National results begin at home
You’re driving down your neighborhood street, maybe past an elementary school where parents are picking up their kids. You’re conscientious and slow down, even beyond the school zone speed limit. And you notice the dangers — children crossing the street between parked cars, several drivers competing for one parking space closer to the front of the school and too few crossing guards to manage the chaos. Shouldn’t someone do something about this situation?
Now, maybe you can.
“Safe Communities” is a program that partners grassroots interest with local, state and federal support to help improve transportation-related safety in local areas. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has made a commitment to work with cities and towns through its Safe Communities Service Center, which provides information to Safe Community coalitions around the country. Armed with tools, strategies and the desire to make a difference, small, medium and large U.S. cities are effecting positive change at the local level. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is implementing NHTSA’s vision in the Lone Star State, with the assistance of the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) in coordinating existing and new traffic safety coalitions.
“Texas Safe Communities takes the program pioneered by NHTSA and puts it into action in towns as diverse as College Station and Dallas,” explains TTI Assistant Research Specialist Irene Rodriguez, who serves as coordinator for the Safe Communities effort in Texas. “Essentially, we serve as an information clearinghouse for advocates who want to make transportation safer in their own little corner of the world.”
Rodriguez sees her main role as being an advocate for the advocates — getting the word out to city planners, engineers and concerned citizens who simply need specific information on how to make things happen locally. The new Texas Safe Communities website will be launched in the spring and will serve as a portal for positive change.
The site will consist primarily of resources that local safety proponents can use to plan, develop and implement improvements. Success stories from other communities, news related to Safe Communities issues and instructions for applying directly to TxDOT for funding will also be available.
Set in the context of NHTSA’s larger mission, it’s easy to see why the efforts of individual champions at the local level are so important. It’s one thing to create safety standards and distribute them for implementation and enforcement. It’s quite another to make effective change for the better.
“The key to success for this program is the ability of coalitions, partners and agencies to share best practices. Also, active participation and commitment by top community officials and a plan that outlines highway and traffic safety priorities and activities for the community are essential,” explains Chris Willrich, Safe Communities program manager in the Traffic Safety Section at TxDOT.