Less Driving Linked to a Decrease in Roadway Fatalities

A drop in the amount of time spent behind the wheel had little effect on how active Americans were, but did show a significant reduction in car crash deaths, reports the American Journal of Preventive Medicine

Each year, more than 30,000 people die in car crashes in the U.S. Despite safety improvements, motor vehicle fatalities continue to be a leading cause of early mortality. A study by CURS Faculty Fellow and Chair of the Department of City and Regional Planning Noreen McDonald in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that a significant decrease in automobile travel from 2003-2014 correlated with a decrease in the number of crash deaths, with the largest reduction among young men. The study also discovered that at the same time, there was no increase in how active Americans were, meaning physical activity did not replace driving for many people.

See also a related article on this research in CityLab.

Although car use had steadily increased since the invention of the internal combustion engine, the early 2000s marked the beginning of a decline. Between 2004 and 2014, per-capita driving shrank by nearly 600 miles annually. Young adults, millennials born in the 1980s and early 1990s, saw the largest decline. This cutback seemed to correspond with the global economic crisis, rising gas prices, and a general shift in lifestyle habits, including evolving attitudes about travel. Some researchers theorized that the decrease of automobile use might lead to Americans being more physically active as they looked to replace driving as their mode of transport.

McDonald wanted to analyze how the decline in driving time had affected two key areas: changes in physical activity and number of motor vehicle fatalities. She found that while less driving did result in a decrease in deaths, it did not have an impact on activity levels.

“My analysis shows a drop in automobile travel from 2003 to 2014 with the largest decreases among young adults, particularly men,” explained Dr. McDonald. “Despite predictions to the contrary, a substantial decline in auto use has not been accompanied by an increase in time spent in active travel nor in reallocating travel time to exercise. These results accord with analyses from the transport literature that show the drop in driving occurred because Americans were going fewer places, not because they were switching from cars to travel by bus, foot or bicycle.”

The study found that auto travel decreased by 9.2 minutes per day from 2003-2014. Men aged 20-29 years saw the largest drop. Consequently, motor vehicle fatalities showed significant declines among young men, but also across all ages. “Fatalities to motor vehicle occupants dropped significantly during the study period, particularly among millennials,” said McDonald. “Safer cars and better driving training could explain this decline, but the decrease could also be explained by the large and significant drop in driving. Analyses of exposure-adjusted death rates show small declines, suggesting that decreased exposure explains much of the decline in the population-adjusted death rate.”

The amount of time people spent exercising remained unchanged during the study period. “Americans have stayed home more in the recent decade for a complex set of inter-related factors,” stated McDonald. “Technologic advances have eliminated the need for some face-to-face interaction. High gas prices, rising debt, stagnant incomes and increases in unemployment have made driving more costly. Finally, delays in employment, partnering and parenthood have lowered the need for certain types of trips.”

As some of those economic barriers have begun to fade away, people have started to get back behind the wheel. In the future, a major challenge for public health policy makers will be to mitigate the undesired effects of increased driving time. In 2015, for example, 2,348 more people died in car crashes than in 2014. “Our analysis shows that the nearly unprecedented decade-long decline in fatalities that the U.S. experienced through 2014 was connected to declining driving,” concluded McDonald. “This greatly benefited public health through reduced roadway fatalities. The challenge that we must all now work towards is how to maintain the safety record on American roads as population growth, low gas prices and an improving economy lead to more travel.”

 

 

Bike&Place: A New Modeling Tool to Help Planners Help Cyclists

Washington Street, Houston, Mississippi: Streetscape rendering after implementing downtown, trail-oriented growth. Image Courtesy Brian Morton.

You’d like to bike downtown for your job, to go shopping or to attend an event. Those first few blocks near home seem safe enough, but you get a bit worried when traffic gets heavier. It turns out, you’re not alone in how traffic stress affects your willingness to bicycle. CURS researcher Brian J. Morton has developed a tool that will help town planners design more cyclist-friendly networks around signature places in their community.

In a recent study for the Southeastern Transportation Research, Innovation, Development and Education Center (STRIDE), Morton used an open-source software package to create an easy-to-use travel demand model for use by planners working in towns and small cities. Morton’s goal was to build a product that predicts demand for bicycle travel by “interested but concerned” cyclists. Called Bike&Place, Morton’s tool helps planners increase bicycle accessibility.

Roger Geller, bicycle coordinator for Portland, Oregon, created a typology of four kinds of cyclists: strong and fearless; enthused and confident; interested but concerned; and “no way no how.” In a national survey, participants were categorized into those four types in the following percentages: 7 percent; 5 percent; 51 percent; and 37 percent. The 51 percent of “interested but concerned” noted that they “like riding a bicycle…and they would like to ride more. But, they are afraid to ride….Very few of these people regularly ride bicycles… [and they] will not venture out onto the arterials to the major commercial and employment destinations they frequent.…They would ride if they felt safer on the roadways—if cars were slower and less frequent, and if there were more quiet streets with few cars and paths without any cars at all.”

Three small towns in Mississippi were used to develop and test Bike&Place. In Houston, Mississippi (population 3,623), Bike&Place estimates that less than 2 percent of the town’s residential neighborhoods have bicycle access to Courthouse Square, one of the town’s focal points. With an improved network, bicycle access to Courthouse Square could increase to 83 percent.

Morton hopes Bike&Place will make it easier for planners to map traffic stress problem areas and find solutions to make biking less stressful for the large numbers of interested but concerned cyclists and increase the likelihood that they will bike to important community locations. The project report, “Bike&Place: A New Tool for Designing Active, Place-Making Transportation Networks – An Exploratory Study,” provides detailed instructions on how to adapt Bike&Place to other places. For more information on using this tool, contact Morton here.

Editor’s Note: On June 28, 2017, Morton gave a Bike&Place presentation at the 2017 National Regional Transportation Conference in Denver, CO, sponsored by the National Association of Development Organizations

Mind the Gap: Broken Intercity Highways in China

Dr Xingjian LiuThe UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies and the Program on Chinese Cities presents:

A Brown Bag Lunch Seminar by Xingjian Liu, Ph.D., Assistant Professor,
Department of Urban Planning and Design, The University of Hong Kong

Reading Room, New East
Tuesday, April 4, 2017, 12:30-1:45 PM

The success of intercity transport planning between Chinese cities is not always guaranteed, with broken intercity trunk roads (BITRs) as a major case in point. BITRs are highways that are: planned but unfinished; usually disconnected near administrative boundaries; and short in distance, but their completion would greatly improve linkages. BITRs have become a persistent and pervasive phenomenon in China. Aiming to shed more critical light on the issue, Dr. Xingjian explores the geographical distribution of BITRs in China and the relationship between BITRs and the underlying socioeconomic, political and geographical factors.

18中国香港马鞍山T7高速公路项目

How the Reemergence of Manufacturing Can Benefit Historic Small Towns: A Mississippi Case Study

A Regional Land UseTransportation Decision Support Tool for MississippiWhen a new industry comes to town, the financial investment and revitalization that comes with it can be a boon to local economies and residents. But rural regions with deep roots in agriculture and manufacturing may encounter challenges in balancing the character and history of their communities with the development needs of new industry—especially if that new industry is high-tech. The people of Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area, where a new Toyota plant recently opened, face such a challenge.

In a report entitled A Regional Land Use-Transportation Decision Support Tool for Mississippi, Brian Morton, CURS Senior Research Associate and principal investigator of the study, outlines two starkly different development futures for the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area. One projects rapid expansion of the towns of Tupelo and New Albany, both near the plant, which eclipse the region’s smaller towns. The second development pattern envisions more even growth among the regions larger towns: Houston, Pontotoc, New Albany, and Tupelo.

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Dr. Rohe Visits China as First Step Toward Establishment of Consortium for Urban and Regional Transportation

June 23, 2015

Bill Rohe (second from right) and Roberto Quercia (right) are presented with calligraphy to honor the emerging collaboration between UNC-CH and BJTU.

Bill Rohe (second from right) and Roberto Quercia (right) are presented with calligraphy to honor the emerging collaboration between UNC-CH and BJTU.

CURS Director Bill Rohe returned yesterday from a whirlwind trip to China during which he presented research in three cities (Beijing, Tianjin and Chongqing) and participated in a signing ceremony expressing the intent to establish a Consortium for Urban and Regional Transportation. The Consortium will bring researchers from Beijing Jiaotong University’s (BJTU) Department of Urban Planning, School of Architecture and Design, and Institute of Urban Planning & Design together with faculty and staff at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s (UNC-CH) Department of City and Regional Planning, Center for Urban and Regional Studies (CURS), and Program on Chinese Cities. Professor Rohe, director of CURS, was joined on the trip by Professor Roberto Quercia, chair of the UNC-CH Department of City and Regional Planning. Professor Yan Song, director of the Program on Chinese Cities, was also a signatory of the letter of intent.

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Multi-state Study Finds Safe Routes to School Programs Work

A large-scale, multi-state study led by Noreen McDonald, CURS faculty fellow and director of the Carolina Transportation Program, finds Safe Routes to School (SRTS) programs increase walking and biking to and from school. The study, entitled “Impact of the Safe Routes to School Program on Walking and Bicycling,” was published in the Journal of the American Planning Association. Continue reading