Saturday, July 7, 2012

BAC Safety Committee: Traffic Safety Benchmarks and Building Relationships with District Traffic Captains

This post serves as notes from the June meeting of the BAC SEE Comittee. I apologize for not recording attendees.

Over the last month, the BAC Safety, Education and Enforcment Committee has been extremely busy. On May 30, the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary had a hearing on pedestrian and bicycle safety. [link here:] One of the big outcomes of that meeting was that CM Phil Mendelson (now council chair) asked MPD, BAC, PAC, and WABA to work together to put together proposals for traffic safety benchmarks. Since then, there has been a flurry of work on this issue by BAC and PAC. Second, we’ve been building relationships with the MPD District Captains responsible for coordinating traffic enforcement in their districts - please help build up these relationships. Third, we discussed the current state of bicycle theft data and some of the work being done to combat bike theft.

Action needed:

  • Please provide your ideas for traffic safety benchmarks - these ideas will be compiled into a proposal sent to MPD and the DC Council Committee on the Judiciary
  • Are you willing to meet with the MPD District Traffic Captain from your area? These meetings will take place during the work day, on schedules TBA, and require knowledge of local traffic enforcement priorities.

Traffic Safety Benchmarks

How can you improve something if you don’t measure it? CM Phil Mendelson has asked MPD, BAC, PAC and WABA to work together to put together proposals to measure traffic safety benchmarks. These benchmarks should ideally provide a direction in which to aim safety improvement efforts by MPD others, and a means to measure how effective those efforts are at both the citywide and the patrol district level.

Ideas for benchmarks have been discussed at both the June PAC meeting and the June Safety, Education and Enforcement Committee meeting. MPD already tracks a variety of important metrics. MPD prominently reports on traffic fatalities in biweekly newletters and annual performance reporting.

There are at least three important elements of a benchmarking proposal: 1) a long-term vision, 2) communicating the importance and salience of that vision, and 3) measuring progress towards long-term goals.

Long-term vision for pedestrian and bicycle safety:
A far-off aspirational goal or vision is helpful in understanding the direction for traffic safety efforts. We suggest that Chief Lanier and Mayor Gray set enforcement goals for:

  • Increasing the feeling of safety that pedestrians and cyclists feel on DC streets
  • Decreasing the number of fatalities and injuries that occur among pedestrians and cyclists in relation to the number of people using those modes of transportation

These goals would combine a measurable, quantifiable element with a positive image of the district that we are trying to create.

Communicating the Importance of Traffic Safety:
To be effective, traffic safety benchmarks can’t exist in a bubble, but should be tied into achieving other goals. Fortunately, they are:
  • Mayor Gray has already set goals for the citywide rate of bicycling and walking in Washington, DC
  • Traffic safety is a key part of making people feel safe enough to bike and walk, thus helping to achieve DC’s sustainability goals
  • Chief Lanier has already set a performance goal to increase the culture of traffic safety enforcement throughout the department - this is an important performance goal that we support

Measuring Progress:
In addition to providing long-term direction, traffic safety benchmarks should provide a way to measure progress. Here are some ideas for measurables to examine progress towards the vision outlined above. Each of these benchmarks can be measured in relation to the entire city or the individual police district. Indicators can be divided into measures of agency effort, achievement of intermediate outcomes and achievement of final outcomes.

  • Agency Training:
    • Number of officers trained in pedestrian and bicycle law and enforcement
  • Agency Commitment:
    • Number of officer-hours dedicated to traffic enforcement over the course of the year

Intermediate Outcomes:
  • Officer Culture:
    • Percentage of patrol officers who participated in an overtime traffic enforcement program, an on-duty traffic enforcement program with the district traffic commander, or made a traffic related citizen contact during on-duty time during the course of the year

  • Officer knowledge:
    • Number of improper citations
      • Based on citizen complaints against MPD regarding perception of improper citations
      • Retrospective paperwork studies of tickets and police reports
  • Citizen education:
    • Number of officer/citizen contacts related to traffic enforcement
      • Based on the number of officer tickets, warnings, and contacts
      • Divided by overtime NHTSA grant time, district traffic assignment, and regular on-duty time
  • Citizen behavior
    • Rate of breaking traffic law

Realization of Final Vision:
  • Perception of safety of bicycling and walking
    • Citizen ratings of safety
      • Based on surveys of feelings and perceptions
    • Rate of biking and walking mode shares
      • Based on transportation survey
      • Goal: achieve Mayor’s Sustainability Goal
  • Reduction in negative outcomes of traffic accidents
    • Number of fatalities and injuries by mode in relation to the number of people using those modes of transportation

Right now these are just ideas - what are your ideas for benchmarks that would be useful in long-term improvements in traffic safety in Washington, DC?

District Traffic Captains

Over the past year, MPD has ensured that every patrol district has appointed a district traffic captain and is implementing regular traffic enforcement. In many districts, this means assigning officers to traffic enforcement and in all cases, there are at least monthly traffic enforcement efforts. Commander Crane has recently offered BAC representatives the chance to participate in his meetings with district traffic captains, and so far BAC and PAC have participated in meetings with traffic captains from 2D and 4D. Soon, more meetings will be scheduled, offering the opportunity for BAC members to meet with the captains responsible for traffic enforcement in their district, share their concerns regarding specific enforcement needs, and get the captain’s perspective on how resources are currently being deployed to improve traffic safety.

In meetings so far, we have focused on the following issues:
  • What resources are currently being dedicated to traffic enforcement?
  • How are those resources deployed? Are they being strategically targeted to the biggest need? Are they incorporating citizen input? Are they being used to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians?
  • BAC and PAC suggestions for particular enforcement needs in the districts.

Bicycle Theft Data and Prevention

We discussed a number of items related to bike theft and data
1) I asked about bike theft data - a resident has asking about it - MPD reps gave the names of several people responsible for putting up the data who I will be forwarding specific questions to

2) MPD reps indicated something like 1,800 bikes were stolen last year (approximate). Dan indicated that many bike thefts are unreported.

3) I asked whether MPD had a position on the current prohibition against selling used bikes. MPD reps did not express an opinion nor did they know of an official MPD position.

4) I asked how many bikes are currently returned to their owners through the National Bicycle Registry. MPD reps weren't sure about that, and said they would check. MPD displays recovered bikes for the public to come look to ID their own bikes.

5) I asked about the idea of a bike registration system which would allow a bike buyer to enter a serial number of the bicycle to check whether it has been reported stolen. I believe a system like this would dispel some concerns regarding fencing of stolen bikes. MPD reps thought it was interesting, but no particular reaction.

As this overly long report-back demonstrates, we’ve covered a lot in the last month, including 5 meetings (DC Council, PAC, BAC, 2D traffic captain, 4D traffic captain). How you can help:
  • Help develop traffic safety benchmarks into a proposal
  • Plan to meet with your local traffic captain and discuss enforcement concerns