by Tiffany Smith May 12, 2023 in News

Developing a Robust Vision Zero Prioritization Process

When it comes to advancing Vision Zero, data is crucial to set goals and strategies and measure progress to eliminate roadway fatalities and serious injuries. One key step is identifying your community’s High Injury Network (HIN) to show where the high numbers of traffic deaths and serious injuries are occurring. This should also help set the tone for how you prioritize safety strategies in your Vision Zero Plan. 

But here’s the thing: Identifying the High Injury Network is only the first of several important steps.  In this piece, we share important ways to intentionally and equitably use data – and more – to prioritize your community’s Vision Zero work.

Recently, we talked to Vision Zero leaders from Tampa, FL; Oakland, CA; and the Burlington Graham Metropolitan Planning Organization, a regional MPO in North Carolina about their approaches to prioritization in Vision Zero Planning. Check out the 1-hour conversation below.

We know that the process of prioritizing roadway safety efforts – so much need and, often, not enough time and money – can be challenging. And, while all communities are different, we think the following steps can help ground a community of any size or style in a robust and equity-centered prioritization process: 

1) Build a Strong Base with Data on Fatalities AND Serious Injuries

Start with Identifying and mapping your community’s HIN by analyzing where the high numbers  of roadway deaths and severe injuries are occurring over a period of time (we recommend analyzing these trends over, at least, a five year period). And, it’s important to track both fatalities and severe injuries. While some communities may only track fatalities, this can undercount or undervalue serious crashes that may still have life-altering impacts, may have been close to fatal, and which likely help tell a fuller story than fatality data alone. Moreover, tracking serious injuries provides an opportunity to analyze growing severity or risk. 

Source: Philadelphia Vision Zero Plan
Source: Tampa Vision Zero Action Plan

The HIN maps above – from Philadelphia and Tampa – are part of these cities’ publicly available Action Plans, a best practice early in the Vision Zero planning process. However, simply mapping out your HIN is really just the first step of informing your prioritization process. 

2) Layer on Health Equity Data

After mapping out where roadway fatalities and serious injuries are occurring, analyze who is being disproportionately injured and killed and where. Traffic injuries and fatalities disproportionately impact communities that may not have equitable access to resources and opportunities due to unfair policies, practices, and conditions and differential treatment because of a variety of factors. These factors, also known as social determinants of health, include but are not limited to race and ethnicity, age, physical abilities, geographic location, educational background, and economic status – and are non-medical factors that influence health outcomes

When looking at racial disparities in traffic safety, communities of color -who have experienced a history of disinvestment due to the harmful legacy of redlining – along with lower income communities – often bear the brunt of more high-speed, high-traffic roads and fewer investment in safety infrastructure and policies. Some communities define these populations as “communities of concern,” “historically disadvantaged communities” or “vulnerable communities,” amongst other descriptions. 

To acknowledge and better address these disparities, your Vision Zero planning process should overlay relevant social determinants of health on the HIN. This layering can help show the relationship between the most dangerous streets and other inequities in the community.  And, importantly, this can help prioritize focus areas and types of safety strategies. Vision Zero efforts should focus on what is most effective and equitable, and this entails investing greater safety resources in areas that need them most and have been most neglected or harmed over time.

Many communities find that there is significant overlap between their HIN and communities of color and low-income communities. For instance, Madison, Wisconsin’s Vision Zero Plan layers the HIN with demographic data, including income levels and race. As is the tragic trend in many U.S. cities, this shows that  Black residents of Madison are nearly twice as likely to be hit and killed in vehicle crashes as white residents.

Source: Madison Vision Zero Action Plan

Inequities may show up in different ways in various communities. Common trends are disproportionate impacts amongst  children, seniors, people with disabilities, people living with lower incomes, and those experiencing homelessness, as well as people outside cars, especially people walking and biking. 

For smaller, or less resourced, communities, the process of acquiring and assessing data on social determinants to overlay on the HIN may seem like a formidable process, so consider collaborating with larger entities at the county, MPO or state levels. And, no matter what the size or staffing levels, there is easily accessible data in the USDOT’s Transportation Disadvantaged Census Tracts tool, which provides data on areas experiencing disproportionately poor transportation access, environmental conditions, or socioeconomic access. 

The Burlington-Graham Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), which serves a mostly rural area of central North Carolina, used the USDOT’s tool to overlay the relationship between the HIN and other relevant inequities, such as limited access to transportation, prevalence of adverse health outcomes, environmental exposures, poverty, vulnerability to climate hazards, and limited english proficiency.  Given the organization’s small size – only 2 staff – this readily available USDOT tool helped them to contextualize disparities in traffic safety. (Hear more from their MPO Administrator– in our recorded webinar).

Burlington-Graham Metropolitan Planning Organization Safety Plan

3) Supplement Data with Community Input

The priorities laid out in a Vision Zero Plan directly impact the lives of people – how they live, work, and relax – so a strong prioritization process will also include meaningful  input from community members. Quantitative data does not always paint the full picture, so qualitative input – people’s lived experiences –  should also inform your prioritization process.

For instance, while the HIN may show a high concentration of fatalities and serious injuries at specific locations, there may be additional locations that do not show up because people feel so unsafe walking or biking there that they avoid going to these areas altogether. But when engaging the community about their experiences and desires, you may learn that these under-the-radar unsafe locations are important to people and deserve more attention.

We’ve also seen communities create a public map or survey for people to indicate where they believe problem areas to be. In Alameda, CA,  they developed an online, interactive map to encourage members of the public to identify locations where they experienced “near misses,” or close calls with cars, that may or may not show up officially on their HIN, but was used to pinpoint to looming problem areas. 

Source: Alameda Action Plan

4) Include All Roadways, Regardless of Ownership

Nationally, more than half of fatal crashes in urban areas have occurred on roads managed by states, based on federal crash data from the past five years. State-owned roads are more likely to be high-speed, high-volume arterials and often run through communities of color and low-income communities . Given these realities, it is important to  include all roadways in your HIN analysis and prioritization, even if it’s owned by another entity. Explicitly noting which parts of the HIN are not owned locally provides an opportunity to encourage the appropriate partners to fund and coordinate on safety improvements. Read more about the importance of including all roads in Vision Zero  prioritization work.

5) Use Data to Build-in Accountability and Transparency

Developing a robust and equity-centered prioritization process in your Vision Zero planning is important in not only shaping the work to come, but should also help build accountability and transparency in an ongoing way. Over time, Vision Zero leaders can use the priority framework built early to regularly share their progress – or challenges – in addressing priority safety needs. Are the top areas of the HIN actually being prioritized with funding and staff energy? How about the Communities of Concern? And are all high-injury roads getting attention, or are some being left out because they’re not owned by the jurisdiction that developed the Plan?

One way to share progress and challenges is through regular reporting that highlights actions to-date to reach Vision Zero. If your community has decided to prioritize investments in low-income or communities of color that overlap with your HIN, use regular reporting opportunities to update the public and key stakeholders on progress, including how safety investments are being made and measured in these specific areas. 

For example, the Oakland, California Department of Transportation (OakDOT) shares a map of safety projects in progress overlaid on their HIN, then shows where specific safety work has been conducted in these specific priority equity areas.

Source: Oakland DOT

Ultimately, prioritizing when and where to focus roadway safety efforts requires an intentional approach that analyzes data, factors in systemic inequities, incorporates meaningful community input, and lays out clear actions in measurable ways. Whether you’re a new Vision Zero community or a more established one, we hope the steps here can help guide a robust prioritization process that centers equity and addresses safety needs with the right strategies.

Read more in our Fundamentals of Vision Zero Action Planning resource and join our upcoming webinar, Prioritizing Speed Management in Vision Zero Planning.  And sign up for our monthly Vision Zero e-newsletter.

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