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Improve travel safety

Improve travel safety

Perhaps the most fundamental duty of any transportation provider is to protect the safety of those in the public right of way. Traffic deaths are preventable. NHTSA identified driver behavior as a factor in 94 percent of crashes nationally, and in the Chicago region, it is the most often-cited primary cause of fatal and serious injury crashes. The region should embrace a full range of strategies to eliminate all traffic related fatalities by 2050. Strategies that improve safety can also reduce congestion and improve the reliability of the transportation network.

After declining for several decades, traffic fatality rates in the region began creeping upward in 2010 and spiked in 2016. This increase is likely due to a combination of factors, including increased commuting due to a sustained economic recovery, as well as increased use of devices while driving. New vehicle safety technologies -- including crash avoidance, lane keeping, and potentially even fully connected and automated vehicles -- can have a substantive impact on roadway safety, even at relatively low fleet penetrations of these technologies. But the recent uptick in fatalities demonstrates the need to continue investing in other strategies under the control of local communities, including leveraging technology to improve incident detection and management.


The most effective safety strategy for reducing fatalities is changing roadway design to reduce speeding and protect pedestrians and cyclists, who are the most vulnerable users of the transportation network. Higher speeds increase the likelihood of serious injuries or deaths, especially in the case of pedestrian and bicycle crashes. Data suggests that bicycle and pedestrian serious crash rates are increasing faster than those for vehicle occupants. National and statewide analyses also indicate that areas with higher concentrations of people of color, low income, and senior populations have higher serious and fatal crash rates than other areas. According to the National Complete Streets Coalition and Smart Growth America, blacks in Illinois constitute 14.2 percent of the population and 24.1 percent of pedestrian deaths. Communities with safe bicycle and pedestrian facilities that connect residents to desired destinations provide residents with additional options to meet their daily needs. Active modes of transportation represent a growing share of trips to work in the city of Chicago, but there has been a slight decline in suburban areas. Unfortunately, data is not available on other kinds of trips, which often are of shorter distance and more conducive for active transportation.  


[GRAPHIC TO COME: An illustrated graphic will show impact of speed on pedestrian fatalities.]


Enforcement plays a role in changing driver behavior and improving safety. However, enforcement programs need to be designed carefully and with significant community input, particularly in low income and minority communities. The disproportionately high rates of serious injuries and fatalities in these areas must be addressed, as must community concerns about racial profiling, use of force, and disproportionate impacts of traffic fines.


The following describes strategies and associated actions to implement this recommendation.

Continue to update roadway designs to reduce speeding and crashes

To significantly reduce the number of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, CMAP and partners should prioritize areas that would benefit most from improved infrastructure that includes design interventions and reduced speed limits. Such areas may have high crash rates, concentrated destinations, many people walking or biking, and lower rates of vehicle ownership. Some road designs, including roundabouts, access management strategies, and grade separations can reduce conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians and reduce the delay caused by turning vehicles. A few examples of these designs have been constructed in the CMAP region, but their implementation could be broadened, while still assuring that the designs are appropriate for a given site.

Pedestrian countdown signals, better road markings, protected left turn phases, designs that reduce left turn speeds, traffic calming treatments, and accessible pedestrian signals will all improve the safety of pedestrians at intersections. Engineering can also make driving safer for older drivers, who are anticipated to be on the roads in larger numbers by 2050. Where appropriate, roadway redesigns or “right-sizing” that decrease vehicle speeds and allocate space to pedestrians and bicyclists can maintain appropriate levels of vehicular throughput while making roads safer for all users. CMAP preliminarily identified road segments in the region that could be candidates for right-sizing. This is a planning-level analysis and more thorough engineering study would be needed before implementation.

CMAP should develop policy guidance to help communities conduct corridor planning that prioritizes roads for traffic calming, pedestrian and cyclist safety improvements, and transit priority.

IDOT should require that all phase I engineering studies include Highway Safety Manual-based estimates how much each design alternative reduces crashes.

IDOT, working with municipalities and transit agencies should review and revise its design manuals and permitting processes to facilitate pedestrian, transit, and bicycle improvements wherever possible.

CMAP should assist low capacity municipalities with analysis of crash data and implementation of safety improvement and traffic calming projects.

Highway agencies should implement alternative intersections and right-sizing, where appropriate, to reduce turning conflicts.

CMAP and IDOT should identify facilities with potential to reallocate roadway space for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and/or Complete Streets initiatives.

Invest in safe bike and pedestrian pathways to desired destinations

Walkable communities and safe, connected networks for bicycling can reduce the number of automobile trips, reduce vehicle miles travelled, and improve the overall performance of the transportation system. Although significant progress has been made in building out the regional greenway and trails network, most destinations for shorter, functional trips, such as to work, shopping, and social gatherings, are not accessible by off-street paths alone.

While on-street facilities can put cyclists in conflict with motorists, recent improvements in design and engineering can reduce these conflicts and respect local character. Complete Streets is a transportation policy and design approach that requires streets to be planned, designed, operated, and maintained to enable safe, convenient, and comfortable travel and access for all anticipated roadway users, regardless of their age, abilities, or mode of travel. Complete Streets can improve quality of life in a variety of ways. The State of Illinois was one of the first states to adopt a Complete Streets policy in 2007, and now 37 governments and agencies in our region have adopted such a policy. CMAP has also developed a Complete Streets Toolkit with guidance for local governments interested in adopting a policy. Many of the region’s roadways that could be safest and most attractive to cyclists are also under municipal or county jurisdiction. These local governments should adopt Complete Streets policies as a first step to increasing options for active transportation and making public rights of way accessible to all users.

CMAP and partners should implement the Regional Greenways and Trails Plan.

Counties and municipalities should continue to adopt and implement Complete Street policies.

CMAP and partners should encourage local agencies to engineer and develop on-street bikeways that increase access to functional destinations.

CMAP should prioritize investment in bicycle projects that improve access to functional destinations.

Improve incident detection and management

The region, working with system operators and municipal, county, and state police, should establish a goal and develop strategies to reduce the amount of time roads are closed due to crash investigations. Improving incident management is a high priority because it improves safety and reduces congestion. Some serious highway incidents require hours to clear. Nationwide, approximately 20 percent of all incidents are secondary ones caused by the congestion and disruption of a previous incident.[1] Shortening their duration reduces the potential for additional incidents. Each incident presents an opportunity to reduce congestion through earlier detection and verification, faster response, and adherence to quick clearance principles. Unlike other highway operations activities, incident management is largely managed by a public safety agency, with the transportation agency playing a supporting role. While much of the work to improve performance falls upon the public safety agencies, transportation agencies can also take steps such as implementing automated incident detection methods, either with traffic cameras or real-time GPS probe data. These technologies can be and are being incorporated as part of broader traffic operations projects (see the Coordinate traffic operations region-wide strategy). For example, the Jane Addams Memorial Tollway (I-90) has been reconstructed to include flexible infrastructure to enable the Tollway to add new “smart” features, such as roadway cameras that enhance the Tollway’s ability to respond to traffic and weather incidents and enable transit to bypass incidents using the flex lane.

IDOT and the Tollway should continue to expand investment in the use of traffic cameras or other sensors with automated incident detection capabilities on the interstates.

Local governments should explore feasibility of real-time probe data and closed-circuit television cameras at critical locations.

IDOT should continue to implement its Traffic Incident Management (TIM) training for local public safety agency personnel.

Transportation agencies should work with public safety agencies to investigate and implement strategies to improve the clearance time for major incidents.

Expand regional data collection and analysis on safety to support programming decisions

Federal regulations require the MPO to assume a greater role in improving traffic safety. CMAP is required to plan and program transportation funds for meeting safety targets that are set annually by the state DOT and MPO. One way to achieve this is to incorporate safety performance as a higher priority in transportation project selection for federal funds, ensuring that this vital aspect of transportation receives adequate consideration.

To have a data-driven approach to improving traffic safety, crash data need to be available in a timely manner. Annual state crash data have typically been released about nine months after the end of the year, but recently it has taken longer for IDOT to provide this data to the various agencies that need crash records for their analysis. It can be especially difficult to quickly observe whether safety improvements are working. Three years of data are typically required for analyses, which may take five years to obtain after an improvement.

CMAP and partners should work together to hasten data availability through electronic reporting and improved data definitions and standards.

CMAP and IDOT should continue to develop and share data-driven crash analyses highlighting safety initiatives that communities can implement to make their roads safer for all users.

CMAP  should track implementation of state Strategic Highway Safety Plan strategies in the greater Chicago area, identify barriers, and develop methods to address them.[2]

CMAP  should more thoroughly incorporate safety benefits in projects for CMAQ, TAP, and STP funding.

Improve driver training and equitable traffic safety enforcement policies

While improving roadway design is the most effective way to change driver behavior and improve safety, enforcement and education programs can play a supporting role in reducing fatalities and serious injuries. To change drivers’ behaviors in the region, CMAP should emphasize education programs as an alternative to fines and support safety training options for drivers that receive a citation involving speeding or aggressive driving. Automated speed enforcement (ASE) through speed cameras is an effective tool that should be used more widely in the region. A review of ASE programs found fatality reductions of 17 to 71 percent. ASE can free law enforcement personnel to focus on other issues and also limits the danger of escalation from routine traffic stops. Currently, however, only the City of Chicago is authorized under state law to use ASE. IDOT can currently only use ASE in work zones.

Increasing traffic safety enforcement is complex issue because of its historically disproportionate impact on low income and minority communities. Traffic fines can become a major source of debt and a barrier to employment for low income residents. On the other hand, higher numbers of pedestrian and bicycle crashes occur in low income, minority communities. A limited, partial solution may be automation, which allows for traffic law enforcement while minimizing additional police interaction. It is critical to have a credible analysis of the equity impacts of the locations and numbers of potential violations from automated enforcement. Enforcement programs should be designed with equity as a crucial element, with the goal of reducing safety disparities in minority and low income communities while also avoiding disproportionate financial burden on these same communities. Funds collected from enforcement in these communities should be directed back into locally identified safety improvements.

CMAP should assist in analyzing the impacts of automated enforcement in the Chicago region.

CMAP and partners should support outreach and safety education programs in the region.

The General Assembly should broaden permissions for IDOT, the Illinois State Police, the Tollway, and municipal and county agencies to implement automated speed limit enforcement programs, and agencies should work to develop automated enforcement programs.


[1] Federal Highway Administration Office of Operations, “Traffic Incident Management,” April 2004,

[2] Illinois Department of Transportation, “Illinois’ Highway Safety Plan 2018,” June 2017,

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