Amidst the glamour, glitz and lights, there is a dark side to the streets of Las Vegas, especially if you are walking or biking. The city is experiencing an ever-increasing number of car crashes that are resulting in a spike in fatalities and injuries for people who walk or bike as a mode of transportation. The problem has become so acute that last year the rate of pedestrian deaths in southern Nevada outpaced those from HIV, breast cancer, or the flu.
But thanks to a ballot initiative voters approved last November, streets in southern Nevada cities such as Las Vegas will soon become safer for people walking, biking, and driving alike. The policy will help raise an expected $3 billion over the next decade by extending a fuel revenue index tax that took effect in 2013. That money will go toward building more and safer crosswalks, sidewalks, bike routes, lighting, and routes to school.
The jolt of funding comes at an urgent time for the region’s streets and roads. By 2025, Clark County is expected to grow to 2.7 million people, and will experience more than 53.1 million visitors traveling to Las Vegas.
Ben Schmauss, the government relations director for American Heart Association of Nevada, says that the fuel revenue index tax extension will result in approximately $119 million for Complete Streets projects and $43 million for Safe Routes to School projects. “We want to make southern Nevada a safer place to move and be fit, and the revenue raised from the tax will help us do that,” he says.
The American Heart Association of Nevada and others played an important role in getting the ballot initiative passed. The campaign highlighted how funds could be used to make walking, biking, and trips to school safer, and help maintain roads and manage traffic.
Schmauss says they operated a mini-campaign on the health and safety benefits of Safe Routes to School programs and Complete Streets policies within the larger campaign advocating for passage of the extension. The campaign made extensive use of online channels to tout the need for and the benefit of having safer options for walking and biking. This included extensive education efforts on Facebook and Twitter. By the time of the election, posts were occurring daily. An email campaign targeted likely supporters telling them to support funding for walking and biking by voting “YES” on the ballot initiative.
The campaign employed numerous resources, including a toolkit prepared by Voices for Healthy Kids. It contained pre-crafted social-media messaging and images that focused on walking and biking safety. One of the images, which was used the day before the election, stated simply, “A safe place to walk is why.”
“The Voices for Healthy Kids toolkit was very helpful,” says Schmauss. “Basically, all we had to do was tweak it to fit our campaign.”
The ballot initiative is not only a victory for public safety, but also for public health in southern Nevada. The state is known to have some of the lowest levels of public health funding in the nation. The revenue index tax extension and the projects it will fund are important first steps toward making it easier and safer to walk and bike in southern Nevada.
Some of the Complete Streets projects slated for funding will include pavement rehabilitation, bike lanes, widened sidewalks and safer crosswalks, street tree plantings, traffic signal upgrades, intersection improvements, upgraded street lighting and ADA improvements in multiple locations in Las Vegas. Safe Routes to School projects will include a pedestrian striping and beacons project in association with the City of North Las Vegas School Safety Program as well as multiple projects in Las Vegas to provide safer school access and connectivity.
“Community planning and health behavior research consistently shows that how communities are built influences whether or not people use public transport, drive, walk, or cycle to get to their destination,” says Paul Janda, president of the American Heart Association Las Vegas Division Board of Directors. “When sidewalks and bike plans are in place, children and their families are able to walk and bike to school, which increases physical activity.”
Note: Voices for Healthy Kids resources and funding were used for educational purposes. No Voices for Healthy Kids resources were used for direct lobbying.