Equity and the Louisiana Safe Routes to Public Places Program

Equity and the Louisiana Safe Routes to Public Places Program

Historic federal Highway 84 makes a turn in the town of Trout in rural Louisiana

Louisiana DOTD’s Equity Metric for Safe Routes

Many transportation agencies are interested in improving the way they incorporate equity into traffic safety. While some agencies aren’t sure where to start, others are forging ahead. Louisiana Department of Transportation (LaDOTD) is an example of states that are leveraging their existing knowledge and experience to move equity efforts forward.

LaDOTD has many things in common with other transportation agencies. Their highway safety vision is to reach Destination Zero Deaths on their roadways. The Department oversees the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) for projects that improve safety for all road users on all public roads (state and locally owned). And like many others, LaDOTD looked for examples of what other states were doing to improve equity in highway safety but struggled to find an applicable example. 

Safe Routes to Public Places Program (SRTPPP)

From 2012 to 2016, pedestrians and bicyclists represented 16% of fatalities and serious injuries on Louisiana’s public roads, and 43% of those crashes occurred on local roads. LaDOTD recognized that the transportation system serves many types of users and modes. They launched the Safe Routes to Public Places Program (SRTPPP) in 2017 to address the safety needs of non-motorists. SRTPPP serves road users of all ages and abilities, going to any public place: government buildings, libraries, and schools.

SRTPPP is part of Louisiana’s HSIP and falls under the umbrella of the Louisiana Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP). The projects are funded with penalty funds distributed to the DOTD. The penalty funds are reserved from the DOTD’s Federal-aid funds apportioned to other core federal aid programs. Because the State elects to use the funds to conduct HSIP eligible activities, these funds are released to the State DOT.

After the first two application cycles of the SRTPPP in 2017 and 2018, LaDOTD realized that some local governments were experiencing serious safety problems and had enough crashes to be eligible for the HSIP funds but may have lacked data for other scoring criteria. Data such as pedestrian or bicycle volumes, roadway features, and risk assessment data may have been unavailable to the local governments. Similar to other states, LaDOTD received many local funding applications from communities with more available resources. Economically disadvantaged communities didn’t have the resources to collect the necessary data to successfully compete for the funding. To offset these resource limitations, LaDOTD added an equity component to the third application cycle, which enlarged the pool of eligible projects to improve safety for pedestrians and other non-motorized road users.

How Equity Fits into SRTPPP Scoring

LaDOTD’s SRTPPP scoring starts with traditional metrics: number of crashes and crash severity within a one-mile radius for pedestrians and two-mile radius for bicyclists; Crash data has the most weight of all scoring criteria.

Other potential risk data and roadway characteristics are considered. Projects also receive points for meeting needs identified in other transportation plans (Complete Streets, bike/ped plans, long-range safety plans).

Equity is the newest scoring component, set at a medium weight among other criteria. LaDOTD looked at a variety of metrics for the equity metric, like one-vehicle households and education levels. They decided to base equity on median household income due to accessibility of data. Projects are rated based on a comparison between the primary location’s census tract’s median household income and the U.S. federal poverty level for a family of four.

LaDOTD worked with Louisiana State University’s Center for Analytics and Research in Transportation Safety to develop a GIS map detailing how the equity measure would be apply throughout the state. For example, areas with household incomes at or below the U.S. poverty level for a family of four would receive a full amount of possible points in scoring. Areas that average between the poverty level and double that amount receive fewer points, and high- income areas receive no points.

Although income data is accessible, LaDOTD recognizes it isn’t a perfect measure for equity. Many of Louisiana’s zip codes have a broad range of incomes, so higher-income neighborhoods in a given zip code can obscure areas in need. LaDOTD is further studying crash data compared to household incomes to determine if a better metric can be developed.

While LaDOTD will continue to evaluate the SRTPPP and plans to continue studying equity in highway safety, the progress they have made so far is encouraging. Inquiries and interest from other metropolitan planning agencies and stakeholders signal that the topic of equity is becoming a larger piece and the efforts of LaDOTD are paving the way!


Learn more about Louisiana’s SRTPPP from Laura Riggs, P.E., LaDOTD Program Manager, at Laura.Riggs@la.gov.