by Leah Shahum February 3, 2023 in News

Praise for Federal Funding & Action for Vision Zero

Next Steps Needed to Address Road Safety Crisis

The Vision Zero Network applauds the Biden-Harris Administration for recognizing and acting on the nation’s mounting – and fixable – roadway safety crisis. Unlike the majority of developed nations where traffic fatality rates have declined, roadway deaths in the U.S. are increasing, reaching a 16-year high in 2021 and disproportionately harming people walking and biking and people of color.

We are encouraged by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) announcement this week that more than 500 communities will receive much-needed federal funding as part of the new Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program. In all, 473 communities received grants to create or augment their local roadway safety “action plans.” (That’s an impressive half of the U.S. population who will soon have Safe Streets action plans in place!) Another 37 grantees are funded to make life-saving infrastructure improvements.

Importantly, the Safe Streets and Roads for All funding is focused on urgent but often-overlooked priorities, including: Improving safety for people walking and biking; investing in underserved communities; managing speeds for safety, including self-enforcing roadway designs and lower speeds; and designing Complete Streets that serve all road users, including those outside of cars.

Also this week, USDOT launched a Call to Action Campaign in support of its National Roadway Safety Strategy (NRSS), inviting partners to share how they are embracing the shared goal of eliminating roadway fatalities. And the Vision Zero Network is proud to be recognized as a “First Mover” in this national campaign for roadway safety, committing to support the growing number of Vision Zero communities with resources to help them succeed. Notably, USDOT also issued a progress report on actions it has committed to as part of the National Roadway Safety Strategy, which was released a year ago. 

We commend Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg for setting the vision, strategies, transparency and accountability needed for real change. These are much-needed steps to address the national emergency on our roadways – a daunting challenge but one that we can fix with real commitment and willingness to act. 

As Secretary Buttigieg told hundreds of elected leaders at the U.S. Conference of Mayors on January 20, 2023:

“We need to talk about roadway deaths in America… I want to remind you that the loss of life in traffic crashes in our communities is almost identical in its proportions to the loss of gun violence. Almost 43,000 people died from traffic crashes in 2021 and preliminary data are telling us that we’re going to see similar numbers for 2022.

It is not inevitable, not acceptable, and deserves our sustained attention.”

Read more of the Transportation Secretary’s inspiring speech and share it with your local leaders!

Why are these actions so important?

For too long, we have settled for the status quo approach to transportation planning that has favored speed and vehicle throughput over safe and equitable mobility options for people, particularly harming youth, seniors, people walking and biking, people with disabilities, people of color and low-income people across the nation.

“We need this kind of human-centric approach to prioritizing people in our transportation system and, especially, the people who have been under-served for too long,” said Leah Shahum, Vision Zero Network Executive Director. “This national commitment to zero roadway deaths and safety-first funding and policy direction are all important steps to make meaningful change that will benefit everyone across the country because, tragically, we all know someone lost or deeply impacted by crashes that we can prevent in the future.”

“The truth is that we already have so many of the tools and strategies we need to make life-saving changes on our streets,” said Families for Safe Streets co-founder Amy Cohen, whose 12-year-old son Sammy was killed crossing the street in front of her home in 2013 in NYC. “We hope that these funds and stepped-up leadership to prioritize safety will help communities change the status quo and prioritize safe streets that will benefit everyone.”

World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims 2022, Portland (OR). Photo: Taylor Griggs/BikePortland

What’s Next? We Urge the Following Actions for Vision Zero

Along with cheering the encouraging policy and funding changes announced by the USDOT, the Vision Zero Network joins other advocates to urge these next steps on the road to safe mobility:

Local Leaders:

  1. Shift to a Safe System approach: Mayors, city managers and other local leaders: If you’re serious about advancing Vision Zero, this federal funding and Call to Action should be leveraged to do more than just tweak around the edges of your existing transportation system. This is the time to join the growing number of communities, including USDOT, in shifting to a Safe System approach, which factors in the realities that people make mistakes, human bodies are vulnerable, and our systems can be designed and operated in ways to mitigate harms. In short, this is a human-centric approach.
  2. Evolve Beyond the E’s: Shifting to a Safe System approach also means moving beyond the traditional siloes of E’s (Education, Engineering, Enforcement, and Evaluation) in order to re-imagine and right-size the role of each strategy and to center equity and effectiveness in your roadway safety work. More here and here on actionable steps. (And stay tuned for our forthcoming resource with tips to center equity in Vision Zero Action Plans.)

State Leaders:

  1. Step up to the Safety Plate: States still control the vast majority of transportation funding and hold considerable sway over life-and-death decisions. Yet, analysis from our friends at Smart Growth America shows that change is greatly needed to align states with the national goal of zero deaths and the Safe System approach. Find out more about how states can step up for safety.
  2. Help locals improve state-owned roads: In too many communities, a troubling and disproportionate amount of high-injury roads are owned and operated by the state. We need leaders to direct state transportation agencies to work with locals to identify funding and make safety changes (yes, even if this increases travel time or congestion because we can’t say we’re safety-first if we’re not safety-first).

Federal Leaders:

Act for Vehicle Safety: The U.S. trails far behind other developed nations when it comes to ensuring the safety of motor vehicles, especially for the safety of those outside the car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency within the USDOT, should step up to its responsibility to modernize the nation’s vehicle safety standards – that means ensuring that existing safety technology and designs are incorporated into new vehicles, as they are in so many other nations. 


The USDOT National Roadway Safety Strategy lays out an important roadmap and sets strong Safe System strategies to advance Vision Zero. The 1-year Call to Action encourages partners to step up their safety actions. And the new Safe Streets and Roads for All Funding provides resources to make on-the-ground changes that will save lives and – we hope – prove that we can do differently.

As Secretary Pete said: “No one thinks zero can happen overnight, but we’ve seen when cities aim for zero, they start getting closer to it.”

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