Lessons from Denver
Vision Zero cities across the U.S. have created – or are in the process – of creating Action Plans – to outline specific strategies to get to the goal of zero traffic deaths and serious injuries. Denver is one city to recently release an Action Plan, and we think it has many exemplary features that other cities can learn from. We sat down with Denver’s Senior City Planner Rachael Bronson who managed creation of the plan to find out more what made the plan successful. A Q&A with Rachael is included below.
Action Plans have become a hallmark of Vision Zero initiatives in cities across the U.S. Since New York City crafted the first plan in 2014, other cities have followed suit one by one in big cities like San Francisco, Austin, and Philadelphia as well as smaller cities like Eugene, Oregon and Fremont, California. The purpose of these plans is to create a roadmap for action, as well as a tool for measuring and assessing progress towards the ultimate goal of eliminating severe injury crashes and fatalities.
Denver is one city to recently release a Vision Zero Action Plan. Developed with city staff, the Vision Zero Technical Advisory Committee, and made available for broad public input, the plan embodies many of the principles we at the Vision Zero Network encourage in a good plan.
First, the plan includes foundational elements that should be present in any good planning effort: actionable strategies, measurable goals, clearly defined roles and responsibilities amongst staff, and funding allocations needed. Second, Denver’s plan includes thoughtful goals and actionable strategies that other cities can learn from. Some of these model elements are outlined below:
1. Moving beyond the three E’s
Vision Zero is not built on the traditional E’s approach to traffic safety (Engineering, Education, Enforcement, etc.). Instead, it is built on a safe systems approach to traffic safety. Denver’s plan creates a useful outline for actions and strategies:
a. Enhance processes and collaboration – Recognizes that because Vision Zero is a new philosophy for managing transportation, internal changes (among staff and city leaders) and education are foundational and needed to institutionalize the approach.
b. Build safe streets for everyone – Includes and emphasizes the essential element of designing streets to be safe for everyone, no matter how they choose to travel. This is the single most important factor in changing people’s behaviors.
c. Create safe speeds – Recognizes that safe design must also include safe speeds. In addition to roadway design, Vision Zero cities should employ specific strategies to reduce speed for the sake of safety.
d. Promote a culture of safety – Integrates individual, institutional, and communal education coupled with context-sensitive enforcement strategies into the overall approach to building a culture of safety.
e. Improve data and be transparent – Commits to the ongoing pursuit of data to determine dangerous behaviors, evaluate work on an ongoing basis, and to share data with and solicit input from the Denver community.
Vision Zero is a new approach in the U.S., and as such, “business as usual” will not get us to zero. We need City processes, partnerships, and laws to prioritize traffic safety and allow for systematic change 
2. Prioritizing equity
Vision Zero is based on the premise that all people have the right to move about their communities safely. If done well, Vision Zero can help transform broken systems into safe systems. But this entails recognizing that many communities have been systemically discriminated against in transportation practices, and that not all communities are starting from the same place, in terms of safety conditions.
Denver’s Vision Zero strategy prioritizes investments in areas where injury and fatal crashes are more prevalent. Further, within these areas, the plan aims to “equitably address traffic risk in the city” by prioritizing implementation of safety improvements in Communities of Concern, defined as areas that have low income and education levels, high concentrations of seniors, low rates of vehicles ownership, high obesity rates, and high numbers of schools and community centers. Denver’s Vision Zero action plan highlights that these Communities of Concern account for 39 percent of all traffic deaths and 47 percent of pedestrian deaths.
Focusing our efforts on the most dangerous streets and in the most vulnerable communities is a responsible use of limited City resources 
3. Prioritizing equitable enforcement and elevating education efforts
Thanks to feedback from Denver’s Vision Zero Coalition members and the general public, leaders became aware that increased or inappropriate enforcement, especially in Communities of Concern, could exacerbate tensions and inadvertently increase distrust in the very communities they were seeking to serve. As a result, street design strategies (rather than enforcement) are prioritized in Communities of Concern. Other tactics include piloting a diversion program – to offer positive reinforcement and education to encourage safe behaviors – and incorporating equity and demographic considerations into police officer training courses, among others.
While enforcement is needed to establish cultural norms and expectations for the use of the public right-of-way, it should be based on principles of community collaboration and partnership 
We sat down with Rachael Bronson, Senior Planner for Denver and the lead for creating the city’s Vision Zero Action Plan, to learn more about creation of the plan. Below is a Q&A with her.
Q: The Draft Action Plan was shared with the public to solicit input for months before finalizing. We understand your goal was to complement the safety data with experiences from community members. Can you talk about the benefits this outreach brought the city?
A: Outreach was conducted in two ways: (a) through in-person surveys and online interactive maps – using pre-identified issues – to solicit feedback geographically on positive and potentially problematic areas which collectively yielded nearly 3,000 responses, and (b) through feedback on the draft plan from community members and the Vision Zero Technical Advisory Committee, which meets every other month. During this second process, public comments received were more about problematic geographic areas which helped emphasize the importance of street design to city staff. Overall, the outreach enabled us to create a plan that had broad community input and buy in, which will enable swift collaboration and implementation.
Q: We often talk about how Vision Zero is different from the traditional traffic safety approach. Denver’s Action Plan includes a goal to “Enhance City Processes and Collaboration.” Can you talk about some examples of collaboration and how these priorities were identified?
A: Vision Zero has enabled us to prioritize certain geographic areas – the High Injury Network (HIN) and Communities of Concern – in a broad, multi-departmental collaborative way we hadn’t before. I have been encouraged to hear other departments talk about how they are going to use the HIN in their own work, to prioritize work efforts and programs. It is great to see other departments take ownership in this approach and data. Also, Vision Zero has taken the place of our existing traffic safety programs and has given traffic safety a stronger identity with clear goals. It gives us a collective voice and shared sense of responsibility around safety, and provides staff with a more clear, tangible understanding of how our outcomes can be accomplished.
Q: What are top priorities in the Action Plan and how will you move them forward relatively quickly?
A: Our most important priority is to create a Vision Zero program with dedicated funding, dedicated staff, and work outcomes. With a program in place with dedicated staff and funding, we will be able to hit the ground running on implementation of the Action Plan. The second most important priority is to create one citywide crash data source – coordinating across several departments – to improve data collection over time, and ensure that we are tracking towards our goals.
Q: The Plan has poignant language regarding equity and states that increased enforcement could “exacerbate injustices of the past and inadvertently increase distrust in the very communities the program seeks to serve”. What led to the inclusion of this statement, and can you speak about the role of enforcement in Denver’s Vision Zero program?
A: The Vision Zero Coalition (see side bar) really helped to drive the message of equity to be integrated throughout the Plan. We also heard this message through community outreach and through the national conversation on Vision Zero, happening in other U.S. cities.
Our approach with enforcement is to use it as a strategy to augment other efforts, while being sensitive to applications in certain geographic areas such as the Communities of Concern. Denver Police has a critical role to support strategies that we have in the plan, such as coupling speed enforcement with street design changes, and targeting certain behaviors to complement education efforts. Denver Police has been doing this great work, and since we knew what worked well, we wanted to capture the approach as a part of Vision Zero.
Q: One of the actions in this same section is to “work with people in the Communities of Concern to have discussions and offer education about traffic safety”. Has the City identified specific strategies to do this yet?
We expect these specific strategies to come out of the Technical Advisory Committee Working Groups, which will be meeting in the coming months as we develop our work program. We will look to other cities to learn what has worked well, in hopes that we can apply those approaches to Denver.
Q: Speeding was a factor in 53% of fatalities in Denver – what strategies will the City prioritize to slow speeds? And how has attention toward speed changed with this Vision Zero commitment?
A: With our Action Plan, Denver is taking a much closer look at speed to reduce serious injuries and fatalities. As a foundational action, we are developing a speed management program to collect data and to prioritize and analyze actions. We are interested in New York City’s Slow Zones program and Boston’s Neighborhood Slow Streets initiative. We want to follow these models but define a strategy specific to Denver. On arterials, we will prioritize street design and complement that with automated enforcement, messaging and speed feedback signs.
Q: The Action Plan states $2M will be dedicated to Vision Zero during the first year and later $3M per year. How did the City determine these numbers? And how do you respond to those who are concerned that’s not enough dedicated funding?
A: To determine the number, staff looked at items in the Action Plan and outlined funding needs to implement. This then informed the 2018 budget asks that the Department of Public Works and Police made to the Mayor. In addition, similar budget asks were echoed by the community and Vision Zero Coalition. In terms of skepticism about this not being enough funding, as the Vision Zero Network has stated, cities will always be challenged with funding; however, we are confident that this allocation will accelerate our efforts in Denver.
 Denver Vision Zero Action Plan, http://www.denvergov.org/content/dam/denvergov/Portals/705/documents/visionzero/Denver-Vision-Zero-Action-Plan.pdf
 Denver Vision Zero Action Plan
 Denver Vision Zero Action Plan
 Denver’s Department of Environmental Health had identified vulnerable communities before, but more was done through the city’s Vision Zero initiative to further customize this data to look at disabled populations, others.