UC Berkeley transportation research center releases interactive website for reporting road safety issues

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Yijian Shan /Staff

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Updated 2/19/19: This article has been updated to reflect additional information from SafeTREC Co-Director Jill Cooper and Program Lead Kate Beck.

Street Story, a new website developed in October of 2018 by researchers at UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center, or SafeTREC, allows California residents to report unsafe road conditions, accidents or near misses, with the goal of creating a data set that engages the community and provides useful, publicly accessible information for city and transportation planners.

SafeTREC aims to partner with local community organizations in the implementation of Street Story, as they have done with Bike Bakersfield, according to SafeTREC Co-Director Jill Cooper and Program Lead Kate Beck. Before the release of Street Story, California Highway Patrol, or CHP, released a database known as the Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System, or SWITRS, which compiles data on reported collisions. Street Story is relatively new, with only about 211 stories reported statewide, but Susie Hufstader, community organizer for Bike East Bay, said she hopes the data set will grow more “robust” with time.

Of the 211 reports that fall under the “generally unsafe location” data category, 24 percent were because of people driving at “unsafe” speeds. Hufstader pointed out the danger of cars speeding in communities, and said she hopes community streets will all eventually set speed limits at or below 30 miles per hour.

“Research shows that it’s incredibly dangerous for cars to be moving fast in communities,” Hufstader said. “The goal should really be to have our cities be a place where we are not terrified for our lives.”

Peter Albert, a campus lecturer in city and regional planning who has worked in both the private and public sector for architecture and city planning, said Street Story would have been a “great outreach tool” when he was working on projects. He added that much of his work involved educating the community as to why certain changes were being made, such as narrowing traffic lanes to slow down traffic.

There were always community members skeptical of these decisions, which is why having real data from community members depicting the need for such measures would have helped to “back up the integrity” of city planning decisions, according to Albert.

“We wanted good data to help document why a change should be made,” Albert said. “Something like this would have been really helpful.”

According to Albert, SWITRS is not as user-friendly or accessible as Street Story, but may provide more reliable data due to greater barriers of entry. He added that making Street Story directly accessible to all citizens may cause inaccurate or exaggerated reports, but it should be an “influential” data collection system.

Cooper emphasized that Street Story is not meant to replace the SWITRS database, but instead acts more as a “community engagement tool.”

“These narratives (of Street Story and SWITRS) are going to have different information that is going to be valuable and be used in a different way by community organizers and agencies,” Beck said.

Hufstader said one improvement that could be implemented in Street Story is making it available in multiple languages, as one of the largest barriers to data sets is a language barrier. But for now, Hufstader said he hopes Street Story grows into a “very large” data set.

“I think it’s really great that this is a resource that exists now,” Hufstader said. “I hope cities will use it.”

Contact Sabina Mahavni and Ben Klein at [email protected].