Centering Equity: Safe Mobility is a Right

Vision Zero Cities Should Commit to Equity From the Start

Vision Zero is based on the premise that all people have the right to move about their communities safely.

If done well, Vision Zero can help transform broken systems into safe systems. This entails recognizing that many of our communities have been systemically discriminated against in transportation practices, and that not all communities are starting from the same place, in terms of safety investments. In addition, problems of racial bias in policing raises urgent questions about how we must use Vision Zero to improve – not inadvertently exacerbate – negative, unintended consequences, particularly in communities of color and low-income communities.

Read about successful strategies U.S. Vision Zero cities are using to integrate equity into their work in our report: Centering Equity in Vision Zero.

Three broad goals for integrating equity into Vision Zero are to:

  • Invest where needs are greatest
  • Engage the community
  • Examine the role of enforcement

Invest Where Needs are Greatest

Vision Zero is a data-driven approach, and as cities dig into the data, most find that a relatively small percentage of streets are the sites of the majority of deaths and serious injuries over a period of time. These streets are often labeled High Injury Networks and should be prioritized for safety improvements. Cities should invest in proven strategies in smart, equitable ways, such as safe street design and speed management efforts, especially to protect the most vulnerable on the road.

Many cities are overlaying their High Injury Networks with equity priorities sometimes called Communities of Concern. This allows them to identify and communicate funding priorities to multiple city departments and the general public. Maps from Portland and Denver below provide examples.

Portland’s High Injury Network and Communities of Concern mapped


Denver’s High Injury Network (orange lines) and Communities of Concern (blue areas) mapped


Engage the Community

While data is important, it does not tell the full story on its own. Assessing which needs are greatest requires data combined with a robust community engagement process. If done well, both the city and the community will learn new information, and community members will be empowered to continue participating in Vision Zero.

This is particularly important because some communities have been systematically marginalized and under-resourced, and some may be less likely to report traffic crashes. In addition, some locations may feel so dangerous and unwelcoming that people avoid walking or biking there, which means these locations are not elevated as problem spots with high injuries, yet are still unsafe.

How can engaging the community be done successfully? Part of the answer includes collaborating with community groups that are genuinely engaged in the neighborhoods, who have strong connections with and respect of locals, and who can help share the hopes and fears of long-time residents. And, it is important to understand that this is work, and work comes with a price tag. Cities should be ready to compensate the efforts of hard-working community groups sharing their time and expertise to help advance Vision Zero.

The cities of Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco are demonstrating how to meaningfully engage communities as part of a larger Vision Zero initiative. Learn more about their work in our blog.

Examine the Role of Enforcement

Vision Zero does not call for more traffic enforcement. Given express concerns around racial bias in police actions, it is important to understand that the risk of over-policing runs counter to the goals of Vision Zero of ensuring safety for all, particularly those disproportionately impacted by traffic violence in the U.S., including people of color and low-income communities.

Recognize that Vision Zero is not built on the traditional E’s approach to traffic safety (Engineering, Education, Enforcement, etc.). Instead, it is built on a safe systems approach to traffic safety. We know that not all E’s are created equal: roadway design and speed management are paramount to Vision Zero success, while appropriate education and enforcement efforts play supporting roles. And within those roles, much needs to be examined and improved to ensure that traffic enforcement in the name of Vision Zero is not resulting in unintended consequences of racial bias or discrimination in other forms.

Denver’s Vision Zero Action Plan provides a thoughtful framework for enforcement and education in the city and is a model for other cities.

Other Resources