As the momentum around Vision Zero spreads across the United States, one of the most common questions we hear from interested stakeholders is: What makes a Vision Zero community?
We know that achieving the goal of zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries cannot be achieved with a “business as usual” mindset. While Vision Zero does entail a set of strategies, it is also, importantly, a fundamentally new approach to roadway safety that starts from an acknowledgment that severe traffic crashes are preventable.
Based on the experiences of early-adopter cities in the U.S., we have an understanding of the most critical components of a strong, effective Vision Zero commitment. While this is not a comprehensive list, and ideas will continue to evolve, these nine components are proving essential to building a strong base for Vision Zero success.
1) Political Commitment
The community’s highest-ranking officials —Mayor, City Council, City Manager — must make official and public commitments to a Vision Zero goal for all road users (including people walking, biking, using transit, and driving) within a set timeframe. Zero matters!
Commitments should include passage of a clear public policy laying out actions, timeline, stakeholders, and a commitment to community engagement, transparency, and equitable outcomes (described under component #4 below). Learn more about the importance of high-level leadership in our interview with Mayor Sylvester Turner, of Houston, Texas.
2) Multi-Disciplinary Leadership
An official Vision Zero Taskforce (or Leadership Committee) should be created and charged with leading the multi-disciplinary efforts for Vision Zero. The Taskforce should include, at a minimum, high-ranking representatives from departments such as: Office of the Mayor, Transportation (or equivalent), Public Health and Police. Other departments could include Planning, Fire, Emergency Services, Public Works, District Attorney, Office of Senior Services, Disability, and the School District. Examples of strong collaboration are here.
3) Action Plan
A Vision Zero Action Plan (or Strategy) should be created within one year of initial commitment. The Action Plan is implemented with clear strategies, “owners” of each strategy, interim targets, timelines, and performance measures. Much more detail on the fundamental elements of a strong Vision Zero Action Plan here.
Community leaders should commit to both an equitable approach to Vision Zero by establishing inclusive and representative processes, and to equitable outcomes by ensuring transparency and measurable benchmarks.
An early, key step is understanding where the community’s High-Injury Network overlaps with communities of color, low-income communities and other historically disadvantaged communities. Another important component is recognizing that racialized traffic stops are exposing unacceptable and preventable injustices. Vision Zero proponents have a role and responsibility to ensure roadway safety work evolves beyond the traditional E’s. This includes investing more in proactive strategies, such as self-enforcing roadway designs and policies and lessening the need for reactive enforcement measures. Read more about Equity Strategies for Vision Zero here and here.
5) Cooperation and Collaboration
A commitment should be made to encourage meaningful cooperation and collaboration among relevant government agencies and community stakeholders to establish a framework for multiple stakeholders to set shared goals and focus on coordination and accountability. More about model programs that emphasize multi-departmental coordination here.
6) Safe System Approach
City leaders should commit to shift to a Safe System approach to roadway safety. This approach, now embraced by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), recognizes that traffic fatalities and serious injuries are unacceptable and preventable.
Safe Systems recognizes that people will make mistakes and that human bodies have limited ability to tolerate crash impacts. A Safe System is one in which the design and management of the road infrastructure decrease the risk of a serious mistake, and when a mistake leads to a crash, the impact lessened, so that the human body is not severely impacted. Key strategies include lowering speed limits and designing roads to encourage slower, safer speeds, as well as building Complete Streets to encourage safe options for walking, biking and transit.
Community leaders should gather, analyze, utilize, and share reliable data to understand roadway safety issues and prioritize resources based on evidence of the greatest needs and impact. Examples of the importance of data, especially the High-Injury Network, are here and here. This is a place where important intersecting priorities should also be integrated, such as areas of high poverty rates, high transit ridership, and relevant demographics of communities most negatively impacted by unsafe streets and land use designs.
8) Community Engagement
Data can never tell the full story. Meaningful community engagement should be prioritized, including community member representation on the Vision Zero Taskforce, broad public input through outreach and workshops, surveys, and other feedback opportunities. Examples of strong community engagement strategies and considerations are here and here and here. And consider ways to build community capacity and compensate community leaders for their time and expertise, such as this example.
The community’s process should be transparent to stakeholders, including regular updates on progress (or barriers) with the Action Plan, regular updates on performance measures, and public reports to governing boards (e.g., City Council). Read about examples here and here.
Additional relevant resources (not already listed above):
- Core Elements for Vision Zero Communities
- Managing Speed for Safety
- Where to Start on the Road to Vision Zero
- Moving from Vision to Action: Fundamental Principles, Policies & Practices to Advance Vision Zero in the U.S.
- We Know How to Fix Deadly Streets
More information from Vision Zero Network, including webinar recordings on core Vision Zero topics here. And watch our recent webinars: Vision Zero 101: Learning the Basics and Vision Zero 201: How to shift to the Safe System approach. Find out how communities may be recognized by the Vision Zero Network here.
This blog post first appeared on December 15, 2015 and was updated on July 8, 2022 to include recent references and funding opportunities.