September 15, 2022 BY Leah Shahumin News

Vision Zero Network Welcomes Odion Ovbiagele

Q&A with Our New Project Associate

Please join us in welcoming Odion Ovbiagele to the Vision Zero Network team as Project Associate.

Odion has been drawn to the intersection of safe mobility, racial equity and public health and will bring her passion to our Vision Zero work. In her role as Project Associate, Odion will help Vision Zero Network advance racial and health equity in our work and actively support communities across the nation. Odion will help communities re-imagine the role of enforcement in roadway safety to be effective and equitable; direct safe mobility resources to communities most in need; and embed and measure equity priorities in Vision Zero planning & implementation.

Based in Baltimore, where she is he earning a Master of Science in Health Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Odion is working on a research project exploring ways to enhance racial and social equity through public transportation. Originally from Alabama, Odion has orchestrated and assisted with a variety of social, political, and community advocacy projects related to environmental justice, racial equity, and ethical consumerism.

We asked Odion a few questions to learn more about her interests and her approach to this work.

Vision Zero Network: What interests you most about Vision Zero?

Odion Ovbiagele: To many, the Vision Zero goal is ambitious. We’ve grown up knowing people who have been injured or killed in traffic collisions, so I empathize with those who struggle to imagine a world where this does not happen. Engaging with the Vision Zero framework has transformed my attitudes about safety in a way that I could not have imagined. In fact, learning that we have the option to metamorphose our reality is what drew me to this work. My favorite aspect of the Vision Zero strategy is the focus on safer road design; because I believe that changing the built environment can do far more than focusing on behavior alone.

VZN: How do you think about the intersection of public health and transportation?

OO: Transportation is considered a social determinant of health (SDOH), otherwise known as the non-medical factors that influence health outcomes. In public health, we know that addressing the SDOH is key to allowing folks to reach their full health potential. Also, transportation is intrinsically linked with some of our most pressing health issues and topics. Air pollution and environmental injustice, food access, social connection, access to medical care – the list goes on. Because of this, I think of the Vision Zero strategy as a tool to advance health equity. To me, my role at VZN is public health practice.

VZN: You recently participated in the NACTO conference “Designing Cities” in September. Was there anything you heard about there that particularly interests you? 

OO: The NACTO conference was incredibly informative, especially as a person who frequents public health spaces. I was most inspired by the community organizers who led the second workshop I attended, titled “Exploring Chinatown.” I was moved by stories about the impacts of harmful transportation projects in Chinatown. We were taken to Reggie Wong Park (aka the only recreational space in Chinatown) and not only was it enveloped by highways, but adjacent to a giant steam plant. The health implications of this are immense, especially considering that Boston’s Chinatown has the worst air quality in all of Massachusetts. However, the workshop leaders honed in on the importance of sustainable community engagement as a tool to prevent harm, which is valuable for any Vision Zero intervention.

VZN: Are there any experiences you can share that have shaped your thinking about people’s everyday mobility and how we can make sure everyone is safe moving around their communities?

OO: Strangely enough, I think my undergraduate college experience enhanced my understanding of mobility and the built environment. It is common for people to reminisce about their college days, but I honestly believe that people just miss the walkability, bikeability, and access to reliable transportation (via college shuttle or the like). It is much easier to build and sustain social connections when you can get around safely. Imagine what this could do for people outside of college campuses! 

VZN: Are there specific projects you’re most excited to work on with Vision Zero Network?

OO: I really look forward to diving into the conversations around automated speed enforcement. We cannot ignore the window of opportunity that exists to eliminate fatal police interactions – especially among Black, Indigenous, and people of color.

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