalities increased by 52%, and pedestrian fatalities rose by 113%.

In central Ohio, about 100 individuals lose their lives each year in crashes on our roadways, and 800 sustain serious injuries.

Although most crashes involve people driving in cars, those traveling without the protection of a vehicle's steel frame are at a much greater risk of sustaining life-altering injuries. In fact, pedestrians are 14 times more likely than motorists to die or be seriously injured in crashes on Columbus streets. Bicyclists are six times more likely to suffer the same fate, and motorcyclists are 16 times more likely.

These incidents are not accidents. They are preventable crashes.

In 2019, MORPC updated its Central Ohio Transportation Safety Plan in coordination with its member jurisdictions and the Ohio Department of Transportation.

The plan analyzed conditions, identified four focus or emphasis areas and resulted in a comprehensive action plan to mitigate crashes.

ODOT's Strategic Highway Safety Plan served as a template for much of the work. ODOT significantly has built its transportation-safety program since 2005 and has one of the largest safety programs in the nation.

With the "Toward Zero Deaths" slogan, the department dedicates about $102 million annually for engineering improvements.

Our local partners are developing programs to combat traffic fatalities.

One example is the city of Columbus with its Vision Zero initiative. Vision Zero makes protecting human lives the highest priority of our transportation system and sets forth a goal of eliminating crash-related, serious injuries and fatalities in the city.

This initiative examines the transportation system and from the vantage of all users to identify risk, elevate safety and account for human mistakes to lessen the severity of crashes.

It will identify how Columbus' transportation network can be made safer through strategic, data-driven approaches to engineering, education, evaluation and community engagement.

Furthermore, Vision Zero is mindful of equity and of factors that affect mobility options for residents in all neighborhoods. Those with lower income who rely on walking or riding a bike for transportation (often to transit) face increased safety risks. Research for the city of Columbus has shown that people with lower incomes are twice as likely to be killed while walking, and Blacks and Latinos also are twice as likely to be killed while walking.

Communities are identifying safety issues and possible solutions -- anything from better signs and pavement markings in the short term to redesigning roadways to enhance safety, expanding educational programs and changing city policies and legislation in the long term. In Columbus, residents can participate by marking a safety location on the Vision Zero website map or taking a survey.

Other things that can be done immediately are to buckle up, never drink and drive, follow the speed limit and pay attention. (Put down that cellphone.)

Every death is one too many, and we all can do our part in keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Kerstin Carr is the director of planning and sustainability at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. MORPC's purpose is to bring communities of all sizes and interests together to collaborate on best practices and plan for the future of the region.