A campaign to raise awareness of bicycle and pedestrian safety laws is currently underway in the Washington region and will run until April 14.
Coordinated by the Transportation Planning Board and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the month-long "Street Smart" campaign takes place each spring and fall and uses mass media to educate motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists about the region's traffic safety laws. It also promotes increased enforcement of the laws in areas with higher-than-normal accident rates.
Street Smart is a cooperative effort by numerous local, state, and federal agencies to reduce the number of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths in the Washington region. In 2011, there were 68 pedestrian fatalities in the region resulting from collisions with vehicles and five reported bicyclist fatalities. Both numbers have remained relatively constant on a year-to-year basis since the late 1990s.
By comparison, the number of motorists and vehicle passengers killed in traffic accidents has declined steadily since 2001 -- from 351 to 184. As a result, pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities have, in recent years, come to represent nearly 30% of all traffic-related deaths in the region, compared to just 19% in 2001.
To be most effective, Street Smart aims to reach those who engage in the riskiest behavior, whether they're on foot, on a bicycle, or behind the wheel of a car. In particular, the campaign seeks to reach pedestrians who fail to use crosswalks or don't follow pedestrian signals, cyclists who ignore traffic signs and rules, and drivers who drive too fast, ignore crosswalk laws, or are distracted by cell phones or other electronic devices.
Two groups -- immigrants who live in the region and tourists who are visiting -- are especially at risk, as they are often less familiar with local roads and traffic rules.
A variety of communication platforms bring the Street Smart message to its target audience, including radio, television, the Internet, and outdoor advertising.
For two weeks of the month-long campaign, audio spots play on 11 of the region's radio stations, including several Spanish-language stations. Video spots play during primetime on a handful of cable networks, while printed promotional materials fill advertising space on the sides, backs, and interiors of buses and on bus shelters. A website and social media -- including Facebook and Twitter -- are also used to spread the word.
To complement the mass media campaign, enhanced enforcement of local safety laws helps raise public awareness even further. In 2011, the Prince George's County Police Department was the latest law enforcement agency to join the regional campaign. Numerous police and emergency response officials from the County attended a media event on March 28 in District Heights, Maryland, to promote Street Smart and to conduct "live enforcement" of traffic safety laws there.
Since it began in 2002, the Street Smart program has relied mostly on federal funds made available through various state agencies interested in promoting bicycle and pedestrian safety. Several local jurisdictions have also supported the campaign on a voluntary basis. Beginning in July 2012, however, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments will provide a dedicated source of funding for Street Smart using contributions from each of COG's member jurisdictions.
The Washington region continues to make bicycling and walking more desirable and practical, through efforts like Capital Bikeshare and promoting walkable, mixed-use development patterns. The semi-annual Street Smart campaign supports those efforts by raising awareness of traffic safety laws and reducing the number of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities that occur each year. The next Street Smart campaign is planned for fall of 2012.