When Farmington, Connecticut, surveyed its residents to inform a strategic plan update, traffic concerns rose to the top. Traffic congestion was the number one concern for all ages surveyed, with 72% of respondents identifying traffic flow on major roads as a “major problem.” For members of all generations, it seemed clear that quality of life could be improved if traffic issues were solved. This is not a story unique to New England.
More recently, Castle Rock, Colorado also faced a growing traffic concern. Situated between Colorado’s two largest cities – Denver and Colorado Springs – the city experienced a population boom leading to increased traffic and new safety concerns for drivers and the community.
In Castle Rock, a data-driven public safety strategy that focused on education rather than enforcement led to positive changes that improved driver behavior and reduced roadway crashes.
Education Over Enforcement
Nearly a decade ago, Castle Rock’s Police Department (PD) had limited patrol areas, creating a culture of traffic-enforced driving. Year over year, writing traffic tickets only produces traffic tickets; it does not truly improve driver safety. Particularly as Castle Rock’s freeway speed limits of 65 mph rose to 75 mph just beyond city limits, drivers considered the area a speed trap to get through.
How the city shifted driver culture from simple ticket avoidance to modified behavior is instructive for cities around the country. Castle Rock began to change course by first analyzing data from its public safety software system. Over time, the data from recorded crashes and citations helped the department pinpoint certain high-crash locations. With this information, the department deployed traffic enforcement officers to the places there were needed most.
Focusing on traffic education meant a shift from, “Hey, you were doing 11 miles per hour here,” to “You are actually speeding in a high-incident area.” The distinction is an important one, as it provides context and a reason behind enforcement.
More Data, Fewer Crashes
With officers patrolling high crash areas, Castle Rock PD began to issue warning citations instead of tickets. In doing so, the department collected digital records of traffic violations in place of verbal warnings. In the first year of the program, officers collected 1,400 citations, an increase from the 200 written warnings received in the previous year.
As PD Commander Todd Brown explained in this Police1 article, the process of writing a warning is just as easy as writing a ticket. This allows officers to gather information on thousands of traffic stops. Not only does the data help them make better decisions about how to effectively deploy resources, it enhances public transparency about enforcement actions.
In place of tickets, data-informed policies and a focus on education changed driver behavior. In 2019, the city saw a 8% reduction in public roadway crashes. This was the first such reduction in history, despite an increase in the number of drivers on the road.
The use of data further informs approach and policy, as the department’s Traffic Unit operates under the Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traffic Safety (DDACTS) model. According to the website, this “integrates location-based crime and traffic data to establish effective methods for deploying law enforcement and other resources.” Geo-mapping is used to identify areas with high incident rates of crime or crashes, and DDACTS directs traffic enforcement strategies to effectively mitigate both.
Understanding areas of high impact and deploying resources to educate and gather additional information are steps any jurisdiction can employ to mitigate traffic issues and make communities safer. The smart use of data also holds the promise of increased sharing and cooperation with nearby jurisdictions, expanding the benefits outside city limits.
Meredith Trimble is a former municipal official and Town Council Acting Chair, who focused on strategic planning, annual budgeting and bonded infrastructure projects. Her government experience also includes posts in both federal and state-level executive branch agencies: Associate Editor of the U.S. Federal Election Commission’s FEC Record; and Director of Education for the Connecticut Office of State Ethics. In her current role as a Senior Content Specialist with Tyler Technologies, Inc., she writes content to help empower those who serve the public. Her current focus is to help facilitate data-enabled organizations as well as to create connections between governments and those they serve.