How to Improve Pedestrian Safety, One Coffee Cup at a Time

by Cathy Cibor, Senior Planner at Alta Planning + Design

What do coffee cups, internet radio, and traffic signal control boxes have in common?

Sorry, no clever punch line here. They’re actually three of the creative media sources helping to spread the word about Heads Up, a fun and impactful pedestrian safety campaign happening in Eureka, California.

The Backstory

You see, pedestrians in Eureka have a higher-than-average risk of being hit by a car. The Humboldt county seat, with a population of about 27,000, ranks #2 for pedestrian crashes among cities its size in the state, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS).

To date, the City of Eureka had already implemented a series of engineering solutions to increase pedestrian safety, such as roadway design improvements, rapid flashing beacons, and speed reader boards. Having secured grants from OTS, they then sought to add education and outreach to their traffic safety strategies to make an even greater impact, as well as increasing enforcement.

The City hired Alta’s Programs Team — which creates transportation education and outreach programs aimed at the general public — to design and implement the campaign. Our goals were to raise awareness of pedestrian safety issues, improve pedestrian and driver behaviors, and ultimately, to reduce crash rates. Here are our Lessons Learned:

Be true to the problem.

At the outset of the Heads Up project, Alta worked with the City’s Engineering Department and Transportation Safety Commission to review crash data, identify problem behaviors, and design the campaign around desired outcomes. The result is a wide-reaching campaign that is drawing a lot of local attention for its coverage and impact.

Be clear.

Based on our preliminary work and the City’s input, Alta designed the campaign to be iconic, highly visual, and very clear to our audience. We chose colors and graphics that emulate traffic control signs and distilled the messaging down to simple calls-to-action.

The City kicked off the campaign with a lively press conference and unveiling event at City Hall, which included speeches from the Mayor, City Council, and Police Department. We featured pedestrian-themed cookies from a local bakery, coffee in branded cup sleeves, a pedestrian safety photo booth, and more activities for citizens and the media. More than 50 people came out to show their support for the effort.

Be everywhere.

Just two weeks into the campaign, I was helping the City reach out to residents at the farmers market, and several people came up to our table and said, “I’ve been seeing this campaign everywhere! Tell me more about it.” That’s exactly what we were hoping to hear.

Where else are residents and visitors seeing the campaign? Beyond the various newspaper, TV, radio, and online news sources, as well as Pandora ads, here’s just a small sampling of Heads Up out in the community:

Based on a citywide online survey conducted following the campaign, nearly two-thirds of respondents agreed that drivers and pedestrians are more aware of each other following the campaign. Nearly 90 percent of respondents felt that the City should continue the Heads Up campaign.

“I now drive slower through town, and keep a look out for people who cross in the middle of the road, not just at the intersection. My favorite part of this whole campaign was making people more aware that just seconds of not paying attention can be deadly.” — Eureka resident

“I wanted to tell you that the campaign seems to be working. I see and hear about it all over town. It’s quite impressive. You are doing a fantastic job. Kudos! I like the message and think it’s very important.” — Eureka resident

View the report here.