The success of Vision Zero hinges on creating safe travel for all. This entails involving people who use our streets, sidewalks, and bikeways and, particularly, those who are most impacted by safety problems.
While Vision Zero encourages cities to make the most of data to prioritize resources and win support to address the most urgent issues on our roadways, it is also critical to value human experience, which data sets do not always account for. This is especially true in neighborhoods that often bear the brunt of high-injury streets, and where community members may be grappling with a multitude of historic inequities. Their experiences and input need to be sought after and incorporated into Vision Zero planning.
But how can cities build trust and meaningfully engage with residents in neighborhoods that may not have experience with or faith in being heard in these planning processes? Part of the answer includes collaborating with community groups that are genuinely engaged in the neighborhoods, who have strong connections with and respect of locals, and who can help share the hopes and fears of long-time residents. And, it is important to understand that this is work, and work comes with a price tag. We should be ready to compensate the efforts of hard-working community groups sharing their time and expertise to help advance Vision Zero.
This article highlights a few encouraging examples of Vision Zero cities recognizing the importance of community input and providing funding to respected, on-the-ground organizations to assist with meaningful engagement. If done well, this can be a win-win approach to engage residents and invest in the longer-term success of the community organizers and influencers who are working in the areas where transportation safety improvements are needed most.
Washington, D.C. – $600,000 for 5 programs
This year, 2017, was the second year in a row that Washington, D.C. awarded grant funds to organizations to advance the city’s Vision Zero initiative. The total of $600,000 was distributed to support five programs, with grant sizes ranging from $61,000 to $169,000. Funds were generated via revenues collected through Automated Traffic Enforcement cameras to encourage innovative approaches to transportation safety.
One of the five grant recipients was Gearin’ Up Bicycles, an organization whose mission is to create career development opportunities and encourage cycling as a practical, healthy means of transportation. The group hosts pop up bike shops all around the District, but engages youth primarily from D.C. Wards 7 and 8, historically underserved neighborhoods on the eastern side of the Anacostia River, to encourage residents to fix their bicycles and share information about safe bicycling. Unlike other areas of the District, there have been no bicycle shops in these areas, until only recently.
“When I first read about Vision Zero, I zeroed in on the term vulnerable users,” said Sterling Stone, Gearin’ Up’s Executive Director. “We’re talking about kids, folks from lower income areas, and folks without access to information. That’s where we want to hook in.”
As of July 2017, Gearin’ Up had serviced 1,545 bikes with the $80,000 Vision Zero grant. Typically, they host 40 pop ups and repair 800 bikes over the course of a year. With the grant funding, they have been able to double the number of pop up events and bicycles serviced, with five months left in the year. Gearin’ Up is very excited to continue forward.
“DC has a reputation that biking is for white people,” said Sterling. “There are other groups in D.C. advocating for bike stuff. We want to go further to build a bike culture in neighborhoods where it doesn’t exist. We want to change the perception of what bike stuff is.”
Other groups awarded funding through D.C.’s program include:
- DC Villages/ Capitol Hill Village: $160,000 – Works with existing senior population to reduce the number of seniors driving through an expanded volunteer ride program and increased use of ridesharing; improve senior driving education; and enhance pedestrian safety and navigation.
- George Washington University Hospital: $169,000 – Increase collection of blood evidence used to adjudicate impaired drivers throughout all District of Columbia trauma centers.
- District of Columbia Department of For-Hire Vehicles: $61,000 – Work to prevent dangerous driving with compliance check points and focused enforcement in areas with high concentrations of vulnerable travelers.
- District of Columbia Office of Risk Management (ORM): $130,000 – Implement a District-wide driver safety program including online training and behind-the-wheel training for high-risk drivers.
Los Angeles – $300,000 for 8 programs
Los Angeles took a similar approach to competitively award grants to neighborhood organizations interested in engaging residents about Vision Zero and transportation safety. Specifically, LA’s Department of Transportation awarded $300,000 in grants to eight teams in early 2017, to “implement innovative, creative and engaging, site-specific interventions along 10 specific corridors suffering from some of the highest rates of traffic collisions and deaths in LA.  LA’s Department of Transportation solicited grant funds from the state Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) to then pass through to neighborhood organizations.
One of the winning teams was a partnership among three non-profit groups Multicultural Communities for Mobility (MCM), Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC), and LA Commons, which received $62,00 (a total of two $31,000 grants) to engage residents living near Hoover Street and Crenshaw Boulevard, two corridors identified within the city’s Vision Zero High Injury Network and located in historically lower income South LA. It was the first time for MCM and LACBC to work with LA Commons, but according to Karen Mack, Executive Director and Founder of LA Commons, each of the partners brought a unique skillset to the table, and the positive collaboration on the project laid the foundation for them to work together in the future.
The City wanted specifically to use art as an engagement strategy. LA Commons had been part of a collaborative in South LA to put together a large festival that would commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Watts uprising, Future Fest, The Future of LA is in South LA: A Community Vision for Health and Justice 25 years after the 1992 LA Uprising. The organization uses art as an engagement tool to give people a voice, so they were a good partner to MCM and LACBC, which focus on improving mobility and community engagement. Hyeran Lee who worked on the project on behalf of LACBC said, “Working with partner organizations was really critical. Traditionally, LACBC has not had strong presence in South LA. We want to make sure we’re following the lead of people in the community and that we are responsive to community needs. We can then carry this community voice back to the city through our own policy advocacy. Having the partnership helped LACBC do meaningful work with community members.”
With the grant funds, the partners organized a one-week street activation on Hoover Street preceding the festival. According to Anisha Hingorani, Program and Policy Manager for MCM, they wanted to engage residents in a discussion about the complex issues involved with transportation, and wanted to showcase what is involved with Vision Zero. They asked residents to share thoughts on the meaning of mobility justice, and made maps available so people could write comments about areas where they felt unsafe. The team integrated art into each aspect of outreach to reinforce themes of community empowerment and traffic safety.
A component of the project was identifying Safe Street Teams, often youth living in the community. Being a Safe Street Team member gave youth the language of transportation justice and more skills to connect themselves with the community, beginning to build a pipeline of young professionals of color, and helping them personally with professional development. It is hoped that these young residents will continue working in their communities to make them better.
“This is the way the city should engage communities,” said Hyeran with the LACBC. “We would like to have had funding a few more months to engage, educate, and listen to the needs of more residents. We see that having a deep engagement process during the life of these projects is critical to its success.”
When asked how their work is contributing to Vision Zero, Anisha at MCM pointed to how the groups are “providing culturally competent engagement and providing resources and power to these communities that have traditionally been marginalized from transportation conversations. Having the public workshop on the street helped to break down barriers and drew people in through art and music to help them realize that they are the experts in this conversation.”
Other groups awarded funding through LA’s program include:
- The Cornerstone Theater Company, Power to Pedal and Dignity Healthy Hospital: Organize and host story circles to hear how traffic injuries have impacted people’s lives, and design visual art installations along the corridor.
- Los Angeles Walks, Gabba Gallery, the Pilipino Workers Center, and Public Matters: Host an event to showcase Vision Zero via murals, performance art, and dancing.
- Ave 50 Studio and LA Neighborhood Initiative: Host a series of art installations along the corridor that will lead to a culminating poetry event.
- Central City Neighborhood Partners: Install a series of murals and paint utility boxes and benches with Vision Zero messages.
- C.I.C.L.E., Blacklist and artist, Alan Nakagawa: Place manikins wearing T-shirts with safety messages and representing active transportation along the corridor to guide to a central hub with Vision Zero information.
- Pacoima Beautiful, Leyna, Kaiser, and Cottonwood: In partnership with artist JC Decaux, create permanent art installations at four bus stops with safety messaging.
- LA Más and Parents, Educators/ Teachers & Students in Action: Temporary art installations along the corridor.
More information on the programs can be found here.
San Francisco – $180,000 for 7 programs
In San Francisco, the Department of Public Health for the City and County distributed $180,000 to seven community based organizations working with older adults 65+ years of age as part of its Safe Streets for Seniors program. The goal of the funding was to provide technical assistance and build capacity of community members, especially monolingual non-English speaking residents, to help them learn how to identify traffic dangers, and learn about Vision Zero. The funding is part of the Departments’ larger mission to think broadly about how to prevent disease and injury.
“Building the capacity of community members helps to empower them to be more involved in city decision making, to understand how to engage policy makers, and to learn what are good strategies and what are not” according to Ana Validzic, a health educator within the County Health Equity & Promotion Branch, who helps to manage the program.
The nonprofit advocacy group Walk San Francisco was one of the groups to receive funding, which it used to train and lead a group of disabled community members to advocate for safe project design components and policy changes. For the latter, they advocated to ensure the city’s driver training program included information on how to drive safety around older adults and people with disabilities, and worked together to review and provide feedback on the city’s policies around accessibility of bike lane designs.
According to Cathy DeLuca, Interim Executive Director at Walk SF, “This grant has been a huge success at mobilizing the community and engaging seniors and other community based organizations in Vision Zero. The Department of Health has been keeping all grantees informed about Vision Zero meetings and happenings, which has really helped to further engage these organizations and deepen their work on Vision Zero.” This type of funding for Vision Zero will be continued in future years on an ongoing basis.
Other groups awarded funding through San Francisco’s program include:
- Chinatown Community Development Center: Conduct coffee hours to engage monolingual Chinese-speaking seniors to spark discussions around Vision Zero, conduct walk audits around the high injury corridors of Chinatown for seniors, and coordinate a community-based media campaign to pitch Vision Zero and Pedestrian safety features on Chinese language media outlets.
- South of Market Community Action Network: Educate SoMa seniors and people with disabilities about Vision Zero, with an emphasis on monolingual, non-English speakers, and gather feedback about how to improve safety in the high injury areas of SoMa.
- Tenderloin Community Benefit District: Conduct Corner Captains to assist with street crossings and provide safe escort services, and conduct personal safety training workshops for seniors and service providers among other services.
- Portola Family Connections: Deliver injury prevention educational workshops to seniors, and collaborate with 5 community agencies to share curriculum and provide as needed technical support among other services.
- Golden Gate Senior Service: Conduct youth training workshops to assist with delivery of senior education program, and identify high risk areas and work with seniors to develop solutions such as engineering improvements, policy changes, and enforcement plans.
Bottom Line: Support and Compensate Grassroots Engagement to Advance Vision Zero
Cities including Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco are demonstrating how to meaningfully engage communities as part of a larger Vision Zero initiative, and especially communities impacted most by traffic crashes. The experiences and input of these communities must be sought after and incorporated into Vision Zero planning, in addition to traditional data sets.
Collaborating with community groups that are already engaged in the neighborhood to lead these efforts is a win-win opportunity. It helps advance the city’s goals of collecting input and expanding Vision Zero awareness, and helps local organizations leverage their community connections and knowledge, and deepen their engagement in transportation safety issues.
Too often, community organizations are asked to help for free. We hope that like the cities highlighted in this article, other Vision Zero cities will look to not only engage community members at the grassroots level, but also to compensate the efforts of hard-working, trusted community groups to share their time and expertise.