May 2, 2023 BY Tiffany Smithin News, Webinars

From Planning to Practice: The Role of Collaboration in Vision Zero Planning

In developing a Vision Zero Action Plan, the process can be just as important as the product. That’s because moving from commitment to action takes more than words, or even good ideas, written into a plan. Progress takes building buy-in for changing the status quo and developing strong relationships with key stakeholders who understand and embrace their roles in advancing Vision Zero. 

Collaborating to develop a Vision Zero Plan should include building partnerships around key activities, ranging from data sharing, assessing which strategies are most effective and equitable, defining roles and responsibilities, engaging with the community, changing policies when needed, setting up accountability measures, and many others. While there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to collaboration, there are recommended ways to build strong partnerships that last long beyond the Vision Zero planning process. 

We talked to Vision Zero leaders from Portland, OR; Austin, TX; and Nashville, TN about their experiences and lessons learned in developing (or expanding upon) Vision Zero Action Plans built on a collaborative foundation. Check out the recording of the 1-hour conversation.

Following is an overview of what we consider key elements of strong Vision Zero Action Plan collaboration, in three categories: working with other agencies, with community members, and with leaders.

Three pillars of collaboration in Vision Zero Action Planning

1) Partnering with other agencies

Just as the Vision Zero Action Plan you produce is intended to guide your roadway safety work, the planning – and collaboration – to produce that plan set the tone for what’s ahead. Collaboration in Action Planning is an important opportunity to recognize and move out of traditional silos and to invite “new” stakeholders to work with transportation-focused staff. These stakeholders can include public health, policymakers in the mayor’s office and city council, and representatives from agencies such as the school district, housing, and those working with seniors and people with disabilities. This is also a chance for local Vision Zero leaders to invite in partners from county and state agencies.

The role of multi-level collaboration in Vision Zero Action Planning

Within Vision Zero, interdepartmental collaboration often begins with the formation of a task force, that includes members from various agencies, such as those listed above, along with advocates and community members (more on these groups later). Such a multi-agency, cross-disciplinary group is helpful to set goals and strategy, and track progress and challenges, as well as to advance Vision Zero in a less siloed, more interdisciplinary way. 

This is a chance to re-frame transportation as more than just a means to an end. Decisions related to our everyday transportation systems intersect with so many consequential aspects of our lives – from access to jobs, schools, food and other critical destinations to promoting opportunities for economic advancement and active, healthy living to ways to lessen isolation and experiences of feeling unsafe in public space. So, building a broader, more diverse base of stakeholders will help guide your Vision Zero work to be about more than just getting from Point A to B.

In Portland’s Action Plan development process, they established a 26-member task force with a balance of roughly half agency representatives and half community advocates. The agencies included a mix of local representatives from transportation, fire, and police departments, as well as representatives from the state transportation department, county public health agency, and regional Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). The advocates included representatives from groups advancing transportation justice and opportunities for vulnerable communities, including the Black Parent Initiative, Disability Rights Oregon, Elders in Action, OPAL Environmental Justice Oregon, along with pedestrian & bike advocacy groups such as Oregon Walks, Families for Safe Streets, and The Street Trust.

In addition to who participates in your Vision Zero task force, it is helpful to set clear expectations and encourage full participation in order to build buy-in and shared ownership of the effort, with these tips: 

  • Develop a task force charter: This should define the purpose of the task force and its deliverables. The charter is also a chance to emphasize a collaborative approach to frame your Vision Zero work as more than a “transportation” priority and make connections to other priorities, including public health, equity, environmental goals, etc. Portland's task force charter outlined the purpose of the committee; members’ roles; guidelines on best practices for listening, participation and attendance; and the decision making process.
  • Create a meeting schedule and set clear agenda topics: In the development of a Vision Zero Plan, your task force should be meeting once a month, possibly with committees meeting more regularly. And rather than immediately jumping into proposing safety strategies, make time to engage the group in ways that build understanding and buy-in for the Safe System approach that underpins Vision Zero; to analyze data and community feedback that should guide decision making, not simply continuing the status quo; to define the group’s equity goals; and assess proposed strategies through the lenses of both effectiveness and equity; etc. 
  • Empower members of your task force: While the formation of a task force is an important step towards moving out of silos, more can be done to encourage real collaboration. Set up ways for various members of the task force to contribute, perhaps facilitating discussions or leading committees and reporting back to the full group.
  • Encourage shared learning on Vision Zero, the Safe System approach, and the relationship between equity and Vision Zero to build more common understanding amongst the group. While you may not all be able to agree on everything, you can establish a baseline understanding of key terms for the group to work from to avoid confusion or missteps.

For communities that are aiming to update their existing plan, your task force can also evolve to reflect the growth, evolution, or lessons learned from the first iteration of your Action Plan. 

For example, in developing its initial plan in 2014, Austin’s Vision Zero Task Force was comprised of a mix of advocacy groups, city staff, and other local and regional safety stakeholders. At the time, the task force was made up of 40-50 different groups who met over a 10-12 month period to develop recommendations and action items for the city’s Vision Zero Action Plan. And while the diverse nature of the group resulted in strong buy-in from community advocacy groups, the city found it challenging to implement the substantial number of proposed recommendations included in the plan due to limited resources and staffing capabilities. Austin Vision Zero has since restructured its outreach approach to include two groups: the Vision Zero Alliance, which includes representatives from non-profit groups and individual traffic safety advocates, and the Vision Zero Leadership Council, which is made up of representatives from various City Departments (e.g. Austin Fire Department, Austin Police Department, Austin Public Health, Austin Municipal Court), transportation agencies (e.g. FHWA, TxDOT) and other stakeholders. This model has proven effective for Austin in strengthening the depth and breadth of safety initiates it is able to implement across the city.

2) Engaging the community in meaningful ways

If community members don’t feel like their input is being prioritized in Vision Zero planning, they’re unlikely to trust in the plan’s follow-through.

To cultivate trust, engage with your community early and often in the planning process, not waiting until a draft is already developed. Work with organizations and leaders who are already established in the communities that your Vision Zero work will focus on. The planning process is a chance to recognize the value of their input and to build stronger, lasting ties in the neighborhoods. 

Source: LA DOT Livable Streets DICE Community Engagement Session

Nashville’s head of Transportation and Micromobility, Diana Alarcon, emphasized that advocates are crucial to advancing Vision Zero, as they are part of making a culture shift in roadway safety. And while there may be disagreements between advocacy groups and the agencies, this is an expected and healthy tension; this push from “outsiders” can improve the outcomes of your roadway safety work. This is especially true for representing the experiences of marginalized communities and vulnerable road users, who have not been represented as well, traditionally, in road planning efforts.

However, simply reaching out to get their input on the plan is not enough to cultivate trust - to do so requires intentional relationship building that is non-extractive. Some ways to build relationships with your community include:

  • Meeting your community where they are: Instead of asking community members to come to special (often inconvenient) meetings, go out and engage in their neighborhoods. And for communities using consultants to gather public input, agency staff involved with Vision Zero planning should also participate, listen in on feedback directly - don’t completely delegate the engagement process. 
  • Compliment data with lived experience – Data only tells part of the story.  When developing your High Injury Network and the strategies in your Action Plan, supplement crash data with input and feedback from your community about their transportation needs. For example, consider sending staff out into your community to share the HIN map to get a better understanding of where people feel unsafe walking or biking. Ask them if they feel any areas are missing from the map and need safety improvements. 
  • Invest in relationships: Engage with community members beyond the scope of specific transportation questions, plans or projects. For example, Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure hires people directly from communities that need additional infrastructure investments or support. City engineers and planners work with these community connectors to gain a better understanding of what the community’s transportation needs are, but also allows the transportation department to build deeper, meaningful connections with the people whose lives will be impacted by their planning decisions. 
  • Compensate your community members for their time: Compensate your community members when you reach out to them for input or for their involvement on your task force. If you’re willing to pay consultants to get feedback from your community, but you're not willing to compensate the people who live and work within your community, whose input is truly being prioritized? Learn more.

3) Encouraging leaders to support change

High-level leadership and sustained political commitment are essential to Vision Zero success. Your mayor (and/or city manager) and other key elected officials have the power to make or break policies, processes, and legislation that will be key components of a strong Vision Zero Plan, so they should be engaged in the planning process. 

  • Build in engagement from leaders: This could include having your mayor kick off the work and show her/his commitment by dedicating a high-ranking staff member to participate regularly. Elected officials could appoint some task force members. And check in with key leaders regularly to update them on ideas, challenges, and, especially, on the rationale behind strategies that are likely to get pushback, so they are not surprised later.
  • Set actions for leaders in Vision Zero planning: This may include signaling their support to prioritize Vision Zero in the budget; backing up new street design standards or policies, such as lowering speed limits;  directing agencies to prioritize this work, and holding agency leaders – and themselves  – accountable. 

Spending time engaging key leaders on the front end – when developing a Vision Zero Plan – will help strengthen their understanding of the work and their resolve to resist pushback to change that is likely to come later. 

All three areas of collaboration – with other agencies, community members and key leaders – can not only contribute to a stronger Vision Zero Plan, but also help promote real culture change in how we do roadway safety work.

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:

  1. Fundamentals of Vision Zero Action Planning
  2. Building a Safe System Foundation for Your Plan
  3. Critical Collaboration & Commitments for Vision Zero Action Planning
  4. Prioritization: Data, High-Injury Networks, Equity Emphasis
  5. Prioritizing Speed Management in Vision Zero Planning
  6. Institutionalizing Health Equity
  7. Performance metrics: transparency, accountability, evaluation, evolution

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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