CLEVELAND — Traffic crashes have been steadily rising in recent years, with 2021 marking the deadliest year on Ohio’s roadways in nearly two decades.
This year, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) released a plan for transportation safety, titled SAVE.
The SAVE Plan was developed with the goal of decreasing the number of serious injuries and deaths from traffic crashes 50% by the year 2040. NOACA identified ten areas of emphasis for specific action in relation to the plan: intersection, roadway departure, young driver, older driver, speed, impaired driver, pedestrian, motorcycle, distracted driving and bicycle.
NOACA evaluated ten years of traffic data to identify trends in these areas of emphasis through 2019, the year before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Between 2013 and 2017, a total of 6,878 fatalities or serious injuries occurred because of crashes in the NOACA region, resulting in an annual average of 131 fatalities and 1,245 serious injuries over that span.
Traffic crashes can be attributed to a variety of reasons that can involve either the road, the vehicle or the driver.
“We basically crunched the numbers to see if there are trends at various intersections. Are they vehicle-to-vehicle crashes? Are they vehicle-to-pedestrians? Vehicle-to-bicyclists?” said NOACA Executive Director Grace Gallucci. “The majority of what we find is driver actions that caused the crashes. And so, the first thing a driver can do is actually improve their own knowledge as well as their own behavior.”
As part of the report, NOACA also named 10 corridors in Northeast Ohio that are particularly dangerous:
1) Mentor Avenue (U.S. 20) in Mentor between Hopkins and Old Johnnycake Ridge roads with 229 crashes, five of which involved fatalities or serious injuries.
2) St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland between East 93rd and East 115th streets (168 crashes, 12 involving fatalities or serious injuries).
3 –Tie) Lorain Road in North Olmsted between Dover Center Road and Great Northern Boulevard (162, 5).
3 - Tie) West 117th Street in Cleveland between Lorain Avenue and Berea Road (162, 5).
5) St. Clair Avenue in Cleveland between East 115th Street and Casper Road (161, 12).
6) Dille and Nottingham roads in Cleveland and Euclid between Euclid Avenue and South Waterloo Road (160, 10).
7) West 25th Street in Cleveland between Clark and Lorain avenues (155, 5).
8) Superior Avenue in Cleveland and East Cleveland between East 108th Street and Hayden Avenue (153, 5).
9) Cedar Road in Cleveland Heights, University Heights and South Euclid and University Heights between Goodnor and Fenwick roads (150, 5).
10) East 93rd Street in Cleveland between Prince and Bessemer avenues. (138, 9).
Traffic crashes can happen in a matter of seconds. Perhaps no one is more aware of that than Anthony Bartholomew.
Bartholomew was working on a forklift at Terry’s North Coast Auto in Cleveland when the driver of a stolen car slammed into a telephone pole just feet in front of him.
“I was sitting on our forklift in front of the shop. And when I looked up, the vehicle was 10 feet away from hitting me,” Bartholomew said. “I think about it almost every day. You know it could’ve taken my life.”
Curbing the number of traffic deaths starts with two key factors: changing driver behaviors and re-imagining our infrastructure by evaluating how we build our roads.
Harvey Miller is a professor of geography and director of the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis at Ohio State University. Miller is a supporter of utilizing Complete Street designs to calm traffic.
Complete Streets are designed to prioritize safety, comfort, and access for all modes of transportation including cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit.
“These Complete Street designs actually calm traffic and force drivers to drive a little bit slower and more mindfully,” Miller said. “People just take risks because we're creating this illusion that it's safe to move at high speeds through these streets.”
A safe road is one where speeds are manageable. Currently, roads are designed for speed, not safety, and based on the engineering principles that are designed to eliminate mistakes by drivers. Those designs encourage faster and more reckless driving.
Complete Streets make space for pedestrians through better sidewalks, protect cyclists with bike lanes and have dedicated bus lanes and safer stops.
“The number of people struck and killed by drivers nationwide by walking has increased almost 50% over the last decade,” Miller said.
In the five-county area that NOACA serves (Cuyahoga, Lake, Geauga, Lorain and Medina), there were 50,300 crashes in 2019. Fatalities increased from the previous year from 112 to 134, as did the number of serious crashes resulting in injury — 1,034 to 1,337.
Speed and seatbelts are two key components in limiting the number of traffic deaths in the future for safety officials. While cell phones still play a large role in distracted driving, the shift in the design philosophy of the roads could help speed up the biggest changes.
“These are by design, forcing drivers to be a little more mindful and drive perhaps a little slower,” Miller said. “It doesn't cost them, but studies have shown, in terms of travel time, we're only talking like a delay of a few minutes going through a typical corridor. I think human lives are worth just a few minutes of drivers' time.”