March 8, 2023 BY Tiffany Smithin News, Webinars

Fundamentals of Vision Zero Action Planning

Overview of Key Steps & Strategies

With unacceptably high numbers of roadway deaths and new federal funding dedicated to Vision Zero planning and implementation, now is the time to ensure your community is building a strong, actionable foundation for safe mobility, including using effective and equitable strategies.  

Whether yours is one of the 450+ communities awarded a Safe Streets and Roads for All federal planning grant or thinking about a future safety planning process or updating an existing plan, we want to help align your Vision Zero work with the Safe System approach, which has been adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation and many communities across the nation. 

Our new Fundamentals of Vision Zero Action Planning series will feature informative webinars and new (and updated) online resources to help communities create strong Safe System-based plans to help improve their effectiveness and institutionalize Vision Zero principles (more below) in meaningful, measurable ways.

Upcoming events in our Fundamentals series will include deeper dives on topics such as fostering meaningful and sustained collaborative efforts; leveraging data in your project priorities; institutionalizing commitments to equity;  using strategies to lower speeds; establishing strong performance metrics; and more.

Breakdown of registrants for the first of our Fundamentals of Vision Zero Action Planning series, Feb. 23, 2023

We provided a high level overview of six foundational elements that make for a strong Vision Zero Action Plan – regardless of a community’s size. We were pleased to see strong interest from across the nation. (See a breakdown of registrants above.) We commend participants for taking time to deepen their understanding of the steps and commitment needed to change the status quo situation on our streets, sidewalks and bikeways.

You can watch a recording of our first session:

Following is our summary of the discussion, which was a high-level overview of the six critical elements of a strong Vision Zero Action Plan: 

1) Build Your Action Plan on a Safe System Foundation

Regardless if your community is new to Vision Zero or updating an existing plan, now is the time to understand and integrate the Safe System approach as the basis of a strong Vision Zero Action Plan. This is a fundamentally different approach from the status quo, as a Safe System Plan is built on the following key principles, which influence strategies and priorities:  

  • Roadway deaths and severe injuries are preventable;
  • People make mistakes and their bodies are fragile;
  • Our focus should be on designing and maintaining a safe system (upstream, preventative strategies), not counting on perfect human behavior (downstream, reactive).

The move from a traditional approach to a Safe System focus includes not only a process shift, but also a change in mindset, internal culture and decision making. Fortunately, we’ve seen communities such as Philadelphia effectively make this shift. Their original Vision Zero plan, developed in 2017, focused on the traditional “E’s” approach (see below), while their current plan, which was updated in 2020, is explicitly based on the Safe System approach, moving beyond the traditional “E’s” siloes (More on Evolving Beyond the E’s).

Philadelphia’s 2017 Vision Zero Action Plan compared to their 2020 plan

This is not to say that the “E’s” cannot or do not show up in other ways in the updated Plan, though it does signal a shift in priorities and demonstrates a focus on more proactive and upstream strategies to make change. 

Learn more about how to develop your Vision Zero Action Plan with a Safe System approach in our upcoming second session in the Fundamentals series, which will be a deep dive into this topic. Register now for the March 23rd webinar.

2) Commit to collaboration

A commitment to Vision Zero and recognition that transportation practices and policies affect many other important aspects of people’s lives also requires engaging a broader group of stakeholders in the work. 

Those collaborating and and meaningfully “owning” actions in your Plan should be interdepartmental and interdisciplinary – not only transportation professionals. This can include representatives from agencies focused on interrelated areas, including public health; housing and development; environmental justice; and others. 

And non-governmental stakeholders should be included in shaping and guiding Vision Zero Action plans too. They should represent areas and communities that are most affected by transportation decisions — for instance, youth representatives, people in neighborhoods with the highest safety problems, people with disabilities, groups focused on walking and biking safety, and others. 

What about smaller communities? We recognize that smaller jurisdictions may not have the capacity to cover as many of these bases. Instead, they may collaborate with county or regional partners in these spaces (ex: public health, long-range planning/development). And, this may be a chance for multiple smaller communities to join forces to leverage shared needs through this planning opportunity.

3) Leverage Data & Contextualize Disparities

Many communities recognize the importance of using data to identify High-Injury Networks (HIN) in order to focus limited safety resources. It is also key to recognize patterns of disparities in roadway safety and to overlay this information on the HIN, then using it to further prioritize safety efforts. For instance, many communities in the U.S. experience inequities in safety infrastructure and investments, resulting, for instance, in disproportionate rates of roadway injuries and deaths among people of color and in low-income communities. Other examples of common disparities may be greater harms amongst youth and seniors, people walking and biking; and people with disabilities.

We commend communities, such as Nashville, Tennessee for recently developing a Vision Zero Action Plan that includes a High Injury Network overlaid with areas deemed as “highly vulnerable.” (Some communities categorize these as “communities of concern” or “historically disadvantaged communities” or other terms.) In Nashville, “highly vulnerable” areas are defined as those with high concentrations of people living in poverty, with lower rates of homeownership, high concentration of active transportation users, carless households, people with disabilities, educational attainment, older adults, youth, and more. In Nashville’s Plan, analysis shows that 90% of High Injury intersections occur within these highly vulnerable areas, and that 53% of the overall HIN miles are in these areas. 

Nashville’s High Injury Network overlaid with “Highly Vulnerable Areas”

By broadening the data collected and analyzed, we can better direct and track safety resources toward neighborhoods and/or groups that are harmed disproportionately by unsafe roadway conditions. Your analysis should also inform how you prioritize projects. This can look like Oakland (CA) DOT’s Geographic Equity Toolbox, a tool the City uses to prioritize neighborhoods for infrastructure investments based on the concentration of people who historically or currently experience safety disparities. 

For communities who may not have easy access to such robust data sets, we encourage checking out these publicly available data tools from USDOT. For example, the website includes a census tract tool which can be helpful in identifying historically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

4) Institutionalize Commitments to Equity

A strong Vision Zero Action Plan will go beyond pointing out disparities; it will spur actions to mitigate these disparities and develop ways to institutionalize commitments to equitable strategies and results. A few examples include the following:

Define Equity & Establish it as a Core Principle of the Plan: We urge Vision Zero communities to define what equity means in the context of their work and establish it as a core principle in their Action Plan. This definition can help build common understanding of the equity goals, the challenges in reaching the goals, and the most effective and equitable safety strategies. For example, San Francisco’s plan illustrates how equity can be defined and establishes it as a core principle of the plan. 

San Francisco’s Action Plan defines what it means to advance equity in Vision Zero work and establishes it as a core principle

Foster meaningful and sustained engagement with the most vulnerable & marginalized groups: Historically, Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other communities have been excluded from decision-making processes related to transportation and safe mobility. Because the priorities laid out in a Vision Zero Action Plan directly impact the lives of people, strong plans will actively include members from the communities most impacted by these transportation decisions. Examples include neighborhood representatives serving on the Vision Zero taskforce and being invited in various ways to shape the Action Plan and ongoing work.

Assess how planned actions meet goals to be effective & equitable: Along with developing a prioritization process, we stress the importance of establishing a framework to assess how effective and equitable the Plan's actions and impacts are expected to be. There should be openness to re-evaluating past strategies to make sure they fit the core principles of your work. For instance, Oakland, CA developed and uses a robust Geographic Equity Toolbox to assess its ongoing safety work (see below).

An example of how this examination may affect your work is considering strategies to address dangerously speeds on a road with 5 lanes. If police stops are the main focus, this probably will not going to rank high in long-term efficacy, nor on equity because raises concerns about racial bias in police stops. A more effective and equitable strategy would likely be to redesign the roadway to discourage high speeds through traffic calming measures. 

Oakland established a framework to assess efficacy and equity in their safety countermeasures

5) Lead with Core Strategies: Road Design & Safe Speeds

In addition to the foundational principles of a strong Vision Zero Action Plan, shared prior, there are also specific, actionable strategies to emphasize in a Safe System-based Plan. This includes focusing on the upstream actions of safe road design and managing speeds, as these are the factors that will most likely influence people’s behavior and safety. 

So, what does this look like in practice? In Hoboken NJ’s Vision Zero Action Plan, they prioritize design and speed management actions proven to improve safety, including: adding curb extensions at intersections to shorten pedestrian crossing distances; installing Leading Pedestrian Intervals to give people walking a head start into the crosswalk; and lowering speed limits to 20mph. Ultimately, these design and speed management strategies elevate the safe mobility of people, rather than prioritizing the fast movement of cars, often at the sake of safety, especially for people outside of the cars.

Hoboken’s 2021 Action Plan lays out concrete steps regarding safe speeds and and streets

This focus on making roadways systematically safer by design and managing speeds is proven to be most effective. Additionally, this makes change upstream by focusing on the built environment and policies to proactively encourage safer behavior, rather than over-focusing downstream with reactive and punitive measures, such as more police stops and traffic fines.

This Vision Zero Network diagram highlights ways the Safe System approach affect more equitable strategies and results

6) Set & Use Strong Performance Metrics

The common phrase “What gets measured, gets done” certainly applies to Vision Zero planning and implementation. Setting clear performance metrics in your Action Plan will help ensure transparency, accountability, and ongoing evaluation and improvement. This may include creating and sharing annual Vision Zero progress reports, developing public-facing dashboards, and other ways to measure progress and challenges. These important steps should be taken during the development of the Action Plan -- from the start – not as an after-thought later.

And actions included in a strong Vision Zero Action Plan should clearly define how each will be monitored and evaluated. For example, see sections below from Tacoma, WA’s Vision Zero Plan, which lists steps to ensure transparency and accountability, and Houston’s Vision Zero Annual Report, which provides an evaluation on progress to date, including an emphasis on equity considerations.

Sections from Tacoma, WA’s Action Plan and Houston’s Vision Zero Annual Report, which lists clear performance measures and evaluation steps to encourage transparency and accountability

We hope this recap from the first in our Fundamentals of Vision Zero Action Planning series provides actionable steps and inspiration for your work. This first session was an overview of what we consider key elements for a strong, Safe System-focused plan that is effective, equitable and actionable. Please share this summary and the recording with others working for safe mobility, and tune into our upcoming sessions, each of which will explore the topics above in more detail and bring practitioners into the conversation to share their experiences and suggestions.

As USDOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg said: “No one thinks zero can happen overnight, but we’ve seen when cities aim for zero, they start getting closer to it.” 

Today, we have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to think bigger and act bolder because we can and must do better for safe mobility for all.

Interested in learning more? Check out these relevant resources:


Missed our previous series installments? No problem - check out our recordings, recaps, and resources on our new Fundamentals of Vision Zero Action Planning webpage where we cover the following topics:

Learn more about How to start on the road to Vision Zero and see our other Vision Zero resources. Stay up-to-date on our and other groups’ work for Vision Zero, sign up for our monthly Vision Zero Network e-newsletter


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