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Cities Tap Infrastructure Funding to Make Streets Less Deadly

Shutterstock/Jaromir Chalabala

As part of its program to fund transportation improvements from the massive 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the U.S. Department of Transportation is making the first direct grants in years to cities to pay for street improvements aimed at reducing injuries and deaths on roadways, Governing reports.

The grants program, which has set off a scramble by cities that normally must get their money indirectly through state departments of transportation, range in size from less than $100,000 to nearly $10 million.

Baltimore received the largest award, $9,920,000, for work on its Complete Streets program. It’s working with the University of Maryland and Morgan State University to improve crash data, identify its high-injury network and model risk on its streets, says Shayna Rose, a Baltimore city planner and director of the city’s Toward Zero program.

It’s also working with Johns Hopkins University to add questions about transportation and street safety to its annual Baltimore Area Survey, according to Rose.

The city will also use the grant to experiment with new ways of doing planning and community engagement. The city will design and implement “quick-build” projects, using temporary materials installed for periods of about three months, to determine how well they function. It will hire a “street team” to engage with people who are interacting with the redesigned streets and educate them on why they’ve been changed, Rose says. Those temporary projects will inform the design of more lasting changes.

“It acts as a test bed for ideas that can be modified as necessary,” says Stuart Sirota, deputy director and chief of policy at the Baltimore City Department of Transportation.

Somerville, Mass., is one of the densest small cities in the U.S., and it regularly ranks high on lists of walkable and bikeable communities. It applied last year for a Safe Streets for All implementation grant and didn’t win, says Brad Rawson, the city’s mobility director. The city has an ambitious plan to install many more miles of protected bike lanes over the coming years. After missing out on the implementation grant, the city reapplied for, and won a $3,984,000 demonstration grant to expand its bike network. The city is still working on an implementation plan, but it’s hoping to build out 12 more miles of bike lanes over the next three years. It will be collecting data on collisions and compliance with traffic laws before and after the interventions to understand how successful the changes are.

“It helps build the narrative that we as a society need to invest in infrastructure, and we need to make sure those investments are rooted in data,” said Rawson.


A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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