The following is drawn from the research of Vision Zero Network founder and director Leah Shahum, who participated in a 2015 German Marshall Fund Urban and Regional Policy Fellowship to study Vision Zero and related efforts in European nations. The full report can be viewed here.
How to Move from Good Intentions to Results
“This is very much a man-made disaster. This is not some mysterious bug … More political will is needed. More action is needed. It’s just a question of how long we are going to let this go before we take political action.”
– Etienne Krug, World Health Organization (WHO), Director of the Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence, and Injury Prevention
The setting for this statement was a June 2015 conference in Gothenburg, Sweden, where more than 170 of us from dozens of nations contemplated how to advance Vision Zero. As this movement has spread over the past three years across the U.S. – to more than 20 cities – this statement is especially important for early-adopter Vision Zero leaders to appreciate. It is Krug’s designation of this worldwide catastrophe of 1.25 million traffic deaths a year as man-made and the emphasis on the need for political will and action that should stand out to those of us investing in Vision Zero, because without recognizing these realities we are likely to repeat the mistakes of the past.
Learning from Europe Through Personal Experience
I was fortunate enough to spend eight weeks in Europe in the Spring of 2015 as an Urban and Regional Policy Fellow with the German Marshall Fund of the United States studying key lessons about Vision Zero, and other related efforts. At that time, New York City was newly blazing the trail for Vision Zero in the U.S., and I was interested in understanding and leveraging the European experience to inform the quickly spreading movement in U.S. cities.
Two years later, many of the lessons learned are certainly ringing true and helping to shape our work at the Vision Zero Network.
Today, the following question is central to U.S. cities committing to Vision Zero: How do we move from good intentions to actions that result in ensuring safe mobility for all?
Lessons Learned Institute Core Tenets of U.S. Vision Zero Movement
Based on the experiences in Europe and the realities of how U.S. culture/history/politics differ, I suggested several policies as core for Vision Zero communities to advance in the U.S. A snapshot of these policies is below, and more detailed information can be found in the full report.
Leadership, Collaboration, and Accountability
Early, strong, and consistent leadership will be critical to Vision Zero’s success in U.S. communities. An urgent, clear, and sustained public commitment of support for Vision Zero should come from the highest-ranking public officials in a community.
Focus on System-Level Changes
Vision Zero calls for a shift in attention from the traditional, primarily educational approach aimed at individual behavior, to an “upstream” approach that shapes policies, systems, and the built environment — key factors that most affect people’s behavior and choices.
Commit to Speed Management as a Fundamental Tenet
Speed management is not simply a strategy or an optional tool in the toolkit; it is a fundamental and critical tenet of Vision Zero. To be serious about Vision Zero means implementing effective speed management, including designing roadways to encourage safe speeds, setting appropriate speed limits based on safety, and using technology to influence safe behavior.
Measure and Report Regularly
Many Vision Zero communities in the U.S. are adopting a more data-driven approach to traffic safety efforts. Having a commitment to this approach helps not only bring more information to the fore but also build greater cross-disciplinary understanding of the problems and stronger buy-in for solutions.
Prioritize Community Engagement
Recognizing the importance of and prioritizing equity considerations early and regularly in the Vision Zero planning process will build a stronger, more inclusive effort. It is important to engage and elevate the voices and priorities of residents — particularly those most impacted by traffic violence and who are not as recognized or involved in traditional public processes.
The Vision Zero Network would like to thank the German Marshall Fund for generously supporting this research.