RSAs: Experiences around the country

Louisa Ward
RSA Program Manager
Office of Safety, Federal Highway Administration
Washington, D.C.
Presenter, 2006 APWA Congress

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is promoting Road Safety Audits as a process to proactively reduce deaths and injuries on our nation's roadways. A Road Safety Audit (RSA) is a formal safety performance examination of an existing or future road or intersection by an independent, multidisciplinary team. RSAs are a comprehensive and effective tool for proactively improving the safety performance of a road while it is still in the planning or design stage, or for identifying and mitigating safety concerns on existing roads and intersections.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of RSAs, the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Office of Safety sponsored ten RSAs, with the aim of demonstrating their practical usefulness on a variety of projects (from $150,000 worth of urban intersection improvements to an $800 million interchange), at a variety of stages of the project development process from conceptual through final design and for existing roads and intersections, and for a variety of agencies at the county, city, tribal, and state levels. Four of these RSA case studies (Cincinnati, OH; Tucson, AZ; Collier County, FL; and Springfield, IL) will be discussed in depth at the 2006 APWA Congress and are highlighted in this article.

RSA Basics
RSAs provide the opportunity for state and local agencies and Tribal Governments to identify and document safety issues at or along a highway location and to make suggestions on how to address those issues. The highway authorities, using the RSA process, formally respond to the suggestions of the RSA team and either implement those suggestions or document the reasons why the suggestions are not able to be implemented. This structured approach provided by the RSA process may reduce an agency's liability for tort actions for the location(s) where RSAs have been conducted.

RSA Evaluation Results
Evaluation of RSAs in the U.S. has been very limited. Below are details from RSAs conducted in South Carolina and Michigan.

The South Carolina DOT RSA program has had a positive impact on safety. South Carolina DOT has conducted six RSAs since 2003. Results from two of the six are detailed below. SCDOT acknowledges these results are still preliminary but the numbers appear very promising.

  • All nine suggested safety improvements resulting from an RSA of SC-14 in Greenville County were implemented. Fatalities on SC-14 were reduced 60% from 2003 to 2004, which equates to a savings of $3,660,000 in estimated economic costs.

  • A Spartanburg County road audited by SCDOT in 2003, SC-296, had a 23.4 percent reduction in crashes in 2004. Twenty-five of the 37 safety recommendations were adopted. The average economic impact in savings was $147,000.

AAA Michigan conducted RSAs on 35 intersections in Detroit. Collectively, these intersections experienced a 39 percent decrease in total collisions, and a 56 percent decrease in injury collisions. The economic evaluation (in terms of societal costs) for the Detroit intersections is summarized below:

  • Overall, the net present value of the Detroit improvements is $4,792,000 (two-year life cycle) or $33,720,000 (15-year life cycle).

  • A total of 22 intersections (or 65 percent) exceeded a Benefit/Cost (B/C) ratio of 2:1 in two years.

  • A total of 33 intersections (or 97 percent) exceeded a B/C of 2:1 in 15 years.

  • A total of 32 intersections (or 94 percent) reported a positive net present value (benefits) over two years.

RSAs in Practice
FHWA initiated a series of 10 RSAs to be documented in a case studies book, to show the variety of application of RSAs in different parts of the country and at different stages of the project development process and on existing roads and intersections. Below we summarize the results of four of the RSAs conducted in those locations.

Springfield, IL: An RSA was conducted on Clear Lake Avenue, which connects the I-72/I-55 interchange east of Springfield, IL with downtown Springfield. The intersection of Clear Lake and Dirksen Parkway west of the interchange was included in the RSA. Both streets are major arterials and provide access to adjacent commercial properties. This intersection was designated a high crash location for six consecutive years. There are plans to upgrade this section of Clear Lake Avenue. Findings from this RSA include turning radius issues, existence of vulnerable users (pedestrians and bicyclists), signal displays out of alignment, clear zone violations, drainage grates that are unfriendly to bicyclists, trees in medians with evidence of being struck, exposed culverts, and openings in guardrail.

  HAWK crossing

City of Tucson, AZ: The City of Tucson detailed the RSA done on the HAWK (High-intensity Activated crossWalK) pedestrian crossing device. HAWK signals are a type of traffic control beacon for marked pedestrian crosswalks, developed by the City of Tucson. Findings of the RSA included placing "No Passing" lines in approach to the crosswalk, activating the dual red lights simultaneously, using split phasing for median divided streets, using reflective border back plates, lowering the walking speed to 3.5 ft/second for all crossings (not just school crossings), and suggesting that connections be made to pedestrian facilities.

Collier County, FL: An RSA was conducted on a conceptual stage project to widen Immokalee road. The section of the roadway for the RSA was widened from two lanes to four lanes in 2002. To accommodate current and forecast future demand, additional widening to six lanes is now being considered. Safety issues identified by the RSA included improved access management, right-turn acceleration lanes, devices and designs to prevent wrong-way movements, signal operation and median treatments to prevent mid-block crossings, using pedestrian countdown signals, providing a continuous pedestrian network, improving existing bicycle facilities, avoiding fixed-objects and sight-line obstructions in the median, considering angled left-turn lanes in wide medians, providing redundant signal displays and/or double red display for left-turn signals, using backplates with reflective borders on traffic signals, providing coordinated traffic signal progression, and consider the needs of older drivers. Collier County decided to establish a program to regularly conduct RSAs and has consultants on retainer for future projects.

City of Cincinnati, OH: The City of Cincinnati RSA was conducted on Spring Grove Avenue between Winton Road and Clifton Avenue. This was a planning stage RSA (improvement project is planned) done on the existing road. The major findings from the RSA include upgrading signal infrastructure, reviewing turn movement operations and geometry, improving pavement markings, implementing access management, improving cross-section consistency, upgrading lighting (especially at crosswalks), and improving sidewalk conditions (especially trip hazards).

Pedestrian RSAs
Although there have been some modest decreases in pedestrian fatalities over the last ten years, pedestrian safety is a problem today and has been for many years in the U.S. Accordingly, FHWA is developing a Pedestrian Road Safety Audit Guidelines document and companion Pedestrian Road Safety Audit Prompt List that can be used together during the road safety audit process. These resources will contain detailed information on topics and issues audit teams should address to safely accommodate pedestrians in the RSA process. When applied appropriately, these documents will help reduce pedestrian-related crashes and the fatalities and injuries that result from those crashes. These products are currently under development and will be available to agencies interested in improving pedestrian safety through RSAs in the fall of 2006.

RSA Resources

RSA Training: FHWA has two RSA training courses available to state and local transportation agencies and Tribal Governments. The first is a two-day course available through the National Highway Institute: Road Safety Audits and Road Safety Audit Reviews, Course #FHWA-NHI-380069. Information on course scheduling can be found online at: http://www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov/coursedesc.asp?coursenum=1004.

The second RSA training course is geared towards local agencies, Tribal Governments, and Federal Land Management agencies called "RSA for Locals." This is a free training course on RSAs. To schedule this course please contact Louisa Ward, FHWA's RSA Program Manager, at Louisa.Ward@fhwa.dot.gov or (202) 366-2218. This course can be offered in a one- or two-day format. The two-day version can also include information on low-cost safety improvements.

The FHWA Resource Center's Safety and Design team and FHWA Division Offices in each state can provide technical assistance for you on RSAs. For Resource Center technical assistance, contact Craig Allred at (720) 963-3236 or Craig.Allred@fhwa.dot.gov. For a listing of all the FHWA Division Offices, go to: www.fhwa.dot.gov/field.html#fieldsites.

RSA Peer-to-Peer Program: Since technical or procedural questions often arise before and during a RSA, FHWA has established a Peer-to-Peer RSA program to provide assistance to agencies either considering the use of or actually conducting RSAs. The RSA P2P program is provided at no cost to state and local transportation agencies and Tribal Governments and it's easy to access the support of a knowledgeable peer.

A state or local agency can request assistance either by e-mail or by calling the toll-free number describing their needs to the FHWA-sponsored P2P coordinator. The coordinator will match the agency with a transportation professional that is experienced and knowledgeable in RSAs including expertise with particular issues or types of RSAs. The matched peer will then contact the agency to work out the details of the assistance to be provided within the program framework, which can include a site visit as needed. To contact the Road Safety Audit Peer-to-Peer Program call (866) P2P-FHWA or send e-mail to SafetyP2P@fhwa.dot.gov.

The author will give a presentation on this topic at the 2006 APWA Congress, accompanied by Eugene Calvert, Engineer, Collier County, FL; Margaret Gibbs, P.E., Senior Transportation Engineer, Opus Hamilton Consultants, Ltd., Vancouver, BC; and Kohinoor Kar, Ph.D., P.E., Transportation Engineer, Arizona Department of Transportation, Highway Enhancements for Safety (HES), Phoenix, AZ. The session is entitled "Road Safety Audits - Experiences around the Country" and takes place on Wednesday, September 13, at 9:30 a.m. Louisa Ward has worked in various positions within FHWA for the last seven years. She previously worked for the Institute of Transportation Engineers as their Technical Program Manager for Traffic Engineering and Safety, and as the Assistant Traffic Engineer for the City of Kettering, Ohio. She can be reached at (202) 366-2218 or Louisa.Ward@fhwa.dot.gov.