Talking with Jacob VanSickle of Bike Cleveland

Jacob VanSickle heads Bike Cleveland, a nonprofit organization advocating throughout Greater Cleveland for safe streets. The group works to improve policy and infrastructure, and hosts education and outreach programs. In January 2018, Cleveland introduced a resolution to establish a Vision Zero Task Force. In today’s feature, Jacob will tell us why ZERO matters and share Cleveland’s Vision Zero story.

Vision Zero Network: Our last People Behind the Progress blog featured Department of Transportation staff with specific Vision Zero responsibilities in their job description. As the head of a small advocacy organization with many programs and events, can you tell us why you are prioritizing Vision Zero? And what is Bike Cleveland’s role? 

Jacob VanSickle: For us getting to zero traffic fatalities has always been our goal. Bike Cleveland’s mission is to create a region that is sustainable, connected, healthy, and vibrant by promoting bicycling and advocating for safe and equitable transportation for all. We have been advocating for safe streets since 2011. Our advocacy has led to 175% increase in bike infrastructure mileage, policies passed that make biking and walking safer, and the education of thousands of people on how to bike safely and drive around people biking safely. While our work has improved safety for people biking and walking, looking at the data we know that every week four people are seriously injured in traffic crashes on Cleveland streets. Every year 30 people die from traffic crashes on Cleveland streets. You can see our data presentation here. We, as a community, need to create a common language and citywide strategy for how we address safety on our streets in the City of Cleveland. Vision Zero is doing that.

The Vision Zero framework helps to broaden the stakeholders engaged in this work. Our city’s Vision Zero Taskforce includes representatives from the community, local nonprofits, City council, and City departments including public health, aging, planning, public works, law, police… just about every department in the City of Cleveland is represented. Vision Zero is helping boost cross department collaboration around traffic safety in a way that I don’t think has ever happened in Cleveland.

Bike Cleveland is an active participant in the Vision Zero Taskforce and I co-chair the data and evaluations committee. For me, it is important that the data around where and why serious injury and fatal crashes are happening is always part of the conversation. This should inform all aspects of our Vision Zero work as a city.

VZN: I understand that Cleveland does not have a transportation department. Rather it has a planning department, office of capital projects, and public works department that all report to different directors. How does that make work on Vision Zero more important and valuable? 

JV: Cleveland’s Vision Zero Taskforce includes community stakeholders, City council, and City administration. Our work around Vision Zero is breaking down silos among City departments and community organizations who are all working towards one goal: zero traffic fatalities in the City of Cleveland. This creates collaboration among all stakeholders, some of who may not have worked together on traffic safety issues before. This collaboration will be important as we head into the action planning for our Vision Zero work and engage the broader community about what Vision Zero is and why traffic safety is crucial for building an equitable transportation system and improving quality of life for city residents.

Another important dynamic in moving Vision Zero forward in Cleveland was the active engagement of Councilman Matt Zone. His leadership was instrumental in convening these City departments and other right community stakeholders.

Participant at the Vision Zero workshop in Cleveland. Source: Bike Cleveland

VZN: You mentioned that you’ve already had early wins from the work with other departments – such as ticketing drivers who violate pedestrian crosswalks. Can you tell us more about your early wins? And what are you looking forward to in the coming few years? 

JV: Some of our early wins include a commitment from the City of Cleveland to pilot side guards on some of their fleet vehicles, Cleveland Police doing crosswalk enforcement in areas where there is heavy pedestrian traffic, and currently the Taskforce subcommittees are reviewing changes to our Complete and Green Streets Ordinance to give it more guidance on updated design guidelines and best practices in line with Vision Zero. We’ve also identified our high injury network.

These are all great wins, but as a city and community we need a plan to get to Zero. We have been working with City departments and community stakeholders on safe-systems approaches to lay the groundwork for the development of a Vision Zero Action Plan. In 2020 we will build off this framework - and our current wins as a Taskforce - to get to zero traffic fatalities in Cleveland.

VZN: It is fascinating how each city has its own dynamics, institutions, and politics. We held this webinar to report on Vision Zero approaches for mid-sized cities. What have you learned from other similar-sized Vision Zero cities? Are there factors that make work in Cleveland harder? And what might help Cleveland in the work ahead? 

JV: One thing that will make it hard to get to Vision Zero in Cleveland is that we are just one city in a county of 58 others. To be successful we will need to reach motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, transit users and commercial vehicle operators who travel through or to Cleveland from neighboring communities. Through our Taskforce we have engaged our state department of transportation and our regional planning organization. We also created an Education and Engagement Sub-Committee to help guide our Vision Zero outreach efforts.

Source: Bike Cleveland

VZN: What are upcoming  priorities for Vision Zero in Cleveland? What should we ask you next year about Vision Zero Cleveland’s progress?

JV: Our key focus areas will come out of our action planning that will begin in earnest in 2020. Here are three areas that will require deep work in Cleveland:

  1. Speed management: Currently we are unable to use traffic cameras to enforce speed due to a local referendum banning the use of cameras (plus state law also makes it difficult);
  2. Traffic calming and street design: Cleveland has a street network built for over 1 million people but a population of under 400,000. This means we have opportunities, unlike many other cities, to reclaim space for people biking, walking and scooting on our streets. Many of these opportunities exist on our high injury network, which includes a lot of excessively wide streets that have little traffic.
  3. Equitable community engagement: Vision Zero is about ensuring all people can move around our community safely.

As we begin developing our Vision Zero Action Plan in 2020 it is crucial that we get input from everyone in our community. We need to make big progress in these areas and I hope I can learn from – and share our lessons with – other Vision Zero Cities.

VZN: Jacob, thanks for sharing your experience with us. We’re excited to keep in touch and support Vision Zero Cleveland . All readers are invited to join our January 23, 2020 one-hour webinar, Not Just Big Cities: Vision Zero in smaller & suburban communities. We’ll focus on experiences and recommendations from mid-sized suburban communities leading the way on Vision Zero in the U.S.

Jacob VanSickle heads Bike Cleveland, a nonprofit organization advocating throughout Greater Cleveland for safe streets. The group works to improve policy and infrastructure, and hosts education and outreach programs. In January 2018, Cleveland introduced a resolution to establish a Vision Zero Task Force. In today’s feature, Jacob will tell us why ZERO matters and share Cleveland’s Vision Zero story.

Vision Zero Network: Our last People Behind the Progress blog featured Department of Transportation staff with specific Vision Zero responsibilities in their job description. As the head of a small advocacy organization with many programs and events, can you tell us why you are prioritizing Vision Zero? And what is Bike Cleveland’s role? 

Jacob VanSickle: For us getting to zero traffic fatalities has always been our goal. Bike Cleveland’s mission is to create a region that is sustainable, connected, healthy, and vibrant by promoting bicycling and advocating for safe and equitable transportation for all. We have been advocating for safe streets since 2011. Our advocacy has led to 175% increase in bike infrastructure mileage, policies passed that make biking and walking safer, and the education of thousands of people on how to bike safely and drive around people biking safely. While our work has improved safety for people biking and walking, looking at the data we know that every week four people are seriously injured in traffic crashes on Cleveland streets. Every year 30 people die from traffic crashes on Cleveland streets. You can see our data presentation here. We, as a community, need to create a common language and citywide strategy for how we address safety on our streets in the City of Cleveland. Vision Zero is doing that.

The Vision Zero framework helps to broaden the stakeholders engaged in this work. Our city’s Vision Zero Taskforce includes representatives from the community, local nonprofits, City council, and City departments including public health, aging, planning, public works, law, police… just about every department in the City of Cleveland is represented. Vision Zero is helping boost cross department collaboration around traffic safety in a way that I don’t think has ever happened in Cleveland.

Bike Cleveland is an active participant in the Vision Zero Taskforce and I co-chair the data and evaluations committee. For me, it is important that the data around where and why serious injury and fatal crashes are happening is always part of the conversation. This should inform all aspects of our Vision Zero work as a city.

VZN: I understand that Cleveland does not have a transportation department. Rather it has a planning department, office of capital projects, and public works department that all report to different directors. How does that make work on Vision Zero more important and valuable? 

JV: Cleveland’s Vision Zero Taskforce includes community stakeholders, City council, and City administration. Our work around Vision Zero is breaking down silos among City departments and community organizations who are all working towards one goal: zero traffic fatalities in the City of Cleveland. This creates collaboration among all stakeholders, some of who may not have worked together on traffic safety issues before. This collaboration will be important as we head into the action planning for our Vision Zero work and engage the broader community about what Vision Zero is and why traffic safety is crucial for building an equitable transportation system and improving quality of life for city residents.

Another important dynamic in moving Vision Zero forward in Cleveland was the active engagement of Councilman Matt Zone. His leadership was instrumental in convening these City departments and other right community stakeholders.

Participant at the Vision Zero workshop in Cleveland. Source: Bike Cleveland

VZN: You mentioned that you’ve already had early wins from the work with other departments – such as ticketing drivers who violate pedestrian crosswalks. Can you tell us more about your early wins? And what are you looking forward to in the coming few years? 

JV: Some of our early wins include a commitment from the City of Cleveland to pilot side guards on some of their fleet vehicles, Cleveland Police doing crosswalk enforcement in areas where there is heavy pedestrian traffic, and currently the Taskforce subcommittees are reviewing changes to our Complete and Green Streets Ordinance to give it more guidance on updated design guidelines and best practices in line with Vision Zero. We’ve also identified our high injury network.

These are all great wins, but as a city and community we need a plan to get to Zero. We have been working with City departments and community stakeholders on safe-systems approaches to lay the groundwork for the development of a Vision Zero Action Plan. In 2020 we will build off this framework - and our current wins as a Taskforce - to get to zero traffic fatalities in Cleveland.

VZN: It is fascinating how each city has its own dynamics, institutions, and politics. We held this webinar to report on Vision Zero approaches for mid-sized cities. What have you learned from other similar-sized Vision Zero cities? Are there factors that make work in Cleveland harder? And what might help Cleveland in the work ahead? 

JV: One thing that will make it hard to get to Vision Zero in Cleveland is that we are just one city in a county of 58 others. To be successful we will need to reach motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, transit users and commercial vehicle operators who travel through or to Cleveland from neighboring communities. Through our Taskforce we have engaged our state department of transportation and our regional planning organization. We also created an Education and Engagement Sub-Committee to help guide our Vision Zero outreach efforts.

Source: Bike Cleveland

VZN: What are upcoming  priorities for Vision Zero in Cleveland? What should we ask you next year about Vision Zero Cleveland’s progress?

JV: Our key focus areas will come out of our action planning that will begin in earnest in 2020. Here are three areas that will require deep work in Cleveland:

  1. Speed management: Currently we are unable to use traffic cameras to enforce speed due to a local referendum banning the use of cameras (plus state law also makes it difficult);
  2. Traffic calming and street design: Cleveland has a street network built for over 1 million people but a population of under 400,000. This means we have opportunities, unlike many other cities, to reclaim space for people biking, walking and scooting on our streets. Many of these opportunities exist on our high injury network, which includes a lot of excessively wide streets that have little traffic.
  3. Equitable community engagement: Vision Zero is about ensuring all people can move around our community safely.

As we begin developing our Vision Zero Action Plan in 2020 it is crucial that we get input from everyone in our community. We need to make big progress in these areas and I hope I can learn from – and share our lessons with – other Vision Zero Cities.

VZN: Jacob, thanks for sharing your experience with us. We’re excited to keep in touch and support Vision Zero Cleveland . All readers are invited to join our January 23, 2020 one-hour webinar, Not Just Big Cities: Vision Zero in smaller & suburban communities. We’ll focus on experiences and recommendations from mid-sized suburban communities leading the way on Vision Zero in the U.S.

Learn more: advocacy, mid-size city


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