Redwood City gets grant to track and analyze traffic collisions; Menlo Park proposes not tracking collisions

Last week, the city of Redwood City received a $28,000 grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) for a traffic collision database and mapping software system.

According to Senior Transportation Coordinator Jessica Manzi, the software will allow them to pinpoint and analyze high collision locations within the city, including collisions involving cyclists and pedestrians. Redwood City plans to use the information to help reduce the frequency and severity of collisions.

Redwood City has not yet decided on the software package to use to analyze the data, nor has it decided whether or how to report the findings, according to Manzi. Redwood City is aware of San Francisco’s Collision Reports and might consider using it as a role model.

With the concern and debate about safety at Farm Hill, Jefferson, and other streets in Redwood City, collecting and analyzing the data is an important step toward identifying the enforcement, education, and engineering improvements needed to reduce collisions.

By contrast, Menlo Park may be heading in the opposite direction. Last Tuesday, the Menlo Park City Council reviewed the City’s proposal for a Complete Streets Policy which guides the city in making streets safe for all users, including drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. In response to concerns expressed by the Planning Commission, the staff report eliminated all of the proposed metrics from the sample resolution from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, including tracking and reporting collision data.

When asked about the lack of metrics at the Council meeting, Menlo Park Public Works Director Chip Taylor explained that it was better not to keep track of collision data, “since a collision might be the fault of a cyclist.”

And yet, where pedestrians or cyclists are at fault, the data might suggest opportunities for education and enforcement. For example, a pattern of nighttime collisions involving cyclists riding without lights might suggest enforcing laws about bike lights and reflectors at night, and a pattern of collisions involving distracted pedestrians might suggest educating pedestrians about texting while walking.

Also, even in locations where pedestrians or cyclists are legally at fault, collision data might suggest opportunities for street design improvements. For example, where pedestrians are frequently cited for jaywalking, perhaps there is a need for a safe, legal, crossing that drivers can easily see.

With the exception of a very few mentally ill individuals, drivers do not want to run into pedestrians or cyclists. Improved safety for pedestrians and cyclists is better for everyone, including drivers.

In order to improve street safety for all users, it is valuable to start by tracking, analyzing, and reporting collision data. The data can then be used to recommend improvements in enforcement, education, and design/engineering.

Redwood City is heading in the right direction. Menlo Park City Council will revisit the Complete Streets policy at an upcoming meeting. Hopefully they will rethink the lack of collision metrics in their Complete Streets policy.

Update: Menlo Park Public Works director Chip Taylorreplies to a comment by this blogger to Menlo Park City Council that city staff already report bicycle collisions (although not pedestrian collisions) to the Menlo Park Bicycle commission. Nevertheless, Taylor contends that it would be premature to include reports on collisions to as part of assessment of Complete Streets. In the earlier presentation to City Council, Taylor had recommended that the city develop metrics for complete streets in the context of the upcoming development of the City’s General Plan, which will begin in 2013 and take five or more years.

We agree that the sample metrics in the MTC draft resolution are rudimentary, and need improvement with community vetting. But we think that collision data is fundamental and should be reported on in the context of Complete Streets.

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