Applications of Public Health Methods to Transportation Performance Measurement and Policy Evaluation

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Ederer, David J.
Watkins, Kari E.
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Although traffic injuries and deaths are a significant public health problem, few transportation professionals are trained in public health and are rarely exposed to the frameworks, methods, and philosophies that underlie it. Understanding how transportation influences health outcomes is important, but there are few efforts to incorporate public health methods into transportation practice. This dissertation proposes a traffic safety framework based on public health principles, and analyze risk factors for traffic crashes. First, the "Safe Systems Pyramid" is proposed as a means of evaluating transportation safety policies and interventions. The Safe Systems Pyramid is based on the science of injury prevention and control, and risk management. Most transportation safety professionals rely on the "Es" framework, which is outdated, and not scientifically based. The Safe Systems Pyramid can help transportation professionals prioritize projects for safety and communicate their priorities with the public. In addition to developing a framework for transportation safety and public health, probe vehicle speed and crash injury data were analyzed using negative binomial models. Based on the results of these models, speed-based safety performance metrics were proposed. Notably, differences in percentile speeds were more informative than individual percentile speeds. Public health practitioners monitor both health outcomes and risk factors for those outcomes to prevent adverse health events. Traffic speeds and metrics based on them can act as a risk factor surveillance system for transportation safety. The intersection of transportation and health is increasingly of interest to civil engineers, city planners, and public health practitioners. This dissertation merges methods from each of these fields to improve safety performance. This research has three broad recommendations for policy and practice: 1) Use the Safe Systems Pyramid to prioritize traffic safety policies, programs, and interventions; 2) Use probe vehicle speed data – and, specifically, differences in high end speeds – as a network screening tool to identify locations where interventions are needed; 3) Use speed differences in road safety audits and design guidance.
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