Stroads? Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Stroads

March 22, 2024 | Beth Giambrone

Side view of bicyclist in the street with people walking by and Health Policy Update banner in lower right.While the automobile has symbolized freedom in the United States for decades, the rise of bike share systems and electric scooters highlights the need for ample space for nonmotorists (e.g., pedestrians, bicyclists, electric or powered chair users) to move safely. Road and highway construction have adapted over the years to benefit drivers and allow them to move quickly and efficiently to their destination. Conversely, cities and towns contain streets, which are designed to allow easy access to businesses or housing. The combined advantages of both, along with the rise of urban sprawl, led to the development of a street/road hybrid (or “stroad”), which does not meet the needs of nonmotorists and has led to dangerous consequences.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 8,500 nonmotorists were killed in car crashes in 2021, accounting for nearly 20% of all traffic fatalities. What’s more, nonmotorist deaths have risen every year since 2013. Additionally, pedestrians in underserved neighborhoods and people of color (particularly Native American and Black pedestrians) are more likely to be killed in vehicle-related crashes than other racial or ethnic groups. Additionally, people who live, work, or attend school near major roads are at higher risk of health problems such as asthma, heart disease, pre-term and low birthweight infants, and childhood leukemia.

Over the past twenty years, federal and state governments have taken steps to protect nonmotorists. The Complete Streets approach, for example, encourages transportation projects to include infrastructure including bicycle lanes, shared-use paths, modified travel lanes, and landscaping. Vision Zero aims to prevent traffic-related serious injuries and fatalities while ensuring mobility for both drivers and nonmotorists. Both strategies can provide a safer environment for all road users, decreasing the risk of death or injury while increasing mobility and physical activity.

State and local public health departments are an invaluable resource for implementing these policies. For example, The San Francisco Department of Public Health compared hospital, emergency response, and police data to and found that 70% of severe and fatal collisions occurred on just 12% of the city’s streets, which enabled them to better prioritize their Vision Zero projects.

Federal Funding for Jurisdictions

Since roughly 3% of the nation’s roads are federally owned, the responsibility for building, maintaining, and improving roadways falls mainly to state and local entities. The U.S. Department of Transportation provides numerous funding opportunities for state, territorial, Tribal, and local jurisdictions to improve roadway safety, with particular emphasis on using Complete Streets and Vision Zero approaches, including:

State Actions

As of 2023, 37 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have adopted Complete Streets policies. So far in the 2024 legislative sessions, at least six states are considering bills that align with complete streets principles, as well as protect the health and safety of nonmotorists.

  • California SB 960 would require all projects funded or overseen by the Department of Transportation prioritize the implementation of complete streets within their plans, as well as within the department’s asset management plan.
  • Colorado SB 24-036 would create an enterprise within the Department of Transportation responsible for funding transportation projects that reduce the number of collisions with motor vehicles that result in death or serious injury to nonmotorists.
  • Florida SB 1528 and HB 1133 would impose fines and penalties on drivers who cause the injury or death of a nonmotorist, including license revocation.
  • Minnesota HF 3858/SF 3993 builds on existing law that requires its Commissioner of Transportation to implement a Complete Streets policy with community and transportation leader input woven throughout and facilitates active transportation (e.g., multi-modal trails, bike lanes, and sidewalks). It also requires the Commissioner to include information and driver education instruction on nonmotorists’ rights and safety risks, the drivers’ duties when encountering these persons, and specifies that drivers must yield to pedestrians at green traffic signals and intersections.
  • Maryland SB 681 would require the Department of Transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organizations to complete an impact assessment of major highway capacity expansion projects (those of more than $10 million and that increase / improve highway capacity) to ensure there is no net increase in carbon emissions and includes complete streets principles.
  • Wisconsin AB 843/SB 793 would require the Department of Transportation to ensure bikeways and pedestrian ways are included in any new highway construction projects that use state or federal funding.

State health agencies can help transportation partners and planning agencies adopt, enforce, and/or execute Complete Streets and Vision Zero policies by:

  • Collecting and disseminating traffic-related injury data, including motor vehicle crashes, bicycle injury, and pedestrian injury.
  • Incorporating Complete Streets and Vision Zero principles into State Health Improvement Plans. (e.g., North Carolina).
  • Establishing partnerships with state Departments of Transportation to encourage including these principles, such as leveraging the transportation goals outlined in Healthy People 2030 to form innovative collaborations.
  • Supporting coalitions and regional and local governments adopting Complete Streets policies with funding and technical assistance.

As the country moves towards multi-modal forms of transportation, states can direct the resources and polices needed to ensure the safety of travelers not using vehicles. ASTHO will continue to monitor this important topic and share updates as appropriate.

Special thanks to Clint Grant, director, healthy community design at ASTHO for his contributions to this Health Policy Update.