Friday, December 17, 2010

StreetSmart: A Critical Review – Jennifer Dutcher


Sally and her boyfriend, Sam, live in Washington DC. Every day they pass by the above advertisement posted on a bus stop. They never take it for what it is meant to be, but instead laugh at the ridiculousness of the ad and the irony of it being placed at a bus stop rather than a crosswalk. The humor they find in the ad directs them away from the meaning intended by it. Their reaction goes far beyond what StreetSmart aimed to evoke in the general public, conveying the ineffectiveness of the intervention program.

Initiated in 2002, StreetSmart’s goal was “to change motorist, pedestrian and cyclist behavior by increasing awareness of the consequences of pedestrian and bicycle crashes, raising awareness of law enforcement targeting pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, and recommending ways to reduce risks” (1). StreetSmart thus aims to convince the target population to use crosswalks, stop or yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, obey signs and signals, cross after a bus, and yield to bicyclists when turning. To create this change, the program uses bus backs, transit shelters, billboards, pamphlets, radio slots, and increased law enforcement handing out more citations for improper behavior regarding street safety. All forms of media entail some sort of road safety enticement and are run from “Wednesday to Sunday when the greatest numbers of pedestrian/bicyclist incidents occur” (1). The target population consists of drivers between the ages of “18-49 years of age” (1) and pedestrian and cyclists of all ages. Additionally, pamphlets are handed out with safety tips for all areas of the program’s goals, and the increased law enforcement works to tackle violators of the program and tickets those doing so.

StreetSmart has a very pertinent goal and generally sees to it well. Generally being the key word there. When one looks closer, it becomes clear that the intervention’s modes are confusing and hectic. The billboard and poster advertisements create a reaction of puzzlement and disgust in some cases. The pamphlets handed out resemble more of a driver’s handbook than anything else. Additionally, the placements of many of the advertisements are quite confusing i.e. an advertisement for pedestrian safety at a transit shelter rather than a crosswalk. Unfortunately, the fact that the program uses certain public health theories to see the program through means it cannot be as successful as possible. In looking at the content of the program and mode in which advertising is placed throughout the program, it is clear that StreetSmart seeks change through the Health Belief Model, the Theory of Reasoned Action, and the Advertising Theory. While these theories can in a sense create change, they are not the superlative choice in creating healthier behavior for street safety. The use of these theories in this intervention deserves an in-depth discussion to fully understand the flaws of StreetSmart.

Critique Argument 1 – Use of the Health Belief Model

The first critique that I have with StreetSmart is the fact that the Health Belief Model is utilized. The intervention assumes that people act rational and make changes in certain steps. With the Health Belief Model, StreetSmart assumes that people see a perceived susceptibility to a public health problem, see a perceived severity of the issue, assess perceived barriers of making the change that the intervention requests, assess perceived benefits of making the change, then take cues to action to create the change, and develop and assess their self-efficacy in this change. It is relatively easy to see why the creators may have chosen this theory. They assumed that by creating radio spots that emphasized a small girl saying, “Why are mommy’s shoes on the street? Where’s mommy?” (3), or by creating posters that showed pedestrians being violently hit by a car, it would invoke a very strong threat in the viewer of the advertisement. StreetSmart assumes that this inevitably would lead to the public developing a perceived susceptibility of being hit by the moving car or being the driver of the car. This would also lead to the perceived severity of the issue; being hit by a car would cause either death or severe injuries. Being the driver of a car that hit a pedestrian would mean strong legal troubles.

Next, it is assumed that the target population would perceive that the barriers of committing the action desired by Street Smart (crossing correctly, driving lawfully, or cycling cautiously) might be tardiness to work if they have to wait to cross a street or slow down for a cyclist; or having to walk further up a street to actually use the cross-walk. The intervention then assumes these barriers would be small compared to the assumed benefits that the population would perceive. These benefits would be gaining safe walking abilities that lead to fewer injuries, less financial issues from the possibility of hitting a pedestrian and safer bike riding streets. The intervention then gets a little sticky in creating the cues to action. These cues to action are those of the increased law enforcement giving out more tickets for not yielding at lights or crossing when not given the correct sign. Because the change being requested in the intervention is relatively small in the grand scheme of things, once a person takes up these changes their self-efficacy is quite strong. The program assumes that individuals will believe they have a strong ability to cross the street correctly, drive while yielding to pedestrians and bicyclists, or ride a bike cautiously.

One of the biggest problems with using the Health Belief Model in creating this intervention is that it assumes “that people will engage in healthy behavior if 1) they value the outcome (being healthy) related to the behavior, and 2) they think that the behavior is likely to result in that outcome” (2). The threat stemming from an ad with a woman being hit by a car while her baby sits in a stroller in the street next to her (14) does not invoke fear or symbolize a threat to the general public. People do not act rational and would not perceive that they are susceptible to this threat, nor would they perceive that this problem would be severe if they are not susceptible to it.

As you saw from the introduction, the average person would merely laugh at this advertisement or as my friends said when I showed them, they would utter, “What the heck?” According to a reading, the Health Belief Model “has been used to help in developing messages that are likely to persuade an individual to make a healthy decision.” (4) The problem with this is that the mode at which this intervention tries to create change is by no means persuading a person to pick up the change. One ad from 2009 (1) shows a man being hit by a car. His coffee is flying in the air and the driver and passenger of the vehicle both have their arms in the air like it’s a roller coaster ride. The caption at the top of the ad says, “Cross like your life depends on it.” (1) That caption, to me, and I’m sure to many other daring individuals, is more like a challenge to cross the street fast; that in order for my life to continue I need to cross that street as quickly as possible. Arguably it might even say the same to the driver. If the light is just about to turn red and you need to get somewhere, well if you cross the street like your life depends on it, you are good. The caption entices me to cross with a rush, rather than carefully. It is like the ad and the threat really do not mesh.

Another thing to note is that the cues to action in this intervention are those of increased enforcement. If I know the general public and Mike Siegel has told us that people just do not act rationally (5), then it should be easy to see that by creating more police watch over the act of crossing the street, riding a bike, or driving, it does the opposite of the desired change. The most baffling thing here is that the fine for hitting a “pedestrian in the process of failing to stop…is $500 and 6 points.” (1) That is a measly $500 for hitting a pedestrian; the price of a life. It just does not seem logical. That fine alone is enough to detour people away from actually caring about changing to the desired behavior. To most the $500 would be nothing. Hitting an actual person with a car is a big deal and it seems that this program essentially denies the importance of life by setting a meager $500 for it. Being that there are more rules surrounding crossing the street, driving, or cycling, the public is likely to do the opposite of the desired action, or to find ways around getting caught because paying a fine for disobeying a rule is a financial burden. It is another game to the general public. Thus, using the Health Belief Model to invoke this fear is truly ineffective.

Critique Argument 2 – Ineffective use of the Theory of Reasoned Action

The Theory of Reasoned Action, used in this intervention is a presentation of the assumption that people have the ability to have volitional control over their behavior and have the ability to have a changed attitude towards a behavior. Essentially, this theory explains that:

“a person’s intention to perform a specific behavior is a function of two factors: 1) attitude…toward the behavior and 2) the influence of the social environment…on the behavior. The attitude toward the behavior is determined by the person’s belief that a given outcome will occur if s(he) performs the behavior by an evaluation of the outcome.” (4)

Therefore, as with the Health Belief Model, it is rather easy to see that StreetSmart used the Theory of Reasoned Action because it again thought that people act with rationale. Designers of StreetSmart believe that they can change a person’s attitude towards the behavior through the threat that is presented in the advertisements. This then has an assumption that the individual would then be positively aware of their belief of doing the behavior. Secondly, the program is seeking to give the impression that the social environment is in positive support of the changed behavior. StreetSmart assumes that with the threat of death, by the picture of a woman being hit by a car while her baby stands at watch (14), it will evoke a belief that this outcome will occur if the individual does not do the desired behavior change. The problem here is that this type of behavior (crossing the street, using proper bicycle riding techniques, or obeying driving rules) is not of large concern to the general public. The proposal of death in the mode presented above does not induce a belief to change. It evokes a belief that is utter difference and is more likely to arouse a feeling of “that won’t happen to me”.

Key to this theory is subjective norms. It explains that for a behavior to happen a person determines “whether the behavior is likely to be approved or disapproved by the social groups of influence for the person.” (2) While it is ideal to consider subjective norms in creating an intervention, it is also ideal to consider norms that would actually be considered by the individual. The problem with this program is it assumes that people will actually consider what others do to cross the street, drive, or ride a bike. As previously discussed, people do not act rationally and this action, or even norm, within the community is likely not to be changed. Additionally, the Theory of Reasoned Action “proposes that an individual’s…preventive behavior is a function of his or her behavior intention to perform a particular preventive act.” (6) The biggest issue here is that StreetSmart, as currently designed, does not, in and of itself, evoke an intention to perform this said preventive act. Instead, a radio advertisement of a child wondering why their mommy is lying in the street (3) invokes a feeling of disgust and a confusion of why the advertisement is allowed on air. Therefore, it is obvious that this theory in no way works to create the preventive action of better street safety. This is because people do not assume this healthy behavior to be important from the intervention strategies.

An additional tactic based on the Theory of Reasoned Action is that of stronger law enforcement. StreetSmart is trying to create a belief of new norms in society by explaining that if these rules are not followed the citation will be given. The flaw here is that the “law enforcement efforts are voluntary; there is no additional or supplemental funding in the program for police overtime.” (9) What I see here is that the enforcement of the desired change lacks proper support. Thus, the new norm becomes negative and less likely to be followed by the public. The increase in citations from law enforcement may be from power-hungry officials but if the giving of citations is voluntary that leaves large room for error. Thus, the focus on more law enforcement is not a true measure of whether or not the intervention is working. Additionally, just because a person receives a citation does not mean the change will be long term. Thus, for StreetSmart to use enforcement to change subjective norms is, in the end, a flaw itself and further proves that the Theory of Reasoned Action is not a proper theory to create the desired change.

Critique Argument 3 – Ineffective use of Advertising Theory

The ineffective use of Advertising Theory in StreetSmart, in my eyes, may be the largest flaw in this intervention. Proper marketing of a prevention program for a public health issue needs perfect placement, a relatable subject in the advertisement, non-empirical evidence, and generally something that is catchy. The placements of almost all of the advertising for StreetSmart are not well thought out, nor are the subjects in any of the advertisements relatable to the target population.

Effective advertising means that the advertisers need “to determine sets of local, institutionalized meanings relevant to their brands to effectively persuade and communicate with consumers.” (7) On the surface it may seem that StreetSmart has done so; they have a brand, they have meaning towards their brand, they have some sort of entertainment (if you want to call it that), and they aim to inform and convince the public to uptake their brand. The issue here is that, “contemporary culture is no longer a monolithic, shared way of life among a majority of people…it is a complex mélange of symbols, diverse practices, and hybrids.” (7). That means that individuals are not all going to be affected by said advertisements, radio ads, or brochures of safety tips. The modes of advertising in StreetSmart are all methods of change creation that may have worked 20 years ago, but today people are more informed about certain things and no longer impacted by previous communication strategies. People already know that it is dangerous to cross a street when a car is coming or ride a bike into oncoming traffic. It is no longer effective to explain the dangers with these actions. Additionally, it is no longer enough to have a non-relatable subject in an advertisement or even advertisements that relate to everyday life.

A couple of major key ideas in good advertising is that “you cannot bore people into buying,” (8) and the advertisement should “be well-mannered, but don’t clown around.” (8) These both are quite flawed within StreetSmart. Firstly, the only advertisements within the program that are not boring are the ones with the man or woman being hit violently with a car. Otherwise they are simple, sometimes too busy advertisements, or brochures with boring colors and figures that purely do not draw in the attention of the individuals (14). As said earlier, they are more like looking at a driver’s manual, and we all know those are the most boring pamphlets ever to land in the hands of a reader. Secondly, the fact that there are advertisements for this program that do show a man and woman being violently flung across the hood of a car is beyond well-mannered. It is just bad taste. Whether or not StreetSmart aimed to scare people into crossing the street correctly, is beyond the point. The advertisements are just plain disgusting. The effect of advertising is obviously lost.

Slightly smaller of an issue with advertising in this intervention is that of the target population. As mentioned above the target population “was adult drivers from 18-49 years, and pedestrian and cyclists of all ages in the Washington, DC region.” (1) My question to this is, what about drivers ages 15-18 or 49 and older? I would think these groups would be at higher risk of not paying attention to driving and would therefore be a greater target population to spread this desired change. To me, this intervention fails in not targeting every driver. If they want change they need to go for the gold; tackle the whole problem not just part of it. Thus, StreetSmart’s use of Advertising Theory is done ineffectively.

Proposed Intervention

The goals of StreetSmart are in fact quite necessary. After all, “pedestrians and cyclists account for a fifth of the traffic-related fatalities in the Washington region.” (1) The idea makes complete sense, but the mode in which they are going about it is ineffective in its face value. If the program changed the theories in which were used to invoke the desired behavior, StreetSmart could have much more effective results. The three theories that I propose to use in a new intervention would be the Social Ecological Model, the Social Expectations Theory, and a more effective use of the Advertising Theory.

Using those theories, my proposed intervention is to change the target population to all eligible drivers, all pedestrians and all bicycle riders. This way it could affect those younger than 18, and older than 49 who fall into either of those transportation categories. In addition, my intervention would also induct a bike lane on all roads, create crosswalks that are raised and painted a brighter color, and new advertisements that involve relatable characters and stories that the public can relate to. I do not see the need to change the brand name as that has been around long enough and people have heard it long enough, but I just suggest changing the mode in which it is referred to among the public. I will now briefly defend each of these theories in a new intervention for StreetSmart.

Defense of Intervention 1 – The Use of the Social Ecological Model

I chose to use the Social Ecological Model for the simple reason that it allows to create interventions that take into account many levels of paradigms. It “gives greater attention to the social, institutional, and cultural contexts of people-environment relations than did earlier versions of human ecology.” (10) In other words it takes into account many conditions in an individual’s life that can help shape a healthy behavior (crossing a street carefully, riding a bicycle with more care, etc.). To implement this theory, I would literally change the environment surrounding the citizens. I would raise the side-walks and input a bike lane on all major public roads so that with an environment change the desired healthy behavior will be taken up. “Social ecological analysis emphasizes the dynamic interplay between situational and personal factors rather than focusing exclusively on environmental, biological, or behavioral determinants of well-being.” (10) Thus, my change in the intervention understands that there is cooperation with all levels of a person’s actions and allows for an uptake of a new behavior by changing the situation.

I use this theory to tackle my first argument against using the Health Belief Model. People do act irrationally and do not follow simple steps to uptake a new healthy behavior as simple as crossing the street. The way I see my intervention creating change using the Social Ecological Model is by the simple fact that it looks at a simple thing within an individual’s environment like a cross-walk and changes it. Additionally, my change will remove the threat in the original advertisements and modify it to a relatable story or subject so that it allows the program to encompass all aspects of the environment to lead to the desired change. After all, the “ecological position…assumes that perception services an adaptive function and that the external world must therefore provide information to guide biologically and socially functional behaviors.” (11) Thus, by changing the external world to force the change desired, it then becomes a part of the individual’s ecological environment. Hence, it removes the threat that the public is assumed to view in the original program and removes the rationale that was expected by using the Health Belief Model, and assumes that people will act irrationally. With a raised cross-walk and relatable media, people will make the behavior change without even knowing it has happened and understand that there is suddenly a perception adjustment in a person’s daily life. By shifting the environment, the perception of crossing the street, watching for pedestrians while driving, and riding a bike is suddenly changed and thus makes the behavior change much easier to uptake.

A final thought on this altered intervention is that by changing to a bike lane and by changing the cross-walks it could really remove the stronger law enforcement that seems to be such a current problem with the existing StreetSmart program. If people pick up the change because they see that their environment has changed then there really is no need to keep stricter enforcement, and the previous enforcement that was in action prior to the beginning of StreetSmart will do just fine. In my mind, an alteration of the environment will be all that is needed.

Defense of Intervention 2 – The use of the Social Expectations Theory

The reason I chose to use Social Expectations Theory is that it “pertains to socialization influences of mass communications that result from their portrayals of stable patterns of group life. “ (12) Therefore, because my intervention involves changing the norms of everyday life (adding bike lanes and changing the way a cross-walk is created) it allows for people to automatically take part in community life differently than before. My intervention removes the idea of a person having to believe in their ability to do the desired change and removes the need for a person to assess how their action is viewed by others around them. My intervention simply allows a person to change their behavior without any of this because everyone in the community would have to do the same new behavior.

My thought is that by changing the color of a cross-walk as well as raising it up, it would create a more visible space to see the individual(s) crossing the street and cause both drivers and cyclists to drive slower around corners and through intersections. Thus, it inadvertently would solve the issue at hand.

Additionally, by using the Social Expectations Theory we are explaining the change by an “account of long-range and indirect influences of the media.” (12) In other words, by changing the bike lanes and cross-walks as well as changing the form of media to be less offensive and more indirect (in a way that leaves the public not knowing they have been induced to change), my intervention would rid the direct problems I have discussed in my argument above using the Theory of Reasoned Action. My intervention inevitably can change people’s behavior overnight.

A final thought regarding using the Social Expectations Model versus using the Theory of Reasoned action is that by using the Social Expectations Model we eliminate the assumption that people will have an attitude change about the behavior through this intervention. By creating an advertisement that is relatable and that distinctly shows the social norms, then there is no need for the individual to even consider their belief of the behavior. If the behavior is given to them by a change of the norm through the media then the uptake is inevitable without a thought. This is because, “The mass media are a major source of patterned social expectations…that is in their content they describe or portray the norms, roles, ranking, and sanctions of virtually every kind of group.” (12) Thus, through the change in norms via the physical change of the cross-walks and bike lanes, and the change in the media with relatable ads it becomes a social norm literally overnight and thus refutes the previous theory used.

Defense of Intervention 3 – The more effective use of Advertising Theory

I may have discussed that StreetSmart’s use of Advertising Theory was ineffective; however I do believe the theory can be effective if used correctly. My intervention would place more relatable subjects in the billboards and pamphlets, perhaps a local political figure, a class president in a local high school, etc. In addition, I would create radio spots that feature relatable stories that are touching as opposed to one that makes people cringe. This is because, “it is easier to sell people with a friendly handshake than by hitting them over the head with a hammer.” (8) Thus, the desired behavior change is not something I would want invoked from a cringe. Rather, I would want the desired change to occur because we portrayed a very believable and heartfelt story that was remembered when a person was behind the wheel, on foot, or by pedal.

Even more, because my intervention has a target segment of the entire population it has more chance of actually creating change with the riskiest drivers and such. It is quite unclear why StreetSmart would have chosen to only target a certain age bracket in their program when the idea is to save lives of all drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. My intervention takes Advertising Theory and correctly targets the media to the accurate market.

With my intervention, I see that there is a need to change the current media forms from boring to exciting. I would make all advertisements stimulating immediately, because an effective advertisement should be rousing on one look. “One glance is enough to tell her that the advertisement is too boring to read.” (8) Thus, the goal is to captivate in one glimpse. My thought is that by creating a more relatable subject and creating a more relatable story it would do just that. In addition, the pamphlets (if they remained) would be changed to one postcard with a series of safety tips. Perhaps, I might even create a collectors series of stickers or cards that include a new safety tip on each one. This way it makes the brand of StreetSmart more recognizable and makes the brand seem more thrilling. Keeping the brand image positive and exciting is a tough job, because “ad practitioners must skillfully manage meaning,” (7) to retain the citizens interest in the brand. Keeping the brand stimulating through a change in content will be a significant modification that thus shows the correct use of Advertising Theory. This, I feel, could truly make a difference.


I have taken a current intervention program, StreetSmart, and wrestled with its flaws and created an intervention that leaves less up to the individual to change in their behavior and more up to the state to truly just implement the change. My intervention takes into account that driving, walking and riding a bike is an everyday occurrence and to truly save lives we cannot sit around waiting for everyone to adopt a new behavior with these everyday actions. It is best to change the norms and advertisements so that individuals can uptake an immediate change in action and a rather quick change in belief of that action. This can all happen with a simple physical change in roads and a more precise and well, thought out presentation of the brand of the program, StreetSmart.


Annual Report:

1. Street Smart. (2009). Annual report & campaign result: The street smart pedestrian and bicycle safety public awareness campaign (Annual Report. Washington DC: National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Retrieved from

Book Chapter:

2. Edberg, M. (2007). Chapter 4: Individual health behavior theories. Essentials of health behavior: Social and behavioral theory in public health (pp. 35-49). Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlet Publishers


3. Street Smart. (2010). Be alert 3. Washington DC: Retrieved from

4. Campbell, C. Health education behavior models and theories. Retrieved 11/21/2010, 2010, from

In class Lecture:

5. Siegel, M. (September 30, 2010). Models of individual behavior change - I [Lecture Class: Session 5]

Journal Article:

6. Fisher, W. A., Fisher, J. D., & Rye, B. J. (1995). Understanding and promoting AIDS-preventive behavior: Insights from the theory of reasoned action. Health Psychology, 14(3), 255 - 264.

7. Goh, Charlene and Kates, Steven M. EBSCOhost: Brand morphing: Implications for advertising theory and practice#db=psyh&AN=2003-03553-005. Retrieved 11/24/2010, 2010, from

Book Chapter:

8. Ogilvy, D. (1964). Chapter 5: How to build great campaigns. Confessions of an advertising man (pp. 89-103). New York: Antheneum.


9. StreetSmart - a public safety program of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. (2010). Retrieved 11/24/2010, 2010, from

Journal Article:

10. Stokols, D. (1996). Translating social ecological theory into guidelines for community health promotion. American Journal of Health Promotion, 10(4), 282-298. doi:March/April 1996:

11. McArthur Zebrowitz, Leslie and Baron, Reuben M. Toward an ecological theory of social perception. Psycological Review, 90(3), 11/24/2010-215-238. doi:1983 :

Book Chapter:

12. Defleur, Melvin and Ball-Rokeach, Sandra. (1989). Chapter 8: Socialization and theories of indirect influence. Theories of mass communication 5th ed. (pp. 202-227). New York: Longman.

Journal Article:

13. Rimer, B. K., & Glanz, K. (2005). Theory at a glance: A guide for health promotion practice (2nd ed.) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. doi:NIH No. 05-3896:


14. StreetSmart - a public safety program of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Retrieved 11/21/2010, 2010, from

15. StreetSmart – a public safety program of the district of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Retrieved 12/7/2010, from

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home