Editorial: New federal grant program could ease Indy traffic deaths

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With traffic deaths rising in Indianapolis and across the nation, the Biden administration’s plan to provide $5 billion in funding over the next five years for communities to create safer streets could provide a welcome solution.

In order to make the most of the opportunity, though, Indianapolis-area communities should band together to come up with a comprehensive grant application that broadly addresses the region’s safety needs and offers the best chance to leverage the most federal money possible.

The need is tragically apparent, especially in Indianapolis. As The Indianapolis Star reported in a recent series, pedestrian deaths alone have accounted for 148 traffic fatalities in the city over the past five years, nearly double the number reported from 2006 to 2010.

Across the state, 699 people lost their lives in fatal crashes from January to September last year, a 9% increase over the same period in 2020, according to a preliminary report issued by the National Traffic Safety Highway Administration. Nationally, traffic deaths rose 12% over the same period, to 31,720.

All this occurred during the height of the pandemic. While the number of daily traffic trips dropped 42% during that time, they became more deadly.

Poor street and sidewalk designs certainly aren’t the only reasons. Law enforcement officers also often cite an increase in aggressive driving, complacency when the streets are less crowded and distractions caused when drivers monitor their cell phones and eat or try to groom themselves while on the road.

But better designs can make a difference.

In announcing the “Safe Streets and Roads for All” grant program earlier this week, Transportation Secretary and former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg called on communities to take a good look at what cities such as Hoboken, New Jersey, and Oslo, Norway, have done to reduce pedestrian deaths to zero for multiple years.

Hoboken has managed the feat by adopting a “Vision Zero” plan that examines traffic data and looks for ways to use street design to reduce speeding and protect bicyclists and walkers, The Washington Post reported.

Indianapolis is considering a similar approach, and a grant from the federal government would help advance the cause.

But efforts shouldn’t be limited to Indianapolis. Statewide, both underserved populations in urban cores and rural outskirts with limited lighting and no sidewalks must be taken into account. As the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety notes, rural roads had almost twice the fatality rate as urban ones in 2019.

That’s why the new regional development authority pushed by Noblesville Mayor Chris Jensen and Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness should make sure that traffic and pedestrian safety is one of the first issues it tackles.

Organizers envision that the Central Indiana Regional Development Authority initially would include Anderson, Carmel, Fishers, Indianapolis, McCordsville, Noblesville, Westfield and Zionsville. It would provide the perfect platform to draft a grant application that makes certain the region’s most important traffic-safety issues are addressed for those populations most in need.•


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