Less Traffic Means Faster — And Deadlier — Driving: Insights from Walk Bike Nashville’s Mobility Data for Safer Streets Project

Less Traffic Means Faster — And Deadlier — Driving: Insights from Walk Bike Nashville’s Mobility Data for Safer Streets Project

A few months ago Walk Bike Nashville (WBN) started hearing from residents across town that despite the reduction in overall traffic volumes as a result of the pandemic, people were seeing people drive at higher speeds in their neighborhoods. WBN decided to take a look at traffic volume and speeds, starting on Greenwood Ave in East Nashville.

Using StreetLight Data’s InSight platform, a transportation analytics and visualization tool provided through Spin’s Mobility Data for Safer Streets program, WBN performed an analysis of traffic volume and speed on Greenwood Ave, comparing the months of March through June of 2019 with the same period in 2020. This analysis validated residents’ concerns that despite an overall reduction in traffic this spring, average speeds were up. Even more concerning, the number of people driving over the speed limit was also up.

“The amount that speeding increased due to reduced traffic volume after the first wave of COVID-19 was surprising. It emphasizes the fact that our streets trigger this behavior, and that more work needs to be done to incorporate traffic calming and other infrastructure improvements in order to make streets safer for all users,” said Nora Kern, executive director of Walk Bike Nashville.

Here is more detail on what WBN found:

  • During this spring (March — June 2020) total traffic volumes were down on Greenwood by between 20 to 50 percent compared to the same period in 2019. This makes sense, as many people are working from home and reducing their trips during the pandemic.

  • However, despite the fact that fewer people were driving on Greenwood, the average speed of drivers had gone up. This confirms what the Greenwood neighbors were experiencing: people are driving faster down their street.
  • Most troubling of all, the data obtained from StreetLight’s platform also confirmed that the percentage of vehicles driving over the speed limit (30 mph) has also risen in 2020 during the shutdown. In June, 22 percent of people going down the street were over the 30 mph speed limit.

Speeding is deadly; how do we stop it?

Organizations like Walk Bike Nashville have long been advocates for real solutions to this road safety crisis in our neighborhoods, that’s why Spin wanted to give them tools they can use to help save lives.

“We were very grateful to be able to validate the residents concerns and bring attention to this critical issue using the tools provided to us by our participation in the Mobility Data for Safer Streets program, and specifically the StreetLight InSight platform,” Kern said.

Speed is the number one contributing factor to car crashes, and the faster someone is driving, the more likely they are to kill someone in a crash. By far the most effective way to manage speeds is through infrastructure: traffic calming, narrow car lanes, wider sidewalks/bike lanes and other street-engineering techniques are essential in addressing traffic safety.

Walk Bike Nashville will continue to advocate for funding for traffic calming and for the city’s new Vision Zero program — these infrastructure investments are essential to keeping all Nashvillians safe when they are on the city’s streets. You can join them at their website: www.walkbikenashville.org.

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