October 27, 2023 BY Tiffany Smithin News, Webinars

Achieving Equity in Vision Zero Planning: A Framework for Transformative Change

In the U.S., BIPOC and low-income communities experience an alarmingly high and disproportionate burden of risk on our roadways. The need for change is urgent. And the opportunity is ripe for policymakers, roadway safety professionals and Vision Zero advocates to address this tragic – and preventable – racial and income gap in safety outcomes.

Vision Zero Network is proud to share a new resource, Prioritizing Health Equity in Vision Zero Planning, which provides a set of actionable steps and examples to help roadway safety champions make meaningful advancements towards safe, healthy and equitable mobility for all people.

The actionable steps highlighted in this resource are categorized under six recommendation areas:

  • Acknowledge Past Harms
  • Develop a Framework to Operationalize Equity in Safety Planning
  • Establish and Nurture Relationships to Inform Vision Zero Planning
  • Center Equity in Analysis and Prioritization
  • Shift to a Safe System Approach Based on Effective, Equitable Strategies
  • Track & Share Progress of Equity Commitments

In our October 10 webinar, Actionable Steps for Equitable Vision Zero Planning, we took a closer look at some of the ways communities can take action to better integrate equity priorities in their roadway safety work. Following are some of the highlights – and please note that the full resource also shares many specific examples of these and other actionable steps being taken now in communities across the country. So we encourage you to read and share the full resource.

1) Acknowledging Past Harms

Recognizing and acknowledging the role of urban planning and transportation policies in perpetuating systemic racism is an important, early step in planning for and advancing Vision Zero. This includes raising awareness of historical and ongoing factors that cause some communities to bear the brunt of unsafe mobility options so that we can make change.

Places to start: 

  • Learning historical context that impacts roadway safety today. This includes “redlining” policies, prevalent in the 1930s and which used race to deny homeownership loans to Black people and immigrants, having long-lasting negative impacts on their generational wealth and limiting community-level investments. This, along with highway expansion projects in the 1950s, often cutting through low-income and BIPOC communities, are examples of racist policies that divided communities, displaced residents and businesses, and exacerbated racial segregation. Overlaying maps of these areas on today’s High Injury Network (HIN) often show significant overlap, pointing to the lasting impacts of these historical decisions. Learn more: Mapping Inequality and Segregation by Design.
  • Turning to the community to learn about their perspectives and experiences, which may reflect a history and pattern of being excluded from or harmed by transportation planning & policies. Oral history can be just as valuable as what’s written or documented. 

2) Developing a Framework to Operationalize Equity in Safety Planning

It’s important to go beyond simply stating equity as a priority and instead embedding it into the core principles of your Vision Zero Action Plan to shape your ongoing work. Creating space for diverse voices in developing a shared understanding of what equity means in Vision Zero is important. This can build a stronger basis for determining which strategies are most appropriate to ensure equitable safety outcomes in your community’s ongoing Vision Zero work.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to this work, there are some near-term actions to help operationalize the role equity in your Vision Zero work, including:

  • Specifying and defining terms used in your Vision Zero Plan (such as justice, bias, inclusion, racism, equity vs equality, disparities) to build collective understanding and buy-in.
  • Set equity goals specifically related to your community needs and context, not just cut and pasted from other places.
  • Engage community members on what they consider equity priorities.  

Glossary terms taken from Metro of Greater Portland's plan to advance racial, equity, diversity & inclusion in transportation planning

3) Establish and Nurture Partnerships to Inform Vision Zero Planning

Because transportation decisions intersect with so many consequential aspects of our lives, the range of stakeholders who should be collaborators in Vision Zero work is broad. Some places to prioritize partnerships include:

  • Understanding which communities may be most impacted by transportation planning decisions and encouraging opportunities for partnerships and engagement in meaningful ways, including compensating for time and input.
  • Nurturing relationships with non-transportation agencies whose mission relates to public health and safety, including health departments and offices that work on community development, homeless services, and youth and senior issues.
  • Budgeting meaningful time for engagement with community members, especially those who have traditionally been excluded from transportation planning, including BIPOC communities, low-income communities, youth and seniors.

4) Center Equity in Analysis and Prioritization

Using data to identify and prioritize a community’s High Injury Network (HIN) is a best practice in being more systematic and intentional in addressing safety problems . However, quantitative data does not always tell the whole story.. The following are some starting points for an equity-informed approach to data analysis and prioritization:

  • Supplementing traditional police crash data with health-centered sources, including hospital and emergency medical service partnerships, in order to be more complete and representative.
  • Augmenting data with community input to include populations who may be underrepresented in traditional data sources and processes that rely on proactive requests for safety interventions.
  • Prioritizing investments in marginalized areas. Many U.S. communities are increasingly recognizing and acknowledging the inequities in roadway safety conditions, with high rates of their HINs located in communities of color and low-income communities, and are bringing more attention and resources to addressing these disparities. 

HINs from Kansas City, Philadelphia, and Tampa overlaid overlaid on top of equity related data found in our new resource: Prioritizing Health Equity in Vision Zero Planning

5) Shifting to a Safe System Approach Based on Effective, Equitable Strategies

Historically, transportation planning has used the Es’ approach (education, engineering, enforcement, etc.), aimed at  addressing individual behavior. This tends to overemphasize education and enforcement strategies and under-emphasize systemic-level solutions that better address the poorly built environments and policies plaguing many people in low-income areas and in communities of color.

The upstream Safe System approach, which is at the core of Vision Zero, recognizes that not all individuals have the same safe transportation choices to begin with, particularly in underserved communities, so it’s more appropriate to focus on design and policy improvements that address those gaps. And, over-reliance on the traditional Es approach can perpetuate a cycle of unjust, racialized or discriminatory enforcement in the very neighborhoods that are more likely to be designed with less safe mobility options.

So, while the Es have some role to play in roadway safety efforts, they should be better evaluated for shortcomings and held to higher standards, especially in terms of efficacy and equity. Some places to start include:

  • Prioritizing upstream, not downstream strategies. This includes focusing on the systems, policies and practices that encourage safe behavior – such as redesigning roadways to be self-enforcing and ensuring safety features in all vehicles – rather than over-emphasizing individual behaviors. (This recent article may be a good one to share with other stakeholders to help make the case.)
  • Integrating equity criteria into ongoing efforts, such as paving and capital projects. Look for opportunities to scale up safety improvements by integrating them systematically into other planned projects in priority equity areas.
  • Analyzing and adjusting the role of enforcement. Too often, racialized enforcement, including discriminatory traffic stops and inequitable ticketing fines and fees systems, are conducted in the name of “safe streets” but do not necessarily correlate to the safety of road users. But it does not have to be this way. Steps include deprioritizing administrative and equipment violations for people driving, recognizing that these are not high-value public safety issues and too often result in inequitable enforcement and harsh, unintended consequences. Another step is deprioritizing citations for people walking and biking, given that many areas lack safe walking and biking infrastructure, which should be prioritized in an upstream approach to safety.

ChangeLab Solutions’ Fair Process Checklist that communities can use to identify equity considerations as they plan and implement projects, programs, and policies.

6) Tracking & Sharing Progress on Equity Commitments

Building transparency and accountability measures into a Vision Zero Plan helps keep equity priorities front and center. To honor our commitments is to track and measure how close we are to achieving our goals. Following are some recommended steps:  

  • Developing an equity framework, or checklist, to assess impacts of strategies. This can also entail gathering community feedback on actions to date and influence plans.
  • Sharing regular updates with and opportunities for input from the community members. This can include a public-facing dashboards with specific equity goals highlighted and measured annual reports on progress, including equity goals. Measurements may include how many safety projects have been implemented in low-income and/or BIPOC communities, how this work reflects commitments made to scale up progress in these areas and how upstream approaches are leveraged for more lasting and equitable change.

The ideas shared above are just a portion of what’s available in our new resource: Prioritizing Health Equity in Vision Zero Planning. We hope you’ll read more about the additional actionable steps within each of the above six recommendations and many helpful examples of communities taking these steps. We hope that resources like this and others can serve as a base for conversation and collaboration in your Vision Zero work. Most important is to start where you are and with intention and action to prioritize equitable strategies and outcomes in your roadway safety work.

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