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To create safer roadways for all users, local governments need to focus on education, engineering and enforcement.
LAGUNA NIGUEL, Calif. — Our community, located in southern Orange County about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego, is like so many others Southern California and others around the nation. We want to improve safety and walkability through the construction of roadway infrastructure that can accommodate all users.
In 2015, the city launched a pedestrian safety initiative with the goal of educating residents in Laguna Niguel and its neighboring local jurisdictions including Aliso Viejo, Dana Point, Laguna Beach, Laguna Hills, Mission Viejo and San Juan Capistrano.
As part of this on-going initiative, the city took a careful look at the public health impacts of roadway design. Streets that are built for simply cars do not encourage pedestrian activity and traveling by bicycle. With the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health advocates sounding the alarm about the nation’s obesity epidemic, which impacts all segments of society, especially in communities that are very sedentary.
And the impacts of obesity are getting more serious and costly. More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese—about 34.9 percent or 78.6 million people, according to the CDC. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. These are also some of the leading causes of preventable death.
The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008 U.S. dollars.
Approximately 17 percent (or 12.7 million) of children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 years are obese.
To combat these challenges, the state of California has embraced the concept of “Complete Streets,” where roadway infrastructure is designed and built in ways to promote healthy modes of transportation. Complete Streets directives were first issued by the state in 2008 and renewed in 2014.
A Complete Street is a transportation facility that is planned, designed, operated, and maintained to provide safe mobility for all users, including pedestrians, transit vehicles, bicyclists, and motorists, appropriate to the function and context of the facility. Every Complete Street looks different, according to its context, community preferences, the types of road users, and their needs.
Benefits of complete streets include creating additional transportation choices; boosting economic revitalization efforts; improving return on infrastructure investments; encouraging livable communities; improving safety for all users; encouraging more walking and bicycling to improve public health; and reducing local greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles while also improving air quality.
The use of roadways by pedestrians and bicyclists will increase if their safety is demonstrated. As a city, Laguna Niguel has taken important steps to make its roadways and sidewalks safer.
When pedestrian programs began in the late 1960s, the emphasis was strictly on providing facilities. As communities gained experience and other transportation modes, walking and bicycling, became as important as driving, the concept of the comprehensive “3-E” program emerged. It combines the elements of education, engineering and enforcement.
At the direction of the Laguna Niguel City Council and through the efforts of the city’s Pedestrian Safety Ad-Hoc Committee—a group comprised of two traffic commissioners and staff members—the city integrated and leveraged the “3-E” approach to maximize key resources.
This was done with the following goals in mind:
- Create a safer road network
- Reduce accidents
- Raise the profile of road safety in the community
- Reduce calls for service
The first objective was to educate the community while empowering it using this simple message: Pedestrian safety is both the driver and pedestrian's responsibility. To achieve this objective, the entire toolkit available to the City was utilized.
Some of the outreach and engagement efforts included:
- Installing posters in city bus stops throughout the city at multiple locations, in the City Hall lobby and the Laguna Niguel branch of the Orange County Public Library.
- Creating a segment on pedestrian and bicycle safety for Citizen’s Academy, which is a 15-week series of programs offered to residents to give them an inside look at the operations of the Laguna Niguel Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
- Launching public safety awareness campaigns, including a PSA on bicycle safety used in local schools.
- Participating in events including a National Walk to School Day campaign and a school “meet and greet” gathering organized by Laguna Niguel’s police services.
- Engaging with the community via the city’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, website, newsletters and other city communications materials.
The second of the three Es, engineering, entailed the objective to improve the existing transportation infrastructure and factor in safety when designing new transportation infrastructure. Engineering measures undertaken included identifying and developing solutions for known road safety problem areas; reviewing standards for road development to enhance safety; and evaluating road safety.
In one of the intersections identified for complete streets upgrades, for example, safety and walkability upgrades included installing new wheelchair-accessible ramps and crosswalks.
The third “E” is enforcement. It is one of the strongest tools in educating everyone on the importance of safety. For example, vehicular speeds are enforced through the use of radar guns by police. Each motorcycle officer is equipped with a device. Mobile speed display radar trailers are rotated throughout the city to inform motorists of their speeds and serve as an educational tool before the actual enforcement and ticketing begins in earnest.
The primary duty of the Traffic Enforcement Unit is the enforcement of traffic laws in order to reduce traffic collisions—and their resulting injuries—and to facilitate the safe and expedient flow of vehicular and pedestrian traffic. These efforts result in safer roadways, fewer injuries, and reduced property damage. That police unit concentrates its enforcement efforts in areas with the highest collision rates within the city. These efforts have proven to be effective in reducing the numbers of collisions in the city.
The Traffic Safety Unit also works with the schools and provides valuable safety information to the students. Handing out fliers at drunk-driver checkpoints, providing information at public events and answering questions via e-mail are just some of the ways police services works to educate the public.
After the adoption of the final report by the Traffic Commission, the report was submitted to the City Council. During the final proceedings, it was underscored that this effort and journey will continue because even one life lost is one life too many.
Vigilance, awareness and continued engagement will continue.
Lead image by Flickr user Austin Morlan via CC BY 2.0. Additional images courtesy City of Laguna Niguel.
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