As the number of Vision Zero communities surpasses 30, we commend the advocates and city leaders across the nation who are calling out the truth that traffic deaths are not inevitable and investing in real change — on the streets, in policies, and in funding decisions — to prioritize safety.
Heading into a new year, we urge these leaders to underscore another truth — that Vision Zero is more than a worthy goal, a catchy slogan, or a mayoral proclamation. For our communities to succeed in keeping people safe on our streets, sidewalks, and bikeways, it will take real change. And we know that this change won’t be easy because it means, in many cases, affecting the status quo.
Two key elements must be part of this transformative change: first, measuring impacts of Vision Zero efforts. (What works and what doesn’t? When and how to course-correct?). And second, institutionalizing change so that effective Vision Zero systems live long beyond today’s enthusiastic advocates or elected leaders.
At the Vision Zero Network, we have three recommendations for how local communities can move their work from vision to action in 2018.
Three Vision Zero Priorities for 2018:
1. Grow urgency & action for #safetyoverspeed
Managing dangerous travel speeds is not just an effective strategy but also a fundamental tenet of a strong Vision Zero commitment. It’s speed that kills. And until communities are serious about managing speed, Vision Zero is more talk than action.
Under the Vision Zero mantle, communities are proactively strengthening their work to manage speed. Cities such as Seattle, Portland, Fremont, Boston, New York City, and Washington DC are lowering speed limits and re-designing roadways for slower, safer speeds. Some have instituted, or are working to institute, automated speed enforcement programs, such as NYC, San Francisco, and San Jose. And others, such as Portland, are fundamentally amending the way speeds are set, showing promising results as they modernize outdated processes (check out the Vision Zero Network’s webinar with Portland Bureau of Transportation staff, which offers practical strategies to update speed management standards to prioritize safety over speed).
Last year, we saw the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) release a first-ever landmark study about the dangers of speeding, recognizing it as an under-appreciated problem and urging policymakers at the federal, state, and local levels to support proven countermeasures to slow speeds and save lives.
This year, the Vision Zero Network will step up its leadership to revise outdated policies at the federal and state levels in order to more appropriately address how speed limits are established, and work to build more support for well-proven safety camera programs.
To locals, we encourage a focus on speed management in the following ways:
- Start by designing (or re-designing) streets for safe speeds. This includes instituting Complete Streets designs that ensure safety over speed;
- Revise outdated speed-setting standards. The NTSB's speed study reported the 85% approach leads to unintended consequences, including higher operating speeds, and more dangerous speeds. Yet this practice still dominates in cities and states across the nation. To overcome the inertia, look to Portland’s model, and develop policies and practices that work to prioritize safety.
- Institute smart safety camera programs. Automated speed enforcement used thoughtfully, can be a tremendously effective strategy to manage speeds and save lives. Numerous cities across the U.S. have created programs. Read more about successful safety camera programs here.
2. Center equity and inclusiveness in Vision Zero
Vision Zero is founded on the premise that all people have the right to move about their communities safely. Centering equity within Vision Zero efforts must be a component from the start of any successful program. 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. If not done well, Vision Zero runs the risk of exacerbating existing tensions, particularly as it relates to law enforcement. The Vision Zero Network is committed, in our own work, to prioritize learning and promoting ways that we can all integrate equity priorities deeply and meaningfully into our Vision Zero work; watch for new resources and peer exchange opportunities on this topic in the coming months.
We recommend integrating equity into local Vision Zero initiatives in the following ways:
- Invest where needs are greatest. Data in Vision Zero communities often show that a small percentage of roads contribute to the majority of deaths and serious injuries. These are often areas that have been traditionally under-invested, particularly affecting low-income communities and communities of color. These areas deserve long-overdue safety infrastructure improvements; and while these may not be the low-hanging fruit, they deserve priority attention.
- Engage the community. Ensure community members are part of the decisionmaking processes that impact them. Whether it be the creation of a Vision Zero Action Plan, or education, or infrastructure projects, checking off a box for engagement after one community meeting is not enough. Communities must meet residents where they are at to discuss relative problems and to seek meaningful input. We have already seen encouraging models from several Vision Zero cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
- Examine the role of enforcement. The development of Vision Zero does not happen in a vacuum. While there is a role for enforcement to curb dangerous road behaviors, we must also acknowledge the deeply troubling realities of injustice and inequity in the U.S., particularly related to enforcement. In 2018, the Network will be facilitating discussions and strategies to ensure that the role of enforcement in Vision Zero is appropriate and does not exacerbate inequities nor result in unintended, harmful consequences.
To learn more on centering equity in Vision Zero, read our resource Vision Zero Equity Strategies for Practitioners. It highlights successful strategies in Vision Zero cities across the U.S.
3. Measure impacts & institutionalize Vision Zero
In 2018, the Network will develop and share standards by which local commitments can assess and adjust their Vision Zero efforts. As we've shared in our new resource, Guidelines for an Effective Action Plan, local Vision Zero efforts should be clear, time-defined, and measurable to build public trust and to evaluate what works and what does not. Ultimately, we are all striving for the same goal of zero, but we know that many actions – both big and small – will be the foundation of success, and we need to set ambitious but achievable expectations on the road to zero.
Some of the standards that are most important for local Vision Zero communities include the following:
- Establish measurable goals and assign responsible parties. Answer the questions What strategies is the city committing to? Who is responsible for each and in what timeframe? How which each strategy be funded, measured, and communicated to the public and other stakeholders?
- Track and report out on progress. Related to goal setting, communities must assess and communicate results after tasks are completed. Did a recently installed traffic calming project successfully reduce speeds? Did a new protected bike lane deter conflict between road users? Is public behavior being influenced by Vision Zero education campaigns? These step-by-step assessments will allow communities to celebrate progress and/or make course corrections as needed. Not every effort will succeed, but everything should be analyzed to understand where efforts are most effective.
No doubt, U.S. communities face many complex issues in today's society. But the goal of saving lives should be a #1 priority to our electeds and policymakers. Too many lives are needlessly lost if complacency continues.
We look forward to stepped-up leadership – both within government and from the community -- to ensure we move from talk to action and results for Vision Zero in 2018 and beyond.