Transportation is one specific infrastructure arena over which mayors have a substantial amount of influence and control. By enabling access to jobs and schools, transportation is a key mechanism by which mayors support a vibrant economy; however, it can also be a major source of vulnerability as people move around a city. In the US, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury related death for five to 24 year olds, and the second leading cause for people over the age of 25. Indeed, in the 2018 Menino Survey, mayors highlighted traffic accidents as the top health issue for which they believe they are held most accountable by constituents. In 2018, pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in the US reached a 28-year high, with 6,283 pedestrians and 857 cyclists killed on American roads in 2018. Transit advocates have identified a variety of local safety programs that help make roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists, in particular. Programs like Vision Zero, which seek to eliminate pedestrian and cyclist fatalities by focusing on reducing vehicular speeds, building physical barriers to protect cyclists and pedestrians, and improving pedestrian and cyclist visibility, help both to increase active transit and promote safety. More generally, pedestrian and cyclist safety advocates highlight the dominance of cars, rather than people, in a variety of urban policy domains, including parking and land use policy. This year’s Menino Survey asked mayors about the extent to which they are taking up this call to reorient cities away from cars, and towards the well-being of pedestrians and cyclists.
A large majority of mayors (76 percent) agree with these advocates’ assessments that their cities are too oriented towards cars. Only 14 percent of mayors disagree. In principle, then, mayors seem prepared to lead efforts to reform local transit policy in favor of pedestrian and cyclist safety.
Figure 6: Are Cities Too Car-Focused? Please rate how strongly you agree/disagree with the following statement: My city is too oriented towards cars.
Many mayors are worried about the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, relative to those inside vehicles. Nearly 40 percent of mayors believe travel for pedestrians in their cities is unsafe, and nearly half are concerned about cyclists’ safety, in contrast to fewer than 10 percent who believe the city is unsafe for drivers or mass transit riders. Low-income people, children, elderly people, and people with disabilities are the country’s most vulnerable road users; they are disproportionately represented among pedestrians injured and killed each year in American cities. Mayors recognize that these groups are comparatively less safe than drivers and mass transit riders, with between 25-50 percent of mayors rating travel for these groups as unsafe. Indeed, mayors seem particularly concerned about the safety of people with disabilities, with nearly half expressing concerns about their safety. However, while mayors worry relatively more about the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and vulnerable populations, majorities of mayors rate travel in their city as safe for all of the groups we asked about.
Figure 7: How Safe is Travel for…? How safe is travel in your city for the following groups?
Moreover, mayors have implemented a wide variety of infrastructure improvements in their cities expressly targeted towards pedestrian safety. We asked mayors, in an open-ended question, to cite which policies or design changes in their cities had the greatest impact on pedestrian safety. Mayors’ responses underscore the variety of approaches local governments use to address pedestrian safety: many mayors emphasize providing separate spaces for pedestrians and cyclists, and improving physical infrastructure like sidewalks (26 percent), curb cuts (14 percent), crosswalks (11 percent), greenways/trails (6 percent), and bicycle lanes (4 percent). Others highlight traffic calming measures (19 percent) and signalization (18 percent). Some mayors also talked about broad multi-modal efforts that combine policy and planning, such as Complete Streets (14 percent), Vision Zero (8 percent), or development of a citywide bicycle and pedestrian master plan (7 percent), suggesting intimate familiarity with best practices among some.
When asked to weigh different infrastructure priorities, however, 66 percent of mayors listed roads as one of their top three priorities, while bicycle and pedestrian friendliness was a top priority for a mere 22 percent of mayors (as noted earlier in Figure 3). These results remain virtually unchanged from when we asked this question in 2015, despite continued increases in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities.
One proven method to improve road safety for pedestrians and cyclists is to reduce motor vehicle speed. In the event of a collision between a vehicle and pedestrian/cyclist, vehicle speed has a marked impact on an individuals’ likelihood of sustaining serious or fatal injuries. When a vehicle strikes a pedestrian traveling at 16 miles per hour, the pedestrian’s likelihood of sustaining a serious injury is 10 percent. That probability jumps up to 25 percent at 23 miles per hour, 50 percent at 39 miles per hour, and 90 percent at 46 miles per hour. Moreover, slower- moving vehicles are better able to avoid collisions with pedestrians and cyclists in the first place. In short, vehicle speed (and type) is critical to pedestrian and cyclist safety.
Figure 8: Impact on Pedestrian Safety Thinking about policies or design changes that your city has implemented, which (if any) has had the biggest impact on pedestrian safety?
Despite the importance of vehicle speed to pedestrian and cyclist safety, mayors largely do not see a need to change their speed limits, or the way that speeding is enforced in their cities. A striking 77 percent of mayors believe their speed limits are currently set at the right level. Importantly, some mayors indicated that they had recently lowered the speed limits in their communities. Others felt that different road policies were more effective: “People drive as fast as the road allows, regardless of the speed limit. I would say design of the road is most important.” Still others were limited by external constraints from promulgating their desired policies: “I have concerns about our speed limits and have tried to get them lowered. In fact, everyone on the council has, at one point, also tried to lower them. We are tied by state regulations.” Only a small minority — 15 percent — want to see their speed limits reduced. Moreover, a majority of mayors do not want to see penalties for moving violations in their city strengthened. Over half of mayors similarly believe that law enforcement in their cities is doing enough to penalize unsafe driving; only 28 percent disagreed. Still, one-third of mayors believe their city should strengthen speeding fines, while a similar proportion (31 percent) would like to see their police strengthen enforcement of moving violations.
Figure 9: Speed Limits Do you think speed limits in your city are generally set at the right level, are too high, or are too low?
Figure 10: Moving Violation Penalties Do you think penalties for moving traffic violations in your city should be stronger?
Parking, sometimes perceived simply as a source of revenue or public good, is in fact an important policy lever to improve safety and reduce congestion. Collectively, ample and cheap parking creates multiple obstacles to implementing evidence-based mobility programs. First, it takes up valuable land area, especially in dense cities. With multiple traffic lanes devoted to parked cars, there is less space available to put in place curb bump-outs, separate bus lanes, and separate bicycle lanes that would improve pedestrian and cyclist safety, and lower transit travel times. Second, when city leaders make it easier to park, they encourage car commuting; this both worsens congestion and creates a constituency of regular drivers who demand more parking, resulting in a potent political obstacle to reforming urban parking systems. Many transportation planners and researchers consequently recommend taking measures that both make parking more expensive and reduce the overall availability of parking.
Figure 11: Enforcing Safe Driving Please rate how strongly you agree/disagree with the following statement: Law enforcement in my city is doing enough to penalize unsafe driving.
A large majority of mayors do not see parking as transportation advocates do — as underpriced. Over 75 percent of mayors see their residential street parking as priced correctly, whether it was free or for fee — and over half say the same of metered street parking. A sizable minority of mayors disagree with this assessment: one-third perceive metered street parking as too cheap.
Figure 12: Price of Parking Do you think the following in your city cost too much, too little, or are priced at the right level?
Mayors, in the aggregate, similarly do not believe that parking is oversupplied. Indeed, while there are certainly variations in the supply of parking in American cities, research suggests that, even in high-density locations, there is still too much parking priced too cheaply. Sixty percent believe that their cities feature the right level of street parking; a mere nine percent believe that there is too much street parking. A far larger share —– 27 percent —– worry that there is too little parking in their cities.
Mayors are slightly more likely to acknowledge problems in their parking minimum policies, though, here again, the majority of mayors (51 percent) believe that their parking minimums are set at the right levels. Parking minimums mandate that new developments provide a certain amount of off-street parking per bedroom, often far in excess of what is actually needed according to academic analyses. Many mayors see cars as integral parts of their cities. One mayor noted: “We need parking. I disagree with the concept that people won’t have cars. In [our state], you need a car.” An additional 12 percent see their parking minimums as too low; that is, they believe they should set aside additional development space for parking. Thirty percent of mayors, though, think that their parking minimums are set too high; these mayors believe that their land use policy requires too much parking for new developments. One mayor worried that their city’s parking minimum actively promoted parking and driving. “[My city’s parking minimum] is set a little too high. In multifamily developments, the minimum is one space per bedroom, and I think this is a bit of an exaggeration to think that there will be a car per bedroom. It is almost as if we are promoting that.” Another said that they had lowered the minimum in their city, but that “it probably still was too high.”
Figure 13: Amount of Street Parking In general, do you think there is too much street parking available in your city, too little, or is it at the right level?
Figure 14: Parking Minimums Some cities require new residential developments to provide minimum levels of parking. If your city has a parking minimum, do you think it is set too high, too low, or is it at the right level?
In concert, mayors largely appear unwilling to reduce parking in their cities or make it more expensive. They are, however, significantly more amenable to sacrificing parking for specific uses, including electric vehicle infrastructure and cycling infrastructure. When it comes to making space for electric vehicles, 67 percent of mayors agreed that their city must improve its electric vehicle infrastructure, even if it comes at the expense of parking for non-electric vehicles.
Figure 15: Electric Vehicle Tradeoff Please rate how strongly you agree/disagree with the following statement: It is important to improve my city’s electric vehicle infrastructure, even if it means less parking for non-electric vehicles.
Additionally, a large majority of mayors (71 percent) endorse sacrificing driving lanes or parking spaces to make their roads more accessible to bicycles, regardless of pushback they may get from motorists. Only 21 percent disagreed with this sentiment. Support for bicycling infrastructure has remained remarkably stable since we first asked this question in 2015. It may be that mayors oppose general reductions in parking, but are willing to support it when presented with a specific alternative use.
Figure 16: Cycling Tradeoff Please rate how strongly you agree/disagree with the following statement: Cities should make their roads more accessible to bicycles even if it means sacrificing driving lanes and/or parking.
A large majority of mayors see bicycle lanes as a critical part of cycling infrastructure. When we asked mayors an open-ended question about what single policy in their city has had the biggest impact on cyclist safety, a striking 68 percent cited bicycle lanes. Other frequently cited options include greenways/trails and a master plan, though the popularity of these options pales in comparison with bicycle lanes by a margin of almost fifty percentage points.
While mayors broadly support bicycle lanes, they may not be aware of current best practices in cycling infrastructure design. A striking 82 percent of mayors believe that painted bicycle lanes are a safe alternative when physically separate bicycle lanes are too expensive. These views are in stark contrast with the most recent evidence. A scientific analysis of painted lanes found that they may actually make conditions more dangerous for cyclists; cars pass cyclists at a much closer distance (1.25 feet) than they do on streets with no cycling infrastructure. So-called “sharrows” — in which cities paint arrows with bicycles in lanes shared by cars and bicycles — are perhaps even worse, making the roads on which they are painted more dangerous than places that have no cycling infrastructure, paint or otherwise. The evidence suggests that paint alone — either in separate or shared bicycle lanes — does not improve cyclist safety. A few mayors recognized this; one noted, “Painted bicycle lanes are useless. They’ve got to be separate.” Another mayor similarly strongly disagreed that painted bicycle lanes were a safe alternative to separate infrastructure: “Painted bicycle lanes give you a messy Christmas: red [blood] mixed with green paint.”
Figure 17: Impact on Cyclist Safety Thinking about policies or design changes that your city has implemented, which (if any) has had the biggest impact on cyclist safety?
Figure 18: Safety of Painted vs. Separated Bicycle Lanes Please rate how strongly you agree/disagree with the following statement: Painted bicycle lanes are a safe alternative when physically separate bicycle lanes are too expensive.
Biking continues to be a partisan issue in the Survey. Democratic mayors are consistently and significantly more likely to endorse a variety of street safety initiatives — from bicycle lanes to stronger penalties for moving traffic violations. The area with the most significant partisan gap is cycling: almost all Democratic mayors (92 percent) endorse creating more bicycle lanes, even if it means sacrificing traffic lanes or parking spaces, compared with 34 percent of Republican mayors. These partisan differences have grown by more than 30 percentage points since 2015, when we first asked this tradeoff, with Republicans substantially less likely to endorse this tradeoff or adopt a neutral position than they were four years ago.
Other street safety arenas exhibit sizable, but more muted partisan differences. For example, 72 percent of Democratic mayors believed that speed limits in their cities were set at the right level, compared with 90 percent of Republican mayors. Importantly, even in those areas in which mayors do exhibit partisan differences, substantial portions of mayors of both political parties largely do not support these additional measures to ameliorate pedestrian and cyclist safety.
Mayors from different regions of the country also varied in their support for street safety initiatives, though, here again, the commonalities across mayors are more striking than the differences. Perhaps as a consequence of higher density and space constraints, northeastern mayors are significantly more likely to believe that parking minimums are set too high compared to their counterparts from other regions. The proportion of northeastern mayors endorsing this view, however, was less than half. Western mayors were substantially less likely to believe that their speed limits were too high relative to mayors from other parts of the country. Regardless of these differences, the overwhelming majorities of mayors (70 percent or more in all regions) believe that their speed limits are set at the right levels. Indeed, this is true even in regions, like the South and West, where pedestrian and cyclist fatalities are higher.
Mayors as a whole are aware of serious pedestrian and cyclist safety issues. Their responses to open-ended questions indicate that they are taking some important steps to tackle these issues, including promulgating bicycle lanes and prioritizing pedestrians through improved sidewalks, crosswalks, and signaling. Moreover, in conversation with us, many indicated that they have put in place or plan to put in place lower speed limits. But, on many questions, a sizable portion of mayors appear unwilling to implement or are unaware of best practices in transportation planning.