The deadly impact of urban streets that look like highways

New paper: Stiles, J., Li, Y. and Miller, H.J. (2022) “How does street space influence crash frequency? An analysis using segmented street view imagery,” Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science, https://doi.org/10.1177/23998083221090962

Abstract.  Road crashes in metropolitan areas are challenging to prevent because they stem from the interactions of drivers and other system users in intricate built environments. Recent theories indicate that features of the built environment may induce unsafe driving by shaping users’ expectations and behaviors. The availability of street view imagery and methods of scene parsing create new possibilities for understanding how features of the built environment influence crash incidence. Most previous crash research using street imagery has applied manual processing methods. In this paper, we develop and apply automated machine parsed imagery in conjunction with self-explaining roads theory to consider how the street space visible to drivers influences crash frequency, using data from Columbus, Ohio, USA. While controlling for road network and area characteristics, we model the association of individual street elements with crash frequency. We then conduct a cluster analysis to define four types of street spaces, which are used in a subsequent model. We find that an Open Road type of metropolitan street space, characterized by more visible sky, roadway, and signage are associated with the greatest increase in crashes, and that the majority of these spaces exist on arterial or collector class road segments. We theorize that the visual similarity of this type of street space to highways promotes faster, less careful driving, which combines with their mixed land uses to make them the least safe. This points to the importance of traffic calming for such roads in high-activity areas, and the need to differentiate environments of non-highways from highways to promote careful driving.

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Understanding the role of urban social and physical environment in opioid overdose events using found geospatial data

New paper:  Li, Y., Miller, H.J., Root, E.D., Hyder, A. and Liu, D. “Understanding the role of urban social and physical environment in opioid overdose events using found geospatial data,” Health and Place, 75, 102792.

Abstract: Opioid use disorder is a serious public health crisis in the United States. Manifestations such as opioid overdose events (OOEs) vary within and across communities and there is growing evidence that this variation is partially rooted in community-level social and economic conditions. The lack of high spatial resolution, timely data has hampered research into the associations between OOEs and social and physical environments. We explore the use of non-traditional, “found” geospatial data collected for other purposes as indicators of urban social-environmental conditions and their relationships with OOEs at the neighborhood level. We evaluate the use of Google Street View images and non-emergency “311” service requests, along with US Census data as indicators of social and physical conditions in community neighborhoods. We estimate negative binomial regression models with OOE data from first responders in Columbus, Ohio, USA between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2017. Higher numbers of OOEs were positively associated with service request indicators of neighborhood physical and social disorder and street view imagery rated as boring or depressing based on a pre-trained random forest regression model. Perceived safety, wealth, and liveliness measures from the street view imagery were negatively associated with risk of an OOE. Age group 50–64 was positively associated with risk of an OOE but age 35–49 was negative. White population, percentage of individuals living in poverty, and percentage of vacant housing units were also found significantly positive however, median income and percentage of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher were found negative. Our result shows neighborhood social and physical environment characteristics are associated with likelihood of OOEs. Our study adds to the scientific evidence that the opioid epidemic crisis is partially rooted in social inequality, distress and underinvestment. It also shows the previously underutilized data sources hold promise for providing insights into this complex problem to help inform the development of population-level interventions and harm reduction policies.

Lower volumes, higher speeds: Changes to crash type, timing, and severity on urban roads from COVID-19 stay-at-home policies

New publication: Stiles, J., Kar, A., Lee, J. and Miller, H.J. (2021) “Lower volumes, higher speeds: Changes to crash type, timing, and severity on urban roads from COVID-19 stay-at-home policies,” Transportation Research Record (online first)

Abstract: Stay-at-home policies in response to COVID-19 transformed high-volume arterials and highways into lower-volume roads, and reduced congestion during peak travel times. To learn from the effects of this transformation on traffic safety, an analysis of crash data in Ohio’s Franklin County, U.S., from February to May 2020 is presented, augmented by speed and network data. Crash characteristics such as type and time of day are analyzed during a period of stay-at-home guidelines, and two models are estimated: (i) a multinomial logistic regression that relates daily volume to crash severity; and (ii) a Bayesian hierarchical logistic regression model that relates increases in average road speeds to increased severity and the likelihood of a crash being fatal. The findings confirm that lower volumes are associated with higher severity. The opportunity of the pandemic response is taken to explore the mechanisms of this effect. It is shown that higher speeds were associated with more severe crashes, a lower proportion of crashes were observed during morning peaks, and there was a reduction in types of crashes that occur in congestion. It is also noted that there was an increase in the proportion of crashes related to intoxication and speeding. The importance of the findings lay in the risk to essential workers who were required to use the road system while others could telework from home. Possibilities of similar shocks to travel demand in the future, and that traffic volumes may not recover to previous levels, are discussed, and policies are recommended that could reduce the risk of incapacitating and fatal crashes for continuing road users.

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