Cities Take the Lead in Reducing Preventable Traffic Fatalities with Vision Zero

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This is a guest post by Veronica Vanterpool, deputy director of The Vision Zero Network.

Ask anyone in your community if they know someone killed or seriously injured in a traffic crash and the answer is likely “yes.” In fact, the odds of being killed in a traffic crash are 1 in 103. Despite claiming 40,231 lives in 2017 — that’s 100 people each day dying in preventable incidents — traffic safety rarely gets the attention it deserves as a major public health epidemic in this country. While the National Safety Council estimates the societal costs of these crashes at $430B a year, there is no way to quantify the emotional cost of these tragedies.

Fortunately, there are proven solutions to ensuring safe mobility for all community members, and we are seeing more and more city leaders step up to lead the way by committing to Vision Zero.

What is Vision Zero?

Vision Zero is a safety approach to eliminate deaths and reduce serious injury from traffic crashes. Started in Sweden more than 20 years ago, it is founded on the ethical belief that everyone should be able to move around safely, whether by foot, bike, transit or car. It is unacceptable that our transportation systems put our lives at risk when we have proven solutions that provide safe travel for all.

Imagine 100 people in this country dying from the flu or in plane crashes every day. There would be widespread alarm and our collective response would be swift and bold. Unfortunately, our collective response seems almost indifferent to the significant loss of life each year as people simply attempt to move about their communities. Vision Zero helps us understand that the only morally responsible goal is zero traffic deaths and severe injuries.

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Getting to zero requires changing how we approach transportation issues and how we advance proven solutions. A fundamental premise of Vision Zero is that traffic deaths and serious injuries are preventable, not inevitable. Why does this matter? Because knowing something is preventable means we can influence the outcome and motivate action.

These are Preventable Crashes, not Random Accidents

While often referred to as “accidents,” traffic crashes aren’t just chance incidents. They are outcomes of controllable factors such as speeding or poor roadway design and planning. With a Vision Zero approach, system designers — those who engineer roadways, plan transit systems, craft land use policies, innovate technology and pass laws — share responsibility for creating safe systems of travel. Whereas a traditional traffic safety approach emphasizes individual responsibility, such as a distracted pedestrian or a speeding driver, Vision Zero’s Safe Systems approach acknowledges that the system designers share responsibility with the individuals and works to support safer systems for all.

A Safe Systems approach accounts for inevitable human error so that errors do not result in death or severe injury. While all road users must be responsible, a Safe System provides safeguards when road users make mistakes. For example, reducing speeds from 30 mph to 20 mph on a roadway with bus stops and pedestrian activity doubles the chance of survival for an individual hit by a vehicle. This reduction in speed is literally the difference between life and death, and it is controllable by policy makers and street designers. More and more cities — from Seattle to New York City to Charlotte — are incorporating proven speed management into their Vision Zero plans for safety. In fact, the Governors Highway Safety Association recently issued a powerful new report showing the importance of implementing proven speed management strategies — including lowering speed limits, allowing automated speed enforcement technology and redesigning roadways for slower, safer speeds.

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Vision Zero Progress

Interest in Vision Zero has grown quickly throughout the U.S. since it was first adopted in 2014 by New York City. In just five years, 35 Vision Zero Cities have set an explicit goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and severe injuries, ranging from San Antonio to Fort Lauderdale to Philadelphia. They are encouraged by progress in New York City, where traffic fatalities have hit a record low, aftering declining each year since Vision Zero was implemented. In Sweden, the birthplace of Vision Zero, traffic deaths have dropped nearly 50% in the past 20 years, even as trips have increased. Most importantly, mayors, police chiefs and community leaders across the nation are motivated to change the status quo because they don’t want to lose any more family, friends and neighbors to these preventable tragedies.

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Working Towards Vision Zero

At the Vision Zero Network, we emphasize that Vision Zero is not merely a slogan. It is a transformative shift in the approach to ensuring safety for all road users. Getting started with Vision Zero requires finding political champions and leaders within key agencies and the community to build out and implement an action plan to save lives. It requires a focus on what works: managing speeds and designing Complete Streets for all roadway users. It requires community outreach that is thorough, inclusive and sustained. The Vision Zero Network’s 10 Core Elements of Vision Zero Communities and our webinar on the Core Elements with the Institute of Transportation Engineers were created to help communities understand what makes a difference in moving toward zero traffic fatalities.

It is way past due to acknowledge 100 traffic deaths a day as an epidemic worthy of urgency and action. But it is never too late to move from vision to action and save lives.

The Vision Zero Network is nonprofit project advancing Vision Zero across the U.S. The Network helps public sector and community-based leaders, particularly at the local level, to move beyond traditional silos, set shared goals for safety, and collaborate effectively across sectors. Their peer exchange efforts help communities share best practices for safe mobility for all. To learn more about the Vision Zero Network and access resources, visit our website at www.visionzeronetwork.org, follow us at @visioneronet and sign up for our monthly e-newsletter.

About the Author: Vanterpool.jpgVeronica Vanterpool is deputy director of The Vision Zero Network. Veronica has spent more than a decade advancing a more balanced, transit-friendly and equitable transportation network throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. She worked closely with community residents, civic partners, agency leaders and elected and appointed officials to increase funding for transit, walking and biking infrastructure. Veronica was at the forefront of key issue campaigns in New York including congestion pricing, Complete Streets and Vision Zero. She has been a leading voice for transit in the NY metro region and was appointed in 2016 to the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the nation’s largest transit system providing 2.6 billion transit trips per year, per the recommendation of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Prior to joining the Vision Zero Network, she served as executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, where she spent 10 years.