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A paradigm shift and a $25 million grant to provide 'Safe Streets For All' in Fayetteville

The city of Fayetteville chose 5 projects based on the High Injury Network map.
Courtesy
/
City of Fayetteville
The city of Fayetteville chose 5 projects based on the High Injury Network map.

$25 million is headed to the city of Fayetteville, courtesy of the federal department of transportation. That funding will go towards a program called Safe Streets for All. Last July, the city released a Safety Action Plan, which lays out some of the elements needed for a paradigm shift in how they plan to prioritize safe, accessible, and equitable transportation. Chris Brown is the public works director for the city of Fayetteville, and he said that begins with changing from the idea that traffic deaths are inevitable to traffic deaths are preventable.

 “The paradigm shift that we're talking about is recognizing that people will make mistakes," Brown said. "What we what we try to do is we look at how to separate users in time and space.”

That means thinking more proactively about vulnerable users, which includes pedestrians, bicycle users, as well as motorcycle riders. Brown said one way to do that is provide space for those vulnerable users to move that don’t put them in the roads.

 “Separated bike paths, separated sidewalks, but also separating them in time so that they're not crossing [a street] at the same time. So providing safe crossing locations, that sort of thing. It's really about recognizing that there are things that we can do to prevent these accidents, and working on those in many different ways and looking at all of our systems.”

Between 2017 and 2021, more than 1,300 people were killed or seriously injured in crashes in Northwest Arkansas. The data show that vulnerable users are far more likely to be killed or seriously injured.

“The statistic that really jumps out at you is that our vulnerable road users are involved in only about 3% of our crashes in Northwest Arkansas," Brown said. "But the number of fatalities and serious injuries that the vulnerable road users are involved in is 45%. So obviously, we recognize that that's something that we have to do better with and protect those vulnerable road users.”

Five major projects were pinpointed based on what the city calls a “high injury network.” These were the areas that saw the highest density of crashes resulting in death or serious injury. All of this research and data was critical to help the city quickly pull together a strategy and plan for federal funding. Dane Eifling is the mobility coordinator for the city. He called the process NO-FO:

“Notice of Funding Opportunity from the [federal government] and then matching that with our comprehensive Safety Action Plan from the region and seeing what projects would be eligible because each of the locations need to be on the High Injury Network as identified through analysis by the consultant and evaluating data of past crashes and then characteristics of roads that show us where the most crashes are happening. And so with the grant opportunity, we were matching up projects that we knew that we had either bond funding for or other momentum around and matching those with projects that were eligible through the grant and with the plan and so that that really helped us narrow down those projects that we wanted to focus on. And that in turn helped us to develop a strategy.”

Eifling said in the past when they made proposals for grant funding, they only included one street project: Maple Street.

Graphic rendering of Maple Street safety improvements
Courtesy
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U of A Community Design Center, 2019
Graphic rendering of Maple Street safety improvements

"We feel like that maybe was part of a problem why we didn't get funded was because our ask was too small," Eifling said. "As we continued to develop a complete community wide strategy, it became a much larger grant ask and I think that actually plays in your favor. For a small state like Arkansas, we're probably only going to get one and so when [the federal government is] looking at administering a grant, it's probably as easy to administer a small one as it is a big one so that they tend to gravitate I think towards the bigger projects.”

Matt Mihalivich, active transportation manager for the city, said it’s been eight years and four grant attempts trying to get funding to update Maple Street.

“One of the primary goals is, as many of you know, we have the Razorback Greenway, just a little bit off from the University of Arkansas campus, and we're missing that critical link between campus to connect 30,000 students to the Greenway.”

Maple Street runs on the north side of the university campus and serves as one of the main streets crossed by students, faculty, and staff. One of the main intersections of Maple Street sees as many as 1,900 pedestrians per hour when the university is in session. From 2017 to 2021, this half-mile stretch of street was the site of 115 crashes, including 2 pedestrian fatalities. Mihalivich said the street was widened in the 1960s to accommodate parking, so the street is essentially three lanes wide through much of it.

“The project will be to have a two way protected bike lane," Mihalivich said. "It will also have two eight-foot wide sidewalks which will be senior walks for the university and accommodate four years worth of names that will be put into those blocks. So that's quite a benefit. It's going to have improved crosswalks with what we call RRFBs: rectangular rapid flash beacons. That will be passive detection so that whenever anybody walks up to it, it magically comes on every time.”

Mihalivich said other projects to be prioritized are based on the research from their high injury network. 

“So for example Joyce Boulevard; we have a lot of crashes on there. The way it is built with four lanes without a turn lane and insufficient sidewalks and no crosswalks, those ended up having more crashes. So we identified where the most need is on these projects."
 
Another critical element of this plan goes towards building infrastructure that is equitable. That means — in part — building infrastructure for all ages and all abilities.

Graphic rendering of S. School Avenue safety improvements
Courtesy
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City of Fayetteville
Graphic rendering of S. School Avenue safety improvements

“What studies show is that 60% of the population is actually interested in trying to get around town by other modes in a car," Mihalivich said, "but they have to have a comfortable facility. And so that's where we're really focused on separating it from the street with as much green space separation as we can. We’ll get light poles trees and definitely a curb. Instead of having those bikes in the road with the cars, we're moving it out and definitely seeing that as an example of what's going on with Mission Boulevard right now. And that'll be a 12-foot facility separated from the road.”
 
Eifling said equity also includes transit facilities. "A lot of people are cut off from public transit, not because they don't have a bus stop near their house, but because they don't have a safe way to walk to access it in so most of these project corridors that we're investing in are transit routes.”

Eifling said the plan is to add things like better sidewalks and bus shelters at these transit stops in these areas.

“And all of a sudden you're able to ride a bus to work or or home or to wherever you need to get to. Because you have that last mile connection. And that's just as important as any of these other things that we're doing. And so yeah, given that ability to opt out of a car, even if you don't want to ride a bike down Wedington Drive, that's totally understandable, but it is a bus route. And so you ought to be able to have options in your transportation. And it starts with good walking because every transit ride is also a pedestrian trip.”

Graphic rendering of N College Avenue safety improvements
Courtesy
/
City of Fayetteville
Graphic rendering of N College Avenue safety improvements

Maple Street and College Avenue already had some planning prepared for those projects, but Mihalivich said they don't yet have a plan for a project like Joyce Boulevard. "We want that input from the public to help develop it. So that that'll be kind of some of the initial parts that the public will be involved with.”

Chris Brown, the public works director, said a project of this scale means this is going to take a while.

“It will probably be a period of several months before we have our project agreements in place and before we will be able to start seeing the some things implemented," Brown said. "We are going to be talking to the our federal liaisons about what we can get started on to get started as quickly as we can. It's wonderful that we got this grant. Now the work begins on the sides that that people don't see and all the planning and design and work behind the scenes before we can actually get this on the ground. So patience is a good thing in this case.”

Eifling said it’s important to remember how significant this funding is for Fayetteville.

“[People] hear big numbers a lot of times they hear, Oh, you know, X million dollars or Arkansas is getting its share of $10 million or something like that. But this is the largest grant of any kind that the city has ever received for anything and by significant margin. So it's a historic level of investment and it all has to do with safety. We would have never gotten this money if we didn't have injuries and fatalities on our roadways. It's something worth remarking on and celebrating, but we don't want to be to flip about the fact that we're trying to address a very serious problem with our transportation network.”

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Matthew Moore is senior producer for Ozarks at Large.
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