Making Roads in Your County-City Safer

To learn how the safety of roads in your area compares with the rest of Maryland check out the two charts below.  The first chart shows the rate for all crashes and the second gives the fatal crash rate.  While safer roads had been the general trend in Maryland, one of the sharpest increases in fatal crashes in 30 years occurred in 2015 (see third chart below).

2015-16 Accidents

Fatal Crashes Graph

Fatal Crashes Chart 2005-15

Why Maryland Roads Were Getting Safer & the 2015 Upturn

The chart above shows that Maryland roads have generally become less deadly over the past eleven years.  This improving trend has been attributed to:

  • Better engineering that has made cars and roads safer;
  • At 93% Maryland has one of the highest seatbelt use rates in the U.S.; and
  • Improved public education regarding the risks of impaired and aggressive driving along with increased enforcement.

In 2015, Maryland experienced the largest increase in traffic-related fatalities in a single year since 1985.  The increase may have been due to an 8.1% rise in the amount of driving done on roads throughout the U.S.  A significant part of this increase might also be attributable to more driving during the most dangerous times – Friday and Saturday night. Finally, the improving economy may play a role as well.  When unemployment rates decline, crashes increase.

Why Are Fatalities So Much Higher In Rural Areas?

The fatal crash rate chart shows that the roads in Maryland’s rural counties are far deadlier compared to those in more densely populated localities.  Lower fatality rates in the more suburban-urban areas is likely due to the slower speeds resulting from greater traffic congestion in these areas.

Fatal Crashes Graph

This relationship between congestion and fatality rates was confirmed in a 2016 paper, Urban sprawl as a risk factor in motor vehicle crashes.  As traffic congestion increases, vehicle speed declines making it less likely that a collision will result in death.

Maryland traffic safety experts cite additional factors accounting for the higher fatality rate on rural roads:

  • A higher percentage of two-lane roads where a mistake is more likely to result in a head-on and fatal collision;
  • An absence of street lights which makes it harder to see hazards;
  • Roads that are generally straighter, allowing for higher speeds; and
  • The curious link between a higher percentage of pick-up trucks whose occupants use seatbelts less than those travelling in other vehicles.

The High Cost of Traffic Crashes

Nationally traffic crashes cost $871 billion per year.   Speeding, intoxication and distracted driving account for 56% of crashes.  In Maryland, the cost of traffic deaths alone is $690 million annually.  According to the Insurance Research Council the average auto liability claim for property damage in 2013 was $3,231 and the average auto liability claim for bodily injury was $15,443.

Each year the Texas A&M Transportation Institute releases the Annual Urban Mobility Scorecard, which ranks 471 U.S. urban areas for traffic congestion.  The most recent ranking placed the Washington, D.C. area, including the Maryland suburbs, at the top of the list for most congested in the nation.  In 2014, congestion caused the average D.C. area motorist 82 hours in delay and $1,834 in fuel consumed while stuck in traffic.  The Baltimore area ranked 25th, which motorists experienced as 45 hours of delay and $1,115 in wasted gas.  The Insurance Information Institute rates Washington, D.C. and Baltimore the third and fourth worse cities in the nation for driving.

Traffic Safety Plans Key To Less Dangerous Roads

Maryland has adopted a Strategic Highway Safety Plan.  Thomas Gianni,  Chief of the Maryland Highway Safety Office, said the following with regard to the beneficial effect of the current and past plans:

“For the past two decades Maryland has drafted various iterations of a Strategic Highway Safety Plan; each one refining and building on its predecessor.  We believe the current document (2016-2020) includes the most comprehensive forward-thinking strategies for providing the greatest impact.  I do believe that along with tremendously improved engineering (in both vehicles and highway infrastructure) these continually refined strategic plans have contributed significantly to the declining fatalities on our highways over the past decade or so.  I also believe it’s a synergistic effect resulting from the collaboration & coordination of all four Es of highway safety – Engineering, Enforcement, Education and Emergency Medical Services.”

While the plan covers 17,824 lane miles of State roads, this is only a fourth of the total miles in Maryland.  The rest of our roads are overseen by local governments.  To make these local roads safer we need County and City versions of the Maryland plan. Unfortunately, only Harford County has adopted a plan, while Prince George’s County is in the drafting stage.  If you live in one of the other 21 counties or cities please consider urging your local elected officials to initiate a traffic safety improvement planning process.

Growth Management Plans Must Incorporate Traffic Safety Actions

While local traffic safety plans are essential to lowering crash rates, they are not enough. Traffic safety plans must become part of local growth management plans (known as comprehensive or master plans).  Each comprehensive-master plan must incorporate the actions set forth in traffic safety plans which are essential to making driving less dangerous. Actions involving construction and other physical improvements must then be included in the local Capital Improvement Program and fully funded.  A quick review of plans indicates that no Maryland county provides this critical linkage between growth management and traffic safety.

Traffic Impact FeesShifting the Cost to Accommodate More Traffic from Taxpayers to Developers

Over the next 25 years growth another half-million homes will be built in Maryland adding another 4 million trips to our roads.  Accommodating this traffic will be expensive.  Impact fees provide a way to shift the cost for keeping roads safe as growth adds traffic from taxpayers to developers. However, only seven of Maryland’s 23 counties charge these fees (see table).

Adequate Public Facility Laws

Adequate Public Facility (APF) laws are essential to preventing new development from making congestion and crash rates worse while traffic safety improvement actions are being implemented.   A good APF law will prohibit development from being approved if the traffic from a project will cause congestion to reach an acceptable Level of Service.

Of Maryland’s 23 counties, 13 have adopted Adequate Public Facility laws regarding traffic: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Calvert, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, Prince George’s, Queen Anne’s, Saint Mary’s and Washington County.  Some of these 14 APF laws are very good, others not so much.

For example, the Baltimore County APF law is based upon procedures dating from 1965. These 50 year-old procedures identified only 11 intersections countywide with excessive congestion. With current procedures the number of excessively congestion intersections and road segments is more like 100 or 200.

A table comparing traffic APF requirements follows.  The table can also be viewed at: ceds.org/blog/TrafficAPFOTable.jpg

Traffic APFO

In a 2012 report Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances in Maryland: (Discussion Draft) Annual Report Review, the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission cited the following as a major shortfall:

“Finally, there continues to be little evidence if the jurisdictions are using their APFOs to inform decisions about which projects should receive priority funding in county capital improvement programs (CIPs). There is little linkage or information about capacity improvement reported in APFO reports. APFO standards themselves are often lacking detail in available facility capacity. Available capacity, or capacity improvements resulting from developer contributions [impact fee?] or local government CIPs are simply not identified.”

For advice on how to improve traffic safety planning and preventing new development from making your local roads less safe, visit the CEDS Traffic, Development & Neighborhood Quality of Life webpage or contact us at Help@ceds.org or 410-654-3021.

 

 

 

 

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Volunteer Campaign Makes Possible 61% Improvement in Construction Site Erosion Control

Throughout the nation watershed advocates struggle with poor Clean Water law compliance, but this may change thanks to a very successful experiment in the Baltimore portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

grbaltimore

Courtesy of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council

Over a 12-month period, 70 volunteers and 40 local, statewide and national organizations carried out two surveys of the quality of erosion control on 140 constructions sites in the Greater Baltimore region.

In June 2014, the compliance rate with State and local erosion control laws was 23%.  A year later, when the survey was repeated, compliance had risen to 37% – a 61% improvement.  In just one year we reduced the amount of mud pollution from all the 450+ construction sites active in the Greater Baltimore area by 4,270 tons! Continue reading

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Compliance Index: An Essential Watershed Restoration Tool

Index Chart2New shopping centers, highways, housing projects and other development is the only source of pollution which is growing in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  We rely upon a number of programs to ensure that we get the benefits of this growth while minimizing environmental impacts: construction site sediment control, stormwater management, wastewater collection-treatment, wetland-waterway permitting, etc.  If these programs do not achieve a high level of compliance then the benefits of all other restoration activities – public education, retrofits, in-channel projects – may be obscured by sediment, stormwater, sewage and other excessive pollution.

While it is believed that compliance is fair to poor in many parts of the Chesapeake Bay basin, watershed organizations have lacked an independent means of verifying then correcting this – until now. Continue reading

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Bird River: An Emerging Model for Accelerating Watershed Restoration

BirdRiverAerialOf all of the Chesapeake Bay’s 100,000 miles of tributaries, Bird River is arguably the most severely impacted by sediment.  But a combination of government funded projects and citizen advocacy for improved clean water law enforcement may bring about recovery of this waterway which is unprecedented with regard to speed.

Overview

For more than four decades those who live on and near Bird River have been promised an end to the tremendous quantities of eroded soil and mud pollution that has filled in boating channels, decimated fish and crabs, depreciated property values, and caused an overall decline in quality of life.  In the late 1990s Baltimore County and other agencies began a series of stream restoration projects designed to reduce sediment released through bank erosion.  Finally, in 2001 a total of 27,000 feet of boating channels were dredged throughout the tidal river at a cost to taxpayers of $1.3 million.  But within a few years portions of the channel had filled in once again.  In 2014, a very poorly-planned development project caused Bird River residents to rise up and take matters into their own hands.  Not only did they win changes that corrected much of the aquatic resource impact, but they began scrutinizing the effectiveness of clean water law enforcement throughout their watershed.  This effort produced a nine-fold improvement in the quality of construction site mud pollution control.  They are now pursuing other major sources of pollution.  Bird River advocates can see a day in the very near future when all significant sediment sources are corrected and the River can be dredged again, but with far more lasting results.  This effort illustrates why watershed organizations can only achieve the goal of fully restored waterways if they serve as vocal, politically savvy watchdogs while also pursuing clean-ups, education projects, tree plantings, household retrofits, etc.  Continue reading

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CEDS Workshops – Winning More Land Use & Watershed Protection Battles

CEDS is offering the following workshops, limited to ten people each:

Wednesday, Jan 28th, 1:00 – 4:00 PM, Watershed Audit: The Quickest Way to Correct Multiple Pollution Sources Degrading a Waterway & Expand Your Base of Public Support, Political Clout. We’ll show you how to recruit large numbers of watershed residents to participate in a survey of a watershed for pollution sources such as construction sites, leaking sewers, poorly maintained stormwater pollution control measures, and much more. We’ll then explain how to use the combined political clout of the residents to get each pollution source quickly corrected. The workshop includes a visit to actual sources so you can see how easy it is to pin-point and correct pollution. For further background on this approach see: Severn River Audit (suburban watershed) or Corsica River Audit (rural watershed).

Tuesday, Feb 10th, 10:00 AM – Noon, Citizen Land Use & Watershed Growth Management Plans: How to Draft a Plan that Accommodates Reasonable Growth Without Jeopardizing Quality of Life or Aquatic Resource Health & Get the Plan Adopted. Most land use plans seem designed to maximize growth regardless of the economic or environmental impact to residents. Yet drafting a citizen based plan can be a highly effective way of mobilizing the public support and political clout needed to shift growth in ways that preserve and enhance quality of life as well as aquatic resource health. We’ll present examples of citizen generated plans that have effectively guided growth for more than four decades despite extreme developer pressure to abandon the plan.

Wednesday, Feb 25th, 1:00 – 4:00 PM, Environmental Site Design & Other Innovative Ways of Getting the Benefits of Growth While Preserving & Enhancing Aquatic Resource Health.   All Chesapeake Bay watershed jurisdictions have or are about to adopt Environmental Site Design or similar approaches that utilize highly-effective runoff control measures and other practices that greatly development impacts. However, compliance with these new approaches is uneven throughout the 64,000 square mile watershed. During this workshop we’ll show you how to review plans for a proposed development project to determine if it makes full use of ESD or other innovative measures. We’ll also show you how to review a sampling of plans recently approved by a town, city or county to assess overall compliance. Finally, we’ll present proven strategies for dramatically increasing compliance. For further background see our Montgomery County ESD Audit and the CEDS News Services article on Baltimore County.

Each workshop is limited to ten people and will be held in northern Baltimore County, MD. The fee for each workshop is $50 per person. To register go to: ceds.org/workshop. After we receive your registration we’ll send you details including the workshop location. For further information contact Richard Klein at 410-654-3021 or Rklein@ceds.org.

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Equitable Solutions: A Better Way To Win Land Use & Environmental Disputes

The Old, Wrong Way

Here’s the all too common scenario.  Citizens learn a development project is proposed for their watershed.  It looks like the project may cause harm, but there’s only two weeks before the big hearing.  This leaves little time to understand the process, verify impacts or to research options for resolving negative effects.  So they do what far too many folks opt for: Hire a lawyer to kill the project.  After all, killing the project prevents all impacts.  And it seems to work because someone heard that another project was killed a couple of years ago.  From the citizen’s perspective, what could be better?  Well, nothing except this approach succeeds less than 5% of the time vs. 90% for the better way.  The wrong way also burns out volunteers, wastes limited funds, and gives citizens the inaccurate impression that government is in the builders’ pocket.

The Better Way

Rather than immediately hiring a lawyer and setting the adversarial process in motion, citizens first obtain the plans, identify potential impacts, consult with staff and other experts to determine if impacts are likely to occur, and for those judged real seek ways to resolve each impact, preferably in a manner that allows the applicant to get most of what they want.  This is the Equitable Solutions approach.  It frequently costs very little, inspires citizens to become active participants in watershed management, and leaves citizens feeling positive about how their local government functions.  An Equitable Solutions campaign can also use a single poorly designed project to improve environmental protection throughout a county, city or state.

Equitable Solutions is described in detail in How To Win Land Development Issues, a 300-page book free for download at: ceds.org/publications.html.  CEDS can also conduct an Equitable Solutions workshop in your area (go to end of this article for details).   In the meantime we offer the following Equitable Solutions How-To summary.  We’re also a phone call away (410-654-3021) if you have questions. Continue reading

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Why Citizen Oversight Is Crucial To Clean Water Law Enforcement

AverageCondition_May2013Since releasing the results of the Greater Baltimore Exposed Soil = Pollution Survey last week, I’ve received a number of messages from folks who do not understand why citizen involvement is essential to achieving a high level of compliance with Clean Water laws like erosion-sediment control.  The following true story shows why public support is essential to ensuring enforcement agencies have the resources needed to be effective, then creating a political climate where the agencies are allowed to enforce.  The success described below was not a fluke.  It has been repeated many times.  Now the challenge is to increase citizen involvement in all Clean Water law enforcement efforts in every watershed if we are to fully restore the Bay and the 57% of her freshwater tributaries that are unfit for our use (red-orange watersheds in map). Continue reading

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