While the Vision Zero Network is focused on advancing efforts in the U.S., we are always excited to look abroad for inspiration and guidance. In our webinar, Vision Zero in London: Reducing Road Danger By Encouraging Active, Sustainable Modes, our colleagues from Transport for London (TfL), which runs the day-to-day operation of London’s public transport network and manages London’s main roads, discuss the agency’s interpretation of Vision Zero – via a Healthy Streets Approach. This encouraging approach emphasizes the importance of growing active transportation use to reduce the factors that most contribute to road dangers.
Transforming the Culture of Transport
Transport for London is famously responsible for running London’s iconic, red bus system and the London Underground, and the authority also directly manages a portion of the city’s road network.
TfL oversees just four percent of all roads in London yet this small percentage carries 30% of the city’s traffic and accounts for 30% of traffic deaths and serious injuries – about 4,000 each year. Stuart Reid, London’s Vision Zero Director, calls this an “entirely unacceptable [number] that requires urgent action, not just lamentation.”
In fact, in response to a recent spate of traffic fatalities, TfL called a major newspaper and urged them to cover the fatalities as front page news. Acknowledging the fatality numbers as “uncomfortable” for the transport authority, Reid emphasized TfL’s ethical responsibility to challenge the “culture of the city and people’s acceptance of death and injuries on the road.”
One way TfL aims to challenge this culture is by moving away from an overly statistical presentation of road risk reliant on numbers and data to a more personalized depiction of road risk. This effort was put into practice during London’s Vision Zero week – a series of events this past July highlighting the authority’s successes and challenges one year after the adoption of Vision Zero. Instead of just focusing on statistics, TfL launched the “Know My Name” campaign sharing the stories of “victims of road trauma to communicate the impact it has on peoples’ lives.”
London’s approach to Vision Zero is intended to be transformative. It is based on a philosophical shift away from a traditional road safety approach to a focus on road danger reduction. With a road safety approach, the focus is on where and who is getting hurt and offering solutions that attempt to perfect road user behavior, such as encouraging people walking and biking to wear reflective clothing. With a road danger reduction strategy, the focus is on what has the most kinetic energy in a road system and reducing the amount of the kinetic energy so that when mistakes are made, they are not catastrophic for anyone. Many will recognize this danger reduction strategy as a Safe Systems approach.
Setting Challenging Targets
Reducing traffic deaths and serious injuries is an urgent priority for TfL and the authority has set ambitious targets. It aims to reduce the annual number of those killed or severely injured (aka KSIs) of 4,000 by 65% by implementing strategies laid out in their Action Plan, which is focused on four key components: Safe Speeds, Safe Streets, Safe Vehicles and Safe Behaviors.
Safe Speeds: Vision Zero success is closely related to managing unsafe speeds. With 37% of those killed or seriously injured in London due to excessive speeds, reducing speed is fundamental to lessening road danger and achieving Vision Zero. TfL has lowered speed limits on most inner-city roads from 30 mph (blue lines on the image) to 20 mph (dark green lines) and utilizes safety cameras and on-street enforcement to monitor compliance. Lower speed limits also improve the environment of London’s road network, as nearly 80% of public space in London is comprised of roads. The authority also optimizes its speed camera network to streamline back office functions, develop speed awareness courses and improve the rate of prosecutions.
Safe Streets: In an effort to move from a reactive to a proactive response to street safety, Transport for London is analyzing “junctions” or intersections that people tend to avoid – those with characteristics that pose greater threats. TfL notes that 76% of crashes occur at junctions. Such intersections might not have traditionally made a list of the most dangerous intersections because KSI data may be low. However, TfL realized that while an intersection might not make the list of the most collisions, fatalities or injuries, that isn’t necessarily an indication of safety; instead, it can be an indication that road users are avoiding the area because of an intersection’s “treacherous reputation.” In short, low KSI data can reflect an avoidance of danger and not be a measure of safety.
Safe Vehicles: Some types of vehicles are disproportionately involved in collisions. Buses and motorcycles are much more likely to cause serious death or injury to pedestrians, and taxis and heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) pose a great threat to cyclists. In response, TfL has launched the world’s first Direct Vision Standard for HGVs working with manufacturers to improve visibility and eliminate blind spots directly linked to cyclist fatalities and injuries. Additionally, TfL’s Bus Safety Standard aims to design the bus of the future in London, featuring speed limiting technology and autonomous emergency braking to encourage safe driving.
Safe Behaviors: Transport for London recognized a new approach to enforcement was needed in order to encourage safe behaviors among road users. A key focus is road users who demonstrate high risk behaviors. Transport for London collaborated with London’s Metropolitan Police Service to establish the Roads and Transport Policing Command, an effort being funded by TfL. This task force of more than 2,000 officers improves safety on roads with a three-pronged approach: targeted activity focused on high-risk vehicles, intelligence-led activity focused on known problems and visible patrols.
TfL also leads educational campaigns to provide information about safe behaviors. These campaigns include programs like cycle training for school-aged children and adults and materials that demonstrate motorcycle safety. Additionally, TfL engages in post collision learning and victim support to improve the resources and actions TfL can provide to those personally impacted by road trauma.
Wider Policy Context: Healthy Streets Approach
In London, Vision Zero is set in the context of Transport for London’s Healthy Streets Approach. The Healthy Streets Approach puts health at the heart of decision making, aiming for a healthier, more sustainable city where people are encouraged to choose active forms of transportation such as walking, cycling and using public transport.
With this framework in mind, TfL hopes that 80% of London’s 33 million daily trips can be made by active forms of transportation by 2041.
Increasing active transportation isn’t just a safety measure; there are many other benefits. Walking, cycling and using public transportation require less street space than personal cars and taxis, emit fewer greenhouse gases and help Londoners reach the suggested amount of physical activity for good health.
Transport for London has made it a priority to address health inequality through the promotion of active transportation. Low physical activity is related to many of the leading causes of early deaths in Londoners, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol.
To encourage Londoners to incorporate physical activity into daily life, TfL hopes to create streets that are more welcoming to those who are walking or biking. Factors such as clean air, shade and shelter, places to stop and rest, and things to do and see all contribute to a healthy street that is more likely to be inviting to someone walking. Encouraging active transportation synergizes with Vision Zero’s goals to reduce danger, as a mode shift away from private vehicles makes streets inherently safer.
Transport for London’s health-centric approach to Vision Zero is a strong model for other communities who are committed to the intertwined goals of safe mobility and healthy communities. And though London is a major metropolitan region with its own particular set of circumstances, the tactics employed in its Vision Zero approach can have an impact in communities of any size and style. London’s focus on transformative changes in the underlying systems and built environment, as well as its willingness to set ambitious goals and measurable strategies, bode well for real progress in the coming years in one of the world’s most iconic cities.
Watch the one-hour webinar here.