Comparing the Kansas and Missouri Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessments

Each state Department of Transportation is now required to submit a Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment that includes a plan to improve safety. How do the Sunflower State and the Show-Me State compare and stack up?

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) advanced a number of grants and programs that will help to make it safer and easier for people to walk, roll, bike, and use public transit. One of those elements is the Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment (VRUSA). As the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) explains, a VRUSA “is an assessment of the safety performance of a State with respect to vulnerable road users and the plan of the State to improve the safety of vulnerable road users…”. In other words, a VRUSA not only offers a glimpse into how a state DOT understands problems of VRU crashes, but also how they intend to address those problems.

The VRUSA guidance from USDOT includes clear directions on what elements are required for the document. They include:

  1. Overview of VRU Safety Performance – what trends exist in VRU crashes and what progress is the state DOT making to address this?
  2. Summary of Quantitative Analysis – what data and methodology did the state DOT use to identify high-risk areas of VRUs?
  3. Summary of Consultation – who did the state DOT consult with and what solutions did these individuals or groups offer?
  4. Program of Projects or Strategies – what specific steps is the state DOT taking to reduce VRU crashes?
  5. Safe System Approach (SSA) – how was the Safe System Approach incorporated into the state DOT’s VRUSA?

Click here to check out the VRUSA for Kansas, and click here for the VRUSA for Missouri.

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A Closer Look at Kansas’ and Missouri’s Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessments

  1. Overview of Vulnerable Road User (VRU) Safety Performance
    • Kansas – KDOT identified a number of alarming trends. Fatal crashes involving vulnerable road users increased at a faster rate compared to crashes overall. More than 70% of those crashes involved pedestrians, and over 85% of these crashes happened on local roads as opposed to state roads. It’s also important to note that Black and Native American road users in the state are twice as likely to be killed in a crash. These numbers all point to VRU crashes and fatalities trending in the wrong direction for Kansas.
    • Missouri – MoDOT also identified a number of concerning trends with VRU safety. More than 80% of crashes in the state happened at urbanized intersections (an intersection in a community with a population density over 50,000 people). Qualified low-income neighborhoods experienced around 58% of all VRU crashes. The three major metros for the state (Kansas City, St. Louis, and Springfield) account for 75% of fatal VRU crashes and 70% of all VRU crashes. According to their analysis, Prospect and 31st in KCMO has produced the most crashes of any intersection in the state in recent years (11).
  2. Summary of Quantitative Analysis
    • Kansas – KDOT’s quantitative analysis builds upon work related to their High Injury Network. In addition, KDOT looked at both crash trends and contributing circumstances based on information from crash reports. They also developed a High Risk Network that uses roadway configuration and other contextual features to determine which portions of the overall road network create a higher crash risk. Based on this analysis, KDOT identified five communities that are overrepresented in VRU fatal or serious injury crashes: Hutchinson, Kansas City, Topeka, Salina, and Wichita. It’s important to note that a more detailed explanation is included in a separate technical report which was not immediately published with KDOT’s VRUSA.
    • Missouri – MoDOT pulled most of the data for their data analysis from a combination of police crash reports, roadway data, and hospital data. MoDOT relied on a systemic safety analysis, where they essentially combine crash and roadway data for the bulk of their quantitative analysis. As they explained, they made this decision based on what they observed from other state DOTs, specifically Iowa, North Carolina, and Texas. The analysis shows that 19% of the 115 counties in the state are producing 70% of all VRU crashes.
  3. Summary of Consultation
    • KansasKDOT hosted two rounds of stakeholder engagement. The first round consisted of multiple statewide workshops. The second round involved two targeted meetings of cities with both lower- and higher-risk areas. Feedback from statewide meetings tended to focus on infrastructure and funding. Feedback from communities tended to focus on elements such as staff capacity and plan implementation.
    • Missouri – MoDOT hosted two stakeholder meetings and an online survey which received 39 responses. There was also a special meeting with leaders from the city and county of St. Louis. The feedback overall was more varied, but key themes included policy changes, a need for more funding, and deployment of small-scale infrastructure changes.
  4. Program of Projects or Strategies
    • Kansas – KDOT has developed new mapping tools and identified a number of strategies to lower crashes, injuries, and fatalities. First, KDOT has developed an interactive map for its Vulnerable Road User High Injury Network. The map identifies state and local roads that produce higher numbers of these incidents. Additionally, KDOT identifies a number of strategies to pursue. These recommendations are for the eventual update of the Strategic Highway Safety Plan. They fall into five categories: 1) safer speeds, 2) safer roads, 3) safer people, 4) safer vehicles, and 5) post-crash care.
    • Missouri – Potential projects and strategies from MoDOT are contained within the “Countermeasures” section of their VRUSA. Before identifying specific countermeasures, they list a number of resources they use to determine which countermeasures to support, including the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), Guidance to Improve Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety at Intersections, and academic papers. They identify a number of countermeasures that are all low-cost and have documented benefits. They include road diets, raised crosswalks, and parking restrictions.
  5. Safe System Approach (SSA)
    • KansasKDOT’s use of SSA was most prominent in their data analysis and engagement. They specifically used the approach to understand behaviors, road design, post-crash care, and more. They also used the approach to guide their engagement with key stakeholders by informing those groups of this approach. One area where they don’t rely on SSA is with safer vehicles, but they explained that this could change in the future with access to more data.
    • Missouri – MoDOT’s use of SSA is very limited, largely confined to a single paragraph near the start of the document. While USDOT does allow states to spread SSA elements throughout the VRUSA, there isn’t much mention of the SSA elements anywhere else in the document.

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Taken together, it’s clear that Kansas submitted a better VRUSA. The biggest strength of KDOT’s report is that it very clearly defines what it will do to lower crashes and how they’ll work with communities to do it. Their biggest weakness is that they didn’t include the technical report which gives more details on the data analysis.

For Missouri, the biggest strength of MoDOT’s report is that it clearly identifies which streets and intersections are most dangerous. The biggest weakness is that they use this report to undermine the very countermeasures they need to pursue to lower crashes, injuries, and fatalities among vulnerable road users across the state.

While the expectation is that future versions of the VRUSA will evolve and improve, there are additional steps KDOT and MoDOT can take now to produce stronger documents elsewhere and create safer streets for everyone:

Kansas

  • Increase outreach to communities at greatest risk – In their VRUSA, KDOT noted that Black and Native American road users were twice as likely to be killed in a VRU crash. Despite this, there doesn’t appear to be much explanation on targeted outreach to these groups in the stakeholder engagement. More needs to be done to work directly with members of these communities to develop strategies that best support and align with their needs.
  • Consider further changes at the local levelKDOT alludes to internal changes with technology and vehicles, and there is room to grow here. In particular, the state identified active safety features (i.e. advanced driver assistance systems, backup cameras, automated braking systems) as a recommendation for safer vehicles. As resources allow, KDOT should explore ways to encourage local communities to pursue this as well.

Missouri

  • Develop a statewide active transportation plan – Missouri is one of a handful of states without a statewide active transportation plan. Without it, the Show-Me State lacks a clear, cohesive vision on how vulnerable road users should be supported in the road network and concrete steps to make that vision a reality. Unless and until MoDOT develops such a plan, Missouri will continue to fall behind its neighbors on protecting vulnerable road users who travel along their streets.
  • Staff a FTE for multimodal work – Making real progress towards zero traffic deaths requires a consistent approach. MoDOT needs to invest in a full-time employee whose sole purpose is to coordinate the state’s efforts on active transportation. A piece-meal approach spread across multiple positions is neither adequate, nor effective in keeping vulnerable road users safe.

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While more work is needed in both states to eliminate traffic violence and to create safer streets for everyone, the VRUSA presents an opportunity to understand where each state DOT stands on the problem and their commitment to finding and implementing solutions. What that looks like varies considerably between Kansas and Missouri, but the objective remains the same: making it safe to travel, regardless of your transportation choice.

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