Vision Zero Communities 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.

In order to transform broken systems into safe systems, Vision Zero efforts must recognize that many communities have been systemically discriminated against in transportation practices, and that not all communities are starting from the same place, in terms of traffic safety investments and practices. And, specifically, the harms caused by

racial bias in policing showcase the urgent need to improve upon the traditional approach to traffic safety. As advocates for safe mobility, we must work hard to ensure that Vision Zero efforts improve – not 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 strategies for integrating equity in Vision Zero include:

  • Re-think the role of enforcement
  • Invest where needs are greatest
  • Engage the community

Practitioners need to work to Center Equity in Vision Zero

Re-Think 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.

Black people in the U.S. are more likely to be killed in traffic crashes and are also more likely to be stopped by and killed by police during routine traffic stops. We cannot focus on the first half of that reality without also working on the second.

We need to make changes in our own work – and help others make changes in their work – to ensure safety for people of color.

The much-quoted traditional “E’s” approach to traffic safety (Engineering, Education, Enforcement) is not sufficient. We know that not all E’s are created equal: roadway design and speed management are paramount to Vision Zero success, while education and enforcement efforts have been depended on too heavily and rarely examined for effectiveness and equitable results. We cannot enforce or educate our way out of today’s inequitable and inadequate transportation policies and practices. This means re-examining the status quo and making changes, where needed, including re-structuring the role police-led enforcement plays in traffic safety efforts.

Vision Zero is built on a safe systems approach to traffic safety. As described in this national report, safe systems – not traffic stops – must be emphasized. And see examples in Denver’s Vision Zero Action Plan, a model for other communities in recognizing inequities and leveraging Vision Zero for change.

Invest Where Needs are Greatest

Most cities find that a relatively small percentage of streets are the sites of a disproportionate number of traffic 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 priority-areas, 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, OR and Denver, CO 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 staff and community members will learn new information and be empowered to continue supporting safety improvements.

Centering Community in the Public Engagement Process is critical. Some communities have been systematically marginalized and under-resourced, and some may be less likely to report traffic crashes. Some locations may feel so dangerous and unwelcoming that people avoid walking or biking there, which means these locations are not recognized as problem spots based on data, yet are still unsafe, based on experience. How can engaging the community be done successfully? We must, from the start, collaborate 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. 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. Our blog – Building Capacity & Empowering People with Funding – describes examples in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

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