City wins state’s Outstanding Traffic Safety Achievement Award

Published on March 19, 2018

.jpg of photo of the Driving Change press conference

Driving Change campaign credited with preventing injuries, promoting respect between motorists and bicyclists 

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Governor’s Traffic Safety Advisory Commission, or GTSAC, is honoring the City of Grand Rapids with the Outstanding Traffic Safety Achievement Award in recognition of its nationally heralded Driving Change bicycle safety education campaign.

The GTSAC honors organizations, programs and individuals for outstanding contributions to traffic safety. The awards ceremony is scheduled for Wednesday, March 21 at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center in East Lansing as part of the 23rd annual Michigan Traffic Safety Summit. 

“This is a high honor and great achievement that reflects the hard work and dedication of City staff and community partners to make Grand Rapids a great place to live, work, play and ride,” said Chris Zull, the City’s Traffic Safety Manager. “Based on the results we’re seeing after two years of the Driving Change campaign, we are confident that implementing and continuing this education effort is vital to reducing the frequency and severity of bicycle crashes.

“While we cannot attribute these improvements in awareness of the importance of bicycle safety solely to the Driving Change campaign and the fine work of our police department, our research findings clearly reflect that our community’s stepped-up commitment to bicycle safety is successfully building a more respectful culture between bicyclists and motorists.”

The Driving Change theme was created to speak to both bicyclists and motorists about their responsibilities as road users, and it represented the first-ever public education campaign of its kind in Michigan. The campaign was based on crash data analysis, community surveys, focus groups, input from community leaders and reviews of existing campaigns. It included billboards, bus advertising, television public service announcements, radio advertising and social media.

Grand Rapids launched the Driving Change bicycle education campaign in 2016 with Michigan Department of Transportation support. The campaign helped to publicize Grand Rapids’ 2015 “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. 

Comparison of bike-related crashes in the greater Grand Rapids area between May and September 2015 and the same time frame in 2016 indicated that fatal or serious-injury crashes decreased by 81 percent – from 11 to two. The 42 crashes in 2016 was the lowest number of bicycle-involved crashes reported in Grand Rapids between May and September going back to 2004, the first year of available data.

During the same five-month period in 2017, there were eight fatal or serious-injury crashes – not as favorable as 2016 data, but still a decrease of 27 percent from 2015. The pre- and post-campaign surveys in 2016 showed a 40 percent increase in awareness of the 5-foot passing rule and a 13 percent increase in public belief that Grand Rapids is a bicycle-friendly community. The campaign’s 2017 kickoff was highlighted by the City’s first-ever public-private partnership with West Michigan driver training education companies. The companies used new City-provided education materials in their curriculum to promote awareness of local bicycle safety-related ordinances.

Grand Rapids has created roughly 80 miles of bike lanes over the past seven years, and the community’s bicycling culture has quickly evolved. The number of people biking to work in Grand Rapids has skyrocketed, growing by more than fivefold over the past eight years – a number that hovers around at least 1,730, according to state statistics. A system of bike lanes throughout the city has emerged, leading to far more bikes on area roads. City leaders have prioritized making Grand Rapids bicycle-friendly by, for example, incorporating consideration for bicycle facilities into essentially every design project that comes their way. 

This is the first time Grand Rapids has received the prestigious Outstanding Traffic Safety Achievement Award. The Driving Change campaign also has garnered national news media coverage and honors from the League of American Bicyclists, Public Relations Society of America, American Advertising Federation and Governor’s Fitness Awards for Active Communities.

The GTSAC was formed in 2002 to serve as the state’s forum for identifying key traffic safety challenges and developing and implementing plans to address those issues. The GTSAC includes representatives from the state government departments of Education, Health and Human Services, State Police and Transportation as well as the offices of Governor, Services to the Aging and Highway Safety Planning. There are also three representatives from local government appointed by the governor.