When Going Human is the Plan

Yellow traffic sign with photo of girl with backpack with phrase: It's not just a sign,. Look for her before you turn."

GoHuman is SCAG’s award-winning public education campaign to increase safety and encourage people to walk and bike more through education, advocacy, and events that help residents re-imagine their streets to promote safe walking and biking.

It makes sense.  If our policies are going to assume that people are going to walk and bike more, we have to improve everyone’s awareness about how cars, people, cyclings . . .  and now even scooters, can coexist. But the challenge is difficult. In 2016, people walking and biking make up about 12% of all trips in the SCAG region, but were involved in about 16% of all traffic collisions and accounted for nearly 33% of all roadway fatalities in 2016.

The idea for a region-wide active transportation safety and encouragement plan was initiated through a resolution by SCAG’s Regional Council, an 86-member governing board was developed to combat these statistics. The $2.3 million project was funded through the 2014 California Active Transportation Program, which consolidated existing Federal and State transportation programs into a single funding program.

It was an audacious goal.  SCAG is the largest metropolitan planning organization in the country, spanning six counties that cover one of the most diverse (and car dependent) media markets in the county.  How could a $2.3 million dollar campaign emerge to become effective?

The message had to be authentic, memorable and meaningful. After a lot of public and stakeholder engagement, meeting with messaging experts, and testing ideas with focus groups, an idea emerged:

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The “Go Human” message cut through the clutter. It was provocative, but not frightening. Instead, it was actually encouraging. And the signage helped “humanize” pedestrians and cyclists to drivers that promoted compassion and curtesy.  Soon, head-turning art juxtaposed vulnerable system users with the signs meant to protect them.

Next came advertising. Here SCAG was strategic. They sought to work through media that was available to them. They worked with county health commissions to place ads on buses and at transit stops. They also ran radio spots and social media targeting adults drivers 25 two 54 (slow down!).  Other messages targets pedestrians to inform them of safety principles (be cautious!) and encourage them to use alternative modes.

The response was positive. Surveys found that 20 percent of the respondents would say that they recognized the go human messaging and 80 percent found the messages to be motivating.

SCAG built on this general awareness by partnering with local communities to hold open street events (by temporarily closing them to cars). In addition to creating a festive atmosphere (spaces are open for food, entertainment, and music), it provided opportunities for education. Staff would construct a temporary protected bike lane, or paint a pedestrian bulb-out, and crosswalks.  SCAG staff also organized cycling education classes for all ages, proper helmet and bike fitting, and provide other “rules of the road” information to encourage safe walking and cycling.

These events provide local elected officials and the communities an opportunity to experience possible changes to their streetscape that improve safety for all road users. Feedback opportunities are infused into each event, so that city staff and elected officials can respond appropriately.

The third component of the program is to empower local champions to lead education and encouragement programs in their own communities. SCAG staff has a set of toolkit designed to empower elected officials, community groups, and employers. To date, workshops have been conducted in just about every county corner of the SCAG region—and the result is more informed policy discussions and resource allocations across the cities of the regions.

Active transportation has seen a huge surge in population and has become an essential element of Southern California’s long-term land use and mobility plans. In 2016, SCAG’s RTP/SCS identified nearly $13 billion in active transportation investments across the six-county region. As a result, creating a safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists must be an ongoing priority.

Go Human addresses SCAG’s goal change travel behavior and mode choice to meet regional transportation goals. By combining the reach of a general advertising campaign, the evidence of tangible demonstration projects, and the impact of giving community leaders a stronger voice, Go Human is raising awareness and empowering champions to promote long term change.  It provides a model for supporting and scaling local activities for regional impact.

Awards and Recognition

  • Public Outreach Excellence Award, presented by American Planning Association: California Chapter (2018)
  • Transportation Planning Excellence Award, presented by the Federal Highway Administration (2017)
  • Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Award, National Association of Government Communicators (2016)
  • Green Leadership Award, presented by the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors (2018)
  • Enriching Lives Award (for the Camina en Walnut Park Event/Project), presented by Hilda Solis, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, First District (2018)

But An Ongoing Challenge

The Go Human program is a significant and successful program.  But its not the kind of program that itself generates any kind of sustaining revenue.  If it is to continue (and you never finish educating people about transportation safety), then SCAG will have to continue to apply for grant funds, which are often designed to help create new programs rather than sustain existing ones.

Despite the good news that the program is funded for another year through a grant from the Offices of Traffic Safety,  SCAG staff is working to fund the program in subsequent years. (And it is difficult to plan and innovate further when the funding is year to year).

How SCAG Implemented the Program

  1. Committed to the idea of improving active transportation on a region-wide basis earlyPaid attention to crafting a good message.  Sometimes that is not cheap.
  2. Financial support for the upcoming advertising campaign is being provided by a grant from the California Office Traffic Safety.Funding for Go Human is provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  3. Applied for an initial grant from the California Transportation CommissionContinues to find funding (though this is sometimes a challenge) from entities like the state Office of Traffic Safety.
  4. Working with County Transportation Commissions and County Health Departments across the region, SCAG has secured advertising space on billboards, transit and bus shelters and digital signage – all located in areas prone to collisions. The campaign also will feature radio spots.


  • General information, see www.gohumansocal.org
  • SCAG’s county-by-county report of Transportation Safety Regional Existing Conditions (Fall, 2018): https://bit.ly/2qwoMeC.
  • Safety Resources: just visit their website for webinars, fact sheets and more.
  • Gohuman graphics and imagery: Are available for sharing upon request.

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