May 6, 2024 BY Tiffany Smithin News, Webinars

Empowering Community: Meaningful Engagement in Vision Zero Efforts

While transportation is most often thought of as how we get  from one place to another—it's also about access and opportunity and our sense of place and community. So, efforts to advance Vision Zero is not just about the work that planners and engineers do, it’s an opportunity for everyone who uses the transportation system to think bigger– to think beyond just roads or parking or even safety, but to think about how we can all forge pathways to more vibrant and connected communities. 

In our April 24 webinar, we heard from Vision Zero leaders and advocates about how they are taking concrete actions for more equitable and inclusive transportation safety work, including fostering meaningful community engagement. This builds on our new resource, Prioritizing Health Equity in Vision Zero Planning, particularly Recommendation 3: Establish and Nurture Partnerships to Inform Vision Zero Planning.

Watch the recording of our one-hour discussion with panelists Karl Graybill, Environmental Planner for the City of Lancaster; Ethan Fawley Vision Zero Program Coordinator for the City of Minneapolis; and Jill Locantore, Executive Director for Denver Streets Partnership. See the recording and read below for our key takeaways.

1 - Create A Standardized Community Engagement Strategy

Because every community has its own cultural, political and societal characteristics, what meaningful community engagement looks like will vary. In most cases, a robust community engagement process begins with an intentional strategy. This involves considering what key audiences you want to reach in your engagement process, what key messages you want to convey, and what strategies will be most compelling for capturing genuine feedback and input. 

Recognizing this, more communities are working to develop a process for meaningful public involvement to serve as a foundation to more equitable roadway safety work. For example, one of the key action items in Lancaster’s Action Plan is to develop and implement a Community Engagement Plan (CEP) for all Vision Zero projects. 

Excerpt from Lancaster’s Vision Zero Action Plan which highlights their key action steps for institutionalizing for community engagement

Their CEP sets parameters on what types of projects would require robust engagement processes, set engagement goals, establishes which engagement strategies to prioritize for their most vulnerable populations, highlights opportunities for collaboration community partners, and establishes appropriate timelines to match the rollout of projects. 

Along with a plan, you’ll want to standardize your engagement process. This is particularly helpful for determining what level of engagement is needed for a project in development. 

Historically, unless there were dedicated staff doing community engagement work, this work has been tied to a project manager who is either super motivated or who has lived experience they can bring to the work, which results in a multitude of engagement levels and strategies being employed. However, robust engagement should remain a key element of planning regardless of who is currently in a position. One key factor of being able to maintain a level of engagement, particularly one that centers your most vulnerable populations, is having a framework that standardizes engagement. 

The City of Minneapolis is developing a process to standardize engagement for all projects as part of their Vision Zero work. This framework establishes engagement goals for all transportation projects, programs, and plans, sets an engagement plan for all projects, programs, and plans based on the established goals, and offers templates for various surveys, questionnaires, conversations and more.

The City of Minneapolis has developed templates to standardize engagement efforts.

Minneapolis’ standardization framework also allows the City to be more transparent about what they expect from their community – whether it be sharing information, gathering input, soliciting feedback, or partnering with them to develop their own project. This is critical for managing expectations as to how their involvement will show up in the project, which helps prevent misunderstandings and cultivates trust in how City staff will follow up. This standardized framework also allows the City to be more strategic about engaging with the most underrepresented communities while sustaining momentum on rolling out critical safety projects. This is because there are clearer guidelines on who to prioritize in engagement efforts and what type of engagement is needed, allowing the city to more quickly tease out critical information to be considered or accounted for as a project develops. 

2 - Ground Your Community Engagement Work in Equity

Historically, community engagement in transportation planning has been used to inform a community about impending safety or infrastructure changes– this has been more one-way communication. But effective community engagement can and should be a two-way conversation. This offers the opportunity to advance equity by uplifting voices in the community, particularly people who have historically been excluded in transportation planning and decision-making processes. Being intentional about reaching underrepresented groups and prioritizing their needs not only acknowledges the unique challenges and priorities these communities face but is also vital for fostering more inclusive Vision Zero planning and equitable safety outcomes. Learn more about how to operationalize for equitable planning and safety outcomes. 

In Minneapolis, the City’s Racial Equity Framework guides and grounds much of their engagement work. It is used to prioritize input from their designated equity priority areas.

Minneapolis’ Racial Equity Framework

The framework is also used to assign tiers to transportation equity priority areas, which determines what level of engagement is needed on a project to truly advance equity. For instance, a tier 1 equity priority area will require a more intensive approach to engagement compared to tier 5 areas. With this approach, the City is able to focus on intentionally reaching underrepresented communities, understanding that not all engagement efforts will be representative of their entire community. 

3- Start Where You Are & Explore Strategies That Work Within Your Community Context

The journey towards effective community engagement in transportation projects is an ongoing one, with strategies evolving over time to meet the unique needs of each community. While some communities may already have initiatives in place or be able to implement these recommendations in the near term, others may view them as seeds for long-term progress. We  are all continually learning and adapting how to be more equity-oriented in this work. Therefore, it's crucial to view these recommendations not as a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather as a foundation from which to build upon.

As Ethan Fawley from Minneapolis aptly pointed out, people are not interested in engaging with every aspect of a project; they simply want to see projects succeed and to see planners follow through on their commitments. Understanding the priorities of community members and respecting their time and energy are paramount. To facilitate engagement, particularly in communities where community trust may not yet be established or where capacity is still in development, consider the following approaches:

  • Explore opportunities to contract or establish formal collaborations with community-based organizations in engaging with community members. Community based organizations are able to think holistically about how different transportation projects can intersect with and impact so many consequential factors that influence quality of life for the communities they serve. Because of their perspective and experience, they often work to represent the interests and needs of a community. They can also serve as equity champions who bring more attention to critical equity-related blindspots that may come up in your roadway safety work. For example, Denver Streets Partnership, a non-profit organization that advocates for people-friendly streets in Denver, acts as both an advisory board member for Denver's Vision Zero Program, but also facilitates community-led safety initiatives from the bottom up. They work with residents to identify and experiment with temporary demonstration projects that address the specific safety issues they care about most. These demonstration projects allow community members to interact with these changes in real time and decide whether they would like to see these installations made permanent. This has proved successful in garnering community support around specific design changes, as three of the tactical urbanism projects pictured below have been or will soon be built as permanent changes by the city.

Slide showcasing community-led tactical urbanism projects, facilitated by Denver Streets Partnership. Three of these have been turned into permanent projects.

  • Consider digital or virtual information sharing as an opportunity to paint a clearer picture of your community’s safety priorities and where safety risks are. The City of Lancaster effectively utilizes digital platforms to both engage and inform their communities of Vision Zero projects. Engage Lancaster, which is powered by Citizen Lab, is used to collect data on all projects across all phases of project development, including after implementation. It is also used to share timelines and status updates with community members. In addition, Lancaster employs other digital resources through their Vision Zero Lancaster website, which includes their progress reports, engagement story maps, Bike It Lancaster developments, and other efforts. By embracing digital tools and resources, communities can streamline the engagement process and ensure that all voices are heard and valued in transportation planning endeavors.
4- Wherever & Whenever Possible Engage Beyond the Immediate Project

Think about how to engage your community in ways that are not simply extractive, but rather foster long-term genuine relationships and communication. This includes not just front-end planning, but also returning repeatedly to communities throughout various phases of a project to highlight how their perspectives have influenced decision-making. This is, of course, easier said than done, given project scope constraints, but consider the following strategies:

  • Utilize community based organizations (CBOs) to gather feedback. Just as you might engage CBOs in gathering community input, consider contracting CBOs to capture feedback on projects after they have been completed. For example, Denver Streets Partnership works empowers community members to collect  data on how safety projects impact driving speeds and how safe they feel with the new infrastructure elements.

Denver Street’s Partnership Field Data Collection

  • Leverage task force or advisory board members. Create opportunities to do walk or bike audits with advisory committees and/or task force members who represent the interests and needs of your most vulnerable populations. They may have unique insight into other safety gaps or unintended consequences that may arise from new projects. 
  • Expand project opening celebrations to share updates or information. Project opening celebrations are exciting for celebrating milestones and progress, but they also serve as an opportunity to communicate and share information with your community. In Minneapolis, they are exploring how to use these celebrations to provide additional insight into why a project is being done a certain way or to capture early feedback. 

Watch the recording of the full discussion to learn more about systematizing meaningful community engagement as part of your Vision Zero planning & ongoing work. 

Read about more strategies and examples in our new resource: Prioritizing Health Equity in Vision Zero Planning. And for an even deeper dive into best practices around community engagement, we encourage you to check out Safe Routes Partnership’s resource’s Guide for Engaging Communities and Creating Change, which provides a robust set of best practices, strategies, and themes to focus on when engaging with your community. 

Check out these related resources:

While transportation is most often thought of as how we get  from one place to another—it's also about access and opportunity and our sense of place and community. So, efforts to advance Vision Zero is not just about the work that planners and engineers do, it’s an opportunity for everyone who uses the transportation system to think bigger– to think beyond just roads or parking or even safety, but to think about how we can all forge pathways to more vibrant and connected communities. 

In our April 24 webinar, we heard from Vision Zero leaders and advocates about how they are taking concrete actions for more equitable and inclusive transportation safety work, including fostering meaningful community engagement. This builds on our new resource, Prioritizing Health Equity in Vision Zero Planning, particularly Recommendation 3: Establish and Nurture Partnerships to Inform Vision Zero Planning.

Watch the recording of our one-hour discussion with panelists Karl Graybill, Environmental Planner for the City of Lancaster; Ethan Fawley Vision Zero Program Coordinator for the City of Minneapolis; and Jill Locantore, Executive Director for Denver Streets Partnership. See the recording and read below for our key takeaways.

1 - Create A Standardized Community Engagement Strategy

Because every community has its own cultural, political and societal characteristics, what meaningful community engagement looks like will vary. In most cases, a robust community engagement process begins with an intentional strategy. This involves considering what key audiences you want to reach in your engagement process, what key messages you want to convey, and what strategies will be most compelling for capturing genuine feedback and input. 

Recognizing this, more communities are working to develop a process for meaningful public involvement to serve as a foundation to more equitable roadway safety work. For example, one of the key action items in Lancaster’s Action Plan is to develop and implement a Community Engagement Plan (CEP) for all Vision Zero projects. 

Excerpt from Lancaster’s Vision Zero Action Plan which highlights their key action steps for institutionalizing for community engagement

Their CEP sets parameters on what types of projects would require robust engagement processes, set engagement goals, establishes which engagement strategies to prioritize for their most vulnerable populations, highlights opportunities for collaboration community partners, and establishes appropriate timelines to match the rollout of projects. 

Along with a plan, you’ll want to standardize your engagement process. This is particularly helpful for determining what level of engagement is needed for a project in development. 

Historically, unless there were dedicated staff doing community engagement work, this work has been tied to a project manager who is either super motivated or who has lived experience they can bring to the work, which results in a multitude of engagement levels and strategies being employed. However, robust engagement should remain a key element of planning regardless of who is currently in a position. One key factor of being able to maintain a level of engagement, particularly one that centers your most vulnerable populations, is having a framework that standardizes engagement. 

The City of Minneapolis is developing a process to standardize engagement for all projects as part of their Vision Zero work. This framework establishes engagement goals for all transportation projects, programs, and plans, sets an engagement plan for all projects, programs, and plans based on the established goals, and offers templates for various surveys, questionnaires, conversations and more.

The City of Minneapolis has developed templates to standardize engagement efforts.

Minneapolis’ standardization framework also allows the City to be more transparent about what they expect from their community – whether it be sharing information, gathering input, soliciting feedback, or partnering with them to develop their own project. This is critical for managing expectations as to how their involvement will show up in the project, which helps prevent misunderstandings and cultivates trust in how City staff will follow up. This standardized framework also allows the City to be more strategic about engaging with the most underrepresented communities while sustaining momentum on rolling out critical safety projects. This is because there are clearer guidelines on who to prioritize in engagement efforts and what type of engagement is needed, allowing the city to more quickly tease out critical information to be considered or accounted for as a project develops. 

2 - Ground Your Community Engagement Work in Equity

Historically, community engagement in transportation planning has been used to inform a community about impending safety or infrastructure changes– this has been more one-way communication. But effective community engagement can and should be a two-way conversation. This offers the opportunity to advance equity by uplifting voices in the community, particularly people who have historically been excluded in transportation planning and decision-making processes. Being intentional about reaching underrepresented groups and prioritizing their needs not only acknowledges the unique challenges and priorities these communities face but is also vital for fostering more inclusive Vision Zero planning and equitable safety outcomes. Learn more about how to operationalize for equitable planning and safety outcomes. 

In Minneapolis, the City’s Racial Equity Framework guides and grounds much of their engagement work. It is used to prioritize input from their designated equity priority areas.

Minneapolis’ Racial Equity Framework

The framework is also used to assign tiers to transportation equity priority areas, which determines what level of engagement is needed on a project to truly advance equity. For instance, a tier 1 equity priority area will require a more intensive approach to engagement compared to tier 5 areas. With this approach, the City is able to focus on intentionally reaching underrepresented communities, understanding that not all engagement efforts will be representative of their entire community. 

3- Start Where You Are & Explore Strategies That Work Within Your Community Context

The journey towards effective community engagement in transportation projects is an ongoing one, with strategies evolving over time to meet the unique needs of each community. While some communities may already have initiatives in place or be able to implement these recommendations in the near term, others may view them as seeds for long-term progress. We  are all continually learning and adapting how to be more equity-oriented in this work. Therefore, it's crucial to view these recommendations not as a one-size-fits-all solution, but rather as a foundation from which to build upon.

As Ethan Fawley from Minneapolis aptly pointed out, people are not interested in engaging with every aspect of a project; they simply want to see projects succeed and to see planners follow through on their commitments. Understanding the priorities of community members and respecting their time and energy are paramount. To facilitate engagement, particularly in communities where community trust may not yet be established or where capacity is still in development, consider the following approaches:

  • Explore opportunities to contract or establish formal collaborations with community-based organizations in engaging with community members. Community based organizations are able to think holistically about how different transportation projects can intersect with and impact so many consequential factors that influence quality of life for the communities they serve. Because of their perspective and experience, they often work to represent the interests and needs of a community. They can also serve as equity champions who bring more attention to critical equity-related blindspots that may come up in your roadway safety work. For example, Denver Streets Partnership, a non-profit organization that advocates for people-friendly streets in Denver, acts as both an advisory board member for Denver's Vision Zero Program, but also facilitates community-led safety initiatives from the bottom up. They work with residents to identify and experiment with temporary demonstration projects that address the specific safety issues they care about most. These demonstration projects allow community members to interact with these changes in real time and decide whether they would like to see these installations made permanent. This has proved successful in garnering community support around specific design changes, as three of the tactical urbanism projects pictured below have been or will soon be built as permanent changes by the city.

Slide showcasing community-led tactical urbanism projects, facilitated by Denver Streets Partnership. Three of these have been turned into permanent projects.

  • Consider digital or virtual information sharing as an opportunity to paint a clearer picture of your community’s safety priorities and where safety risks are. The City of Lancaster effectively utilizes digital platforms to both engage and inform their communities of Vision Zero projects. Engage Lancaster, which is powered by Citizen Lab, is used to collect data on all projects across all phases of project development, including after implementation. It is also used to share timelines and status updates with community members. In addition, Lancaster employs other digital resources through their Vision Zero Lancaster website, which includes their progress reports, engagement story maps, Bike It Lancaster developments, and other efforts. By embracing digital tools and resources, communities can streamline the engagement process and ensure that all voices are heard and valued in transportation planning endeavors.
4- Wherever & Whenever Possible Engage Beyond the Immediate Project

Think about how to engage your community in ways that are not simply extractive, but rather foster long-term genuine relationships and communication. This includes not just front-end planning, but also returning repeatedly to communities throughout various phases of a project to highlight how their perspectives have influenced decision-making. This is, of course, easier said than done, given project scope constraints, but consider the following strategies:

  • Utilize community based organizations (CBOs) to gather feedback. Just as you might engage CBOs in gathering community input, consider contracting CBOs to capture feedback on projects after they have been completed. For example, Denver Streets Partnership works empowers community members to collect  data on how safety projects impact driving speeds and how safe they feel with the new infrastructure elements.

Denver Street’s Partnership Field Data Collection

  • Leverage task force or advisory board members. Create opportunities to do walk or bike audits with advisory committees and/or task force members who represent the interests and needs of your most vulnerable populations. They may have unique insight into other safety gaps or unintended consequences that may arise from new projects. 
  • Expand project opening celebrations to share updates or information. Project opening celebrations are exciting for celebrating milestones and progress, but they also serve as an opportunity to communicate and share information with your community. In Minneapolis, they are exploring how to use these celebrations to provide additional insight into why a project is being done a certain way or to capture early feedback. 

Watch the recording of the full discussion to learn more about systematizing meaningful community engagement as part of your Vision Zero planning & ongoing work. 

Read about more strategies and examples in our new resource: Prioritizing Health Equity in Vision Zero Planning. And for an even deeper dive into best practices around community engagement, we encourage you to check out Safe Routes Partnership’s resource’s Guide for Engaging Communities and Creating Change, which provides a robust set of best practices, strategies, and themes to focus on when engaging with your community. 

Check out these related resources:




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