Public Transit: An Undervalued, Effective Vision Zero Strategy

by Veronica Vanterpool | September 4, 2018 | in News, Webinars

Image Source: NYC Vision Zero Year Three Report February 2017

New Analysis Shows Need for Greater Collaboration

It is clear to most that advancing Vision Zero requires making improvements to roadways and managing speed, but one of the less-acknowledged strategies toward safety is boosting our public transit systems, according to a new analysis released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). [pullquote]The Vision Zero Network is proud to partner with APTA to support the shared goals of safe mobility and strong public transit systems. Read our joint press release and quotes from Vision Zero leaders in NYC, Boston, and San Francisco, as well as from national traffic safety leaders here. [/pullquote]

Metro areas can cut their traffic fatality rates 10%-40% by prioritizing transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in combination with other strategies that reduce driving, such as transit-oriented development, according to the APTA analysis. In 2016, nearly 38,000 people were killed in traffic crashes, a 5.6% increase of traffic deaths over the previous year, at a cost of $871 billion. Yet, in the two earliest-adopter Vision Zero cities in the U.S., New York City and San Francisco, traffic deaths have dropped 28% and 41%, respectively, in the four years since each committed to the Vision Zero approach in 2014.

Cities with public transit systems keep cars off the road by providing options to get around. This is especially helpful for those considered high-risk drivers, including very new drivers, older drivers and impaired drivers. This translates to safer conditions for all road users, even those who are not riding public transit, as their risk of being injured by another driver is reduced when more people use transit.

In New York City, the MTA’s 8.5 million weekday ridership on the system’s bus, subway and commuter rail network means 30% fewer cars are owned by New Yorkers. Fewer cars on the roads translates into fewer crashes, fatalities and injuries among all road users.

APTA Analysis “Public Transit Is Key Strategy in Advancing Vision Zero, Eliminating Traffic Fatalities” August 2018

Transit is 10x safer per mile than traveling in a car, according to the APTA analysis. Closer examination of the data shows travel by commuter and intercity rail is 18x safer for passengers (measuring fatalities) than traveling by car.

Yet, public transit is often overlooked by the public sector — and advocates — as an effective strategy to reduce traffic fatalities. According to Rachel Hyden, executive director of San Francisco Transit Riders (SFTR), transit is often missing from the Vision Zero platform.

“Investing in transit is investing in Vision Zero. It is an investment in saving lives,” Hyden says. She notes that discourse about improving street safety seldom touts the life-saving benefits of transit improvements such as transit-only lanes and increased transit service. Instead of focusing on public transit’s beneficial role in reducing single occupancy vehicles on the road, excessive energy is poured into trying to change the individual behavior of drivers in those individual vehicles. Hyden and SFTR advocate that shifting more people driving to riding public transit is essential to achieving Vision Zero, a point also echoed in the APTA analysis:

Research shows that modest increases in public transit mode share can provide disproportionately larger traffic safety benefits. An increase from 20 to 40 annual transit trips per capita represents a small change in behavior—simply taking two more public transit trips per month.

When thinking about the future of street safety, a lot of attention is devoted these days to ridesharing/hailing and autonomous vehicles. And it makes sense to develop strategies to manage this industry safely and sustainably.

Image Source: City of Philadelphia OTIS Vision Zero Task Force

Yet, transit systems — and the street priority we give people riding transit and walking and biking — deliver lifesaving Vision Zero benefits that should not be overlooked. Sometimes the lower-tech solutions are right in front of us, and we urge Vision Zero proponents to boost their attention toward incorporating public transit priorities and synchronizing shared strategies.

The Vision Zero Network looks forward to continuing our partnership with APTA and with Vision Zero cities and public transit agencies across the country to encourage greater collaboration toward safe mobility for all.

Following are some initial recommendations in this direction:

  • Ensure transit agencies are full partners in the development of Vision Zero planning, implementation, and evaluation efforts
  • Transit projects on the streetscape (such as light rail or bus rapid transit) should implement, and highlight, the safety benefits to not only transit users, but also to those walking and biking, who are prioritized in Vision Zero efforts
  • Work with the board members of transit agencies to pass resolutions in support of Vision Zero and direct staff to prioritize and operationalize safety efforts for all road users
  • Evaluate transit projects using metrics other than vehicle miles traveled which overestimate the safety benefits of car trips compared to the safety benefits provided by transit

And please join the Vision Zero Network and APTA for a webinar on October 23, 2018 further exploring the importance of integrating Vision Zero and public transit goals. More details here.

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