At the beginning of this month, US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg announced awards for 473 action plan grants and 37 implementation grants, totaling $800 million in funding, for the first round of the Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) grant program. SS4A is a new grant program by USDOT created to move our nation towards zero deaths.
If you’re reading this after obtaining an SS4A grant on behalf of your community, congratulations! This funding can be an important catalyst for your community to a Safe System approach—a more effective and equitable approach to safer streets for everyone.
To make the most of your grant, it’s important to have a clear picture of the steps and components required for a successful outcome, whether you are developing an action plan or constructing infrastructure improvements. So we’ve compiled our best advice for you here, pulling from valuable lessons we’ve learned from working with our clients, key stakeholders, and the public in the development of Vision Zero action plans and other safety plans, as well as implementing their results and recommendations across the nation. As you begin preparing, we hope these tips will be useful.
Scoping and Bidding Your Project
A successful project starts with a clear plan. The first step is to map out your process from start to finish. Identify what is critical to achieving the project goals and make sure you understand the requirements of the grant agreement. These should be reflected in your bid documents up front.
Anyone involved in supporting the project’s completion should be on the same page about what is required and what their role is. If the project will be implemented through a combination of in-house support and outside consultants, make sure you have a clear idea of what expertise you need. Prepare selection criteria that includes relevant qualifications and demonstrated success completing similar projects.
If you are scoping for a Safety Action Plan, check that you are covering the required components:
- Leadership Commitment and Goal Setting
- Planning Structure (Action Plan Committee/Task Force)
- Safety Analysis
- Engagement and Collaboration
- Equity Considerations
- Assessment of Process, Policies, Guidelines and Standards
- Identification of Projects and Strategies
- Measuring Progress and Reporting Outcomes
If you are scoping for a safety improvement project, make sure to clearly identify the desired outcomes and reference related plans, standards, and strategies in your bid document. State your project’s purpose and need statement up front. Remember, the period of performance for Implementation Grants cannot exceed five years. That should be clear in your bid documents as well.
Building Your Project Team
Assemble a multidisciplinary team whose members have a strong understanding of the project’s purpose and need and who will be critical in the successful implementation. In addition to safety experts, consider champions who can represent transportation disadvantaged communities, people with disabilities, and other vulnerable users, as well as visual communication specialists for messaging.
Don’t go overboard, however! It’s possible to have too many partners, and this can create distractions or lock you into solutions that don’t actually solve your local needs. Rather, be thoughtful in picking the right partners, which can involve public/private partnerships as well as new inter-agency partnerships.
Defining Project Success
What elements lead for a successful project? From our experience, proactive and population-oriented Safety Action Plans and projects should be:
- Data-driven. Use a systemic approach for analyzing crashes and identifying safety measures. Develop the high-injury network for the study area and use spatial analytics to develop and visualize performance measures across the network to foster discussion and lead to actionable outcomes. Make sure this approach can be easily replicated and tracked in the future.
- Thoughtful. Select design solutions that have demonstrated success to address the issues identified. For example, think about the intense scrutiny and meticulous design choices that go into the placement and design of crosswalks—choices that can mean the difference between life and death. Federal Highway Administration’s new Crosswalk Marking Effectiveness Guide demonstrates that crosswalk markings matter for safety and found that speed is the primary predictor of yielding. While at 20 miles per hour, drivers yielded 85% of the time, only 15% did at 30 miles per hour. These findings have important implications for treatment selection, as well as policy decisions surrounding your project.
- Integrated. Highlight past successes and integrate actions with recently completed and ongoing initiatives, plans, policies, and programs, as well as broader regional, state, and national efforts.
- Multidisciplinary and collaborative. Include solutions that span disciplines and require collaboration between departments, agencies, institutions, and community groups.
- Strategic and measurable. Identify strategies that are specific, realistic, and implementable. Include low-cost and high-impact measures that can be tracked over time. Identify performance metrics to evaluate ongoing progress and enable priorities to adapt in the future. If you are in the planning phases of a project, you might consider including quick-build projects that can help you test effectiveness before full implementation. Pilot projects can help to inform future, permanent projects and get stakeholder engagement and feedback on ideas tested in the community.
- Equitable and inclusive. Include targeted outreach to transportation disadvantaged populations and provide a variety of ways to engage. For example, designs and countermeasures should consider impacts to users with disabilities and how to effectively communicate changes to different populations. There is new and innovative research being undertaken to fill this need, such as Federal Highway Administration’s quick-build accessibility guide, due for publication in 2023. This guide will offer best practices on implementations that integrate users with visual disabilities, drawing on findings from intensive fieldwork, focus groups, and workshops done in collaboration with disability activist groups.
- Stakeholder- and community-driven. Be thoughtful and strategic about engaging with community members and partners throughout.
Staying the Course
Your grant application may have been a smooth process, or it may have been a fire drill in navigating something brand new. The prospects of executing on that grant and delivering on your vision can equally be exciting or intimidating. We recommend you identify peers in your state who are going through the same challenges, and surround yourself with internal and external partners who can support you in your journey and lead your vision to success.
If you’d like to discuss any of the ideas in this article further, feel free to reach out to us—we’d love to start a conversation about how to set your project up for success.