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Successful great streets should produce transportation and land use solutions that are both safe and feasible, while at the same time balancing other community values. Above all else, the public values safety and expects that transportation agencies will only implement solutions that provide an acceptable level of safety. The geometric design for a thoroughfare should properly reflect safety for all modes of travel. It should do so within the context of a host of constraints and considerations, including the type of place, land use features (both existing and planned), roadside and community effects, and cost considerations. Consider the images below - where would you feel safer walking?

Credit: CH2M HILL
No sidewalk
Credit: CH2M HILL

Safety is a broad term and can have a variety of meanings depending on the setting.

In the world of great street planning and design, two types of safety are often referred to: nominal safety and substantive safety.

  • Nominal safety is a thoroughfare's relative ability to comply with standards, warrants, guidelines,and sanctioned design procedures.
  • Substantive safety is the actual crash frequency and severity for a giventhoroughfare for all modes of travel.

For great streets, we are most interested in the issue of substantive safety. A great street design element should not necessarily be deemed unsafe simply because it does not comply with a particular standard or guideline. While noncompliance can be an issue, a thoroughfare's substantive safety - its "track record" - is a more fundamental consideration and is based on actual performance at a specific location.

When we talk about substantive safety for great streets, we are talking primarily about the crash risk that exists for all modes of travel: vehicular, pedestrian, bicycle, and transit. Great streets must provide environments in which all of these users can operate safely, without risk (or fear) of being involved in a crash. There are two very important great street characteristics to point out in this regard:

  1. High pedestrian presence is a hallmark of most great streets. In order to encourage such presence, the place must provide a safe environment for these users.

  2. Vehicular travel speed must reflect the desire for pedestrian safety. There is a direct correlation between high speeds and pedestrian safety. As speeds increase, crashes involving pedestrians are more severe.

Safe travel for all modes is a key objective in the St. Louis region. The East-West Gateway Council of Governments, the State of Missouri, the State of Illinois, and a number of other agencies are increasingly recognizing the importance of safe travel. In 2004, East-West Gateway spearheaded a major initiative under the banner “Someone’s Future is in Your Hands: Travel Safe.” The campaign is a component of regional and national efforts to reduce the number of driver and pedestrian traffic deaths.