Ask the Experts – A Framework for Institutionalizing Safety in the Transportation Planning Process

Is a framework really necessary to integrate safety into the transportation
planning process?

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Integrating safety into the transportation planning process is not as easy as it sounds. Research conducted for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) 08-76, Institutionalizing Safety in the Transportation Planning Process, shed light on the challenges involved in prioritizing transportation safety and identified methods for effectively establishing safety as a key decision factor in state department of transportation (DOT) and metropolitan planning organization (MPO) transportation planning processes. The research yielded a seven-step framework with unique solutions for integrating safety into transportation plans and programs. These steps include the following:

  1. Ensure DOT and MPO committees, policy boards, and other planning structures include safety expertise,
    e.g., safety professionals, practitioners, and stakeholders;
  2. Define and include safety in the vision, goals, and objectives of planning documents;
  3. Address safety issues, such as pedestrian and bicycle safety, safe mobility for older citizens, etc.,
    in planning programs and products;
  4. Integrate safety performance measures into the overall performance management system;
  5. Collect and analyze data for identifying and prioritizing safety issues, projects, and programs;
  6. Establish safety as a decision factor to prioritize safety issues, projects and programs, and allocate funds; and
  7. Implement a monitoring system to track the transportation system’s safety performance and regularly
    evaluate the effectiveness of safety programs and policies.

The framework provides techniques, tactics, and strategies that ensure safety is a decision and planning factor. It also helps agencies coordinate their transportation plans with the state’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan as mandated by Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21). The framework is a guide states, regional, and local transportation agencies; professional associations; and interest groups can use to make safety a planning priority. A one-day workshop featured at the TRB “Making Progress: Transportation Planners and Programmers Turn Ideas into Reality” Conference is available to interested DOTs and MPOs.


Dr. Susan Herbel, a Principal of Cambridge Systematics, leads the multidisciplinary, multimodal Cambridge Systematics safety team. Her training as a research scientist, together with her experience turning research into practice and facilitating consensus among diverse interests, have earned her a reputation for producing results. She led the NCHRP project to create the framework to help safety practitioners institutionalize safety into their planning processes and led the research effort which investigated the extent to which DOTs and MPOs were integrating safety.

Nicole Waldheim is a Transportation Analyst with nearly 10 years of experience in transportation planning. She was Senior Program Manager at the Association of Metropolitan Organizations for 6 years. She coauthored the framework that provides step-by-step practical ways states and MPOs can make safety a decision factor. Her knowledge of MPOs was instrumental in identifying current practices and developing the right procedures, protocols, and processes for moving the safety integration process forward.

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