Staying calm can be difficult if you’re walking or biking on busy roads and streets.

And statistics show it’s become more trying to do so.

U.S. pedestrian deaths reached a 40-year high in 2022, the most recent year statistics were available, according to a study by the Governors Highway Safety Association. The organization says more than 7,500 pedestrians were killed by drivers that year – or one about every 70 minutes.

Fortunately, planners and traffic engineers continue to seek ways to make roads safer for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles alike.

One of the more effective ways of lowering vehicle-pedestrian crashes is through traffic calming, also called street calming. It is the deliberate slowing of traffic in residential areas by building obstructions.

“The prime benefits of traffic calming, obviously, are increased safety and better travel conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists – everyone, really,” said Bob Koehler, OKI’s deputy executive director.

New high- and low-technology measures are making traffic calming safer and more cost effective. Low-tech examples include lane narrowing, dedicated bike lanes, speed bumps and speed humps. High-tech examples include radar signs, flashing beacons, and smart midblock crosswalks.

“In an environment where we expect non-motorized travelers, we need to take safety to the highest levels. And we do,” Koehler added.

These measures often help calm our roads and streets, but Koehler and other transportation experts see the challenge on a much larger level.

“It’s a comprehensive approach that also includes human behavior,” he said. “Studies show, for example, that narrow streets can often lead to a more attentive driver, one who is more aware of the presence of pedestrians.”

While OKI’s funding process has always rewarded projects with traffic calming measures, this criterion became official when its board passed the Complete Streets policy in 2023. A complete streets strategy can include the use of traffic calming measures primarily to enhance the facilities for bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users.

“The overarching aim of OKI’s Complete Streets policy is a simple one: to build roads designed for everyone, when practical and possible,” Koehler said. “Traffic calming is an integral part of this approach.”

OKI uses another funding approach to improving pedestrian and cyclist safety: multi-use paths.

Since the launch of its Regional Bike Plan in 2010, OKI has awarded more $115 million to bike- and pedestrian-specific infrastructure. In that time, the agency funded 117 multi-use paths – also called bike trails, shared-use paths, bikeways, or bike paths.

While traffic calming measures specifically target motorists, Koehler is quick to say that road safety falls on everyone.

“Pedestrians especially need to do their part to be attentive, put their phones away, cross at designated crosswalks, and wait for the pedestrian crossing signals where they exist. All of us bear responsibility for making our roads safe for everybody.”

— Jim Pickering