City announces record results from safety campaigns

Published on November 19, 2018

Logo of the Vision Zero safety campaign

Vision Zero education push sets new standards for compliance with pedestrian crosswalk statute and 5-foot-wide bicycle passing ordinance, helps reduce bicycle crashes to 10-year low

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — The City of Grand Rapids established new records for protecting the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists in 2018 with the support of a successful Vision Zero public education campaign that helped reduce bicycle crashes involving motorists to a 10-year low and vehicle-pedestrian collisions to a three-year low.

“Grand Rapids is showing extraordinary improvements in public understanding that the responsibility for traffic safety is shared by all road users,” Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said during a City Hall press conference today where results of the Vision Zero Summer of Safety campaign were announced. “The achievements from our 2018 Vision Zero campaign reflect that we’re building a strong culture of respect between people who walk, bicycle or drive.”

Grand Rapids became Michigan’s first municipality to implement Vision Zero strategies after the City Commission unanimously approved the proposal along with the City’s more stringent crosswalk policy in February. The concept was introduced during the 1990s in Sweden, which now has the world’s lowest annual traffic-related death rate. Vision Zero has proved successful across Europe and is embraced in many U.S. cities, including Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, San Francisco and Seattle.

The Vision Zero initiative in Grand Rapids comprises two public education efforts: 

Heads Up, GR! – the City’s second annual pedestrian safety campaign – informs the community about the new Grand Rapids ordinance that requires drivers to stop for pedestrians at all crosswalks. The goal of the pedestrian safety promotional messaging this summer was to lower Grand Rapids’ higher-than-state-average rate of pedestrian-involved crashes with motor vehicles.

Driving Change is Grand Rapids’ nationally recognized push aimed at significantly reducing crashes between bicyclists and motorists and generating broad awareness of the City’s “safe passing” ordinance, which requires motorists to keep at least 5 feet between the right side of their vehicle and the bicyclist they are passing as well as other bicycle safety rules. The City Commission passed the state’s first 5-foot-wide passing ordinance in 2015.
Highlights of the two campaigns include:

  • Zero bicycle-related fatalities were recorded in Grand Rapids from April 2018 through September 2018.
  • The 40 vehicle-bicycle crashes recorded during that six-month span were the City’s lowest total since 2008.
  • A City-record 77 percent of motorists in Grand Rapids are complying with the City’s 5-foot-wide passing ordinance based on new findings from a City research project funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and conducted in Grand Rapids.
  • More than 9 in 10 people in Grand Rapids now know they must leave a minimum amount of space – 5 feet – between their vehicle and a bicyclist when passing, according to results from a new City-commissioned survey.
  • More than 75 percent of respondents to a new City survey believe Grand Rapids is becoming friendlier to all road users – drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians.
  • A 38 percent increase in familiarity with the rules that pedestrians must follow after the Heads Up, GR! safety campaign launched in April to promote awareness of the City’s new crosswalk ordinance.
  • 95 percent of motorists say they now stop – rather than yield – for pedestrians at crosswalks in Grand Rapids to comply with the new law, according to the City survey.
  • Only one fatal vehicle-pedestrian crash and 43 total vehicle-pedestrian crashes were recorded in Grand Rapids from April through September, the lowest totals since 2015.

“These results demonstrate we can prevent our family members, friends and neighbors from being hurt or even killed in crashes if we show more patience and pay more attention while traveling our city’s streets,” Grand Rapids Police Chief David Rahinsky said. 

“Our department is committed to working with City staff, volunteers, driver training companies, neighborhood and business groups and other stakeholders toward a common objective: make Grand Rapids streets traveler-friendly for everyone,” said Grand Rapids Police Sgt. Cathy Williams, who is among the local law enforcers coordinating the campaigns with the City’s Traffic Safety Division. 

Grand Rapids is required to develop individual campaigns for bicycle and pedestrian safety under the terms of two grants that help fund the city’s Vision Zero activities. The City’s Heads Up, GR! pedestrian safety campaign that began in 2017 is a multiyear effort supported by a $120,000 grant from the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning in partnership with Western Michigan University. Grand Rapids began its Driving Change bicycle education campaign in 2016 with Michigan Department of Transportation funding support – the first public education campaign of its kind in Michigan. The campaign is based on crash data analysis, community surveys, focus groups, input from community leaders and reviews of existing campaigns.  

Commissioner Ruth Kelly thanked members of the Driving Change bicycle safety research team that collected data for the NHTSA-WMU research effort using ultrasonic radar devices known as C3FTTM – pronounced “see 3 feet.” The state-of-the-art devices are bicycle-mounted electronic systems designed to detect, capture and display the proximity of passing vehicles to bicyclists. The Grand Rapids Police Department is the first police agency in the state to use the new technology.

“Our community is safer today because of your willingness to share your time, talent and expertise,” Kelly said. “On behalf of the City, we express our appreciation to all of the Driving Change research riders who have helped make the quality of life we enjoy in Grand Rapids even better.”

The research team collected two types of bicycle safety data from April through November – a set of riders recording data all the time during every ride they took on city streets, and another set of riders who traveled four specifically designated routes on scheduled days and times Monday through Friday regardless of weather, according to Grand Rapids Transportation Planning/Programs Supervisor Kristin Bennett. 

“In addition to being comfortable riding with traffic in a variety of road conditions, we recruited people who rode a lot and were experienced primarily on streets for the at-large riders who were collecting data every time they rode. Then, for the scheduled rides, we needed experienced bicyclists with flexible schedules during the workday for the designated routes since these rides took place during the day Monday through Friday,” Bennett said. “Their contribution to this project was invaluable, and the recognition by the City for their service is well-deserved.”

The Grand Rapids Driving Change research team members were local residents:

  • Joshua Chilcote, a master brewer
  • Josh Duggan, a lab analyst at the Grand Rapids Water System
  • Eric Keys, an information technology specialist
  • Cathy Pratt, an artist
  • Mark Schlutt, a graphic designer
  • Tom Tilma, a sales executive
  • Sarah Williams, a health care professional
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