Northwest Arkansas planners urged to adopt Vision Zero transportation safety plan

Traffic moves through the intersection of Joyce Boulevard and College Avenue in Fayetteville in this May 12, 2022 file photo. A Regional Planning committee on Thursday, April 20, 2023 recommended approval of two traffic management programs aimed at managing congestion and making roads safer for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians in Northwest Arkansas. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Andy Shupe)

Regional planners recommended approval Thursday of a comprehensive transportation safety plan aimed at reducing the number of severe injuries and fatalities on the area's roads.

Vision Zero is a traffic safety philosophy that lays out a set of principles and elements for engineering roads, educating travelers and creating a sense of collective responsibility among road users.

The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission's Technical Advisory Committee made the recommendation at its meeting Thursday. The plan is expected to go to the commission's Policy Committee on June 28 for final approval.

Elizabeth Bowen, with the regional planning commission, said earlier it is understood there will be crashes, but the idea is to make them less detrimental to those involved.

A big takeaway is that motorists need to either slow down or be slowed down.

Jared Draper with Toole Design, consultants on the plan, urged city planners to use data in the report and review current posted speed limits along corridors and city streets with many crashes to see if speed limits are too high. If so, take steps to reduce them.

"Considering some of the studies in specific areas where we know the speeding is high, we need to reduce that, but there needs to be complementary actions," Draper said.

Those actions may include changing lane configurations, tightening turn radii and adjusting signal timing to slow people down along dangerous corridors, Draper said.

"We know what the outcry from the community when we slow people down will be," said Patsy Christie, planning and community development director for the city of Springdale. "Safety is a term we have to use all the time, but they don't understand that at all when it comes to slowing down."

Chris Brown, city engineer in Fayetteville, said he foresees potential conflicts with Arkansas Department of Transportation policies when trying to implement the plan, ranging from issues with signals to lighting and speed limits. He said the Transportation Department has guidelines they have to follow when posting speed limits.

"I think we're going to have to probably have some high level conversations with their leadership about some of these things," Brown said.

The Northwest Arkansas Regional Vision Zero Plan is part of the national Safer Streets and Roads for All program. It begins with a simple idea that traffic deaths and severe injuries are preventable among all road users, whether walking, biking, riding scooters, driving or riding transit.

The approach includes specific transportation system design principles. For motorized vehicles, measures include roundabouts, raised medians and access management, not having so many curb cuts and entrances from side streets.

Roads can also be designed and constructed to increase safety. In more rural areas, that may include designs for roadsides that reduce the number of obstacles cars would strike if they ran off the road, pavements that reduce skidding and increased use of rumble strips, crash cushions, guardrails and median cable barriers.

In more urban areas, it may include designs for urban intersections that reduce the speed of turning cars, the broad use of roundabouts to bring down vehicle speeds in intersections and shorter pedestrian crossing distances.

Data are collected and used to identify areas where most accidents happen so they can be addressed.

Improving post-crash emergency responses to crashes and trauma care is also part of the approach.

Having the regional plan will allow cities and counties in the area to apply for federal grants for projects that improve road safety.

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Road to Zero

The draft of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Vision Zero Plan is available for review on the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commissions website. Heres a link:

Source: Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission