Webinar Recap: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Task Force

One of the most important factors that promising Vision Zero cities have in common is a commitment to a strong and active multi-agency task force to oversee their work and track progress (and challenges). Because Vision Zero tackles interconnected systems affecting mobility - transportation, law enforcement, policy, health, technology, communication - communities need to ensure meaningful interagency collaboration - including setting up systems to move past typical silo-ization that often occurs amongst agencies - as well as prioritize partner coordination to continually measure and refine the Vision Zero work.

One model of strong task force engagement was featured in our March 2019 webinar “Creating and Sustaining an Effective Vision Zero Task Force.” Members of New York City’s Vision Zero Task Force, which launched just days after NYC announced its adoption of Vision Zero in 2014, highlighted the strategies in place to communicate across agencies, analyze and integrate data together, prioritize actions and measure progress. Their recipe for success includes a diligent schedule that encourages accountability: twice-a-month meetings, high level representation and ongoing analysis of a shared trove of data from each of the city’s transportation, police, taxi and limousine, vehicle fleets and transit departments. The legal and budget departments are also represented on the task force.

Central Coordination is Key to a Strong Task Force

NYC’s Vision Zero Task Force operates like a well-oiled machine due in large part to leadership and active coordination from staff within a key mayoral department: the Mayor’s Office of Operations (Ops). Agencies in the task force are assigned a staff person from Ops who regularly engages with the agency via phone and meetings to review metrics, measure progress against agency specific tasks and milestones and problem-solves risks and challenges. This one-to-one interaction is customized to each agency allowing for focused attention on the metrics.

The direct involvement of the Mayor’s Office also sends a clear message that Vision Zero is an administration priority, which is instrumental in establishing strong patterns of engagement that continue beyond the "honeymoon phase" of Vision Zero’s launch. In NYC, the Office of Operations sets each task force agenda with input from the agencies, and working groups (e.g. data and marketing). Throughout the process, collective ownership is emphasized across the task force. Task force members help each other problem-solve and report out both successes and challenges regularly. Another critical point highlighted: task force stewardship relies on good project management to ensure meaningful interaction not just during the meetings, but in-between.

Life Cycle of a Strong VZ Task Force

A valuable takeaway from NYC’s experience is that coordinating an effective task force starts with setting clear goals and measurable targets, not simply pulling people together to list their own priorities based on their own past experiences or expectations. A strong task force has a certain natural life cycle.

Phase 1 - Develop Plan and Establish Governance: The first phase of the task force should begin with the development of a strong Action Plan. It is critical that the task force helps develop and has real ownership - in a collective way - over clear actions, strategies and targets - all of which are specific and measurable.

It is also in this stage that a governance and funding structure is established to identify project leadership and stakeholders and ensure well staffed teams. For example, while the Vision Zero budget is housed in NYC DOT, resources are leveraged from other departments like DOH for marketing campaigns.

Phase 2 - Implementation and Monitoring: The task force serves as the coordinating entity for all agency stakeholders working on Vision Zero. NYC’s bi-weekly meeting includes agency presentations, cross-agency collaboration and reports from each agency’s dashboard to measure program performance against key performance indicators (KPIs) (established in Phase 1). This ongoing review is pivotal to ownership and transparency and necessary to ensure agencies are moving towards measurable progress. These meetings also allow time for group brainstorming on challenging issues, and unplanned or unexpected topics for discussion.

Phase 3 - Learning and Evaluation: It is important that the members of the task force are learning from each other, along with implementing Vision Zero efforts. NYC takes a strong project management approach that constantly monitors agency progress against metrics, and reports out at each task force meeting. With 178 different Vision Zero initiatives to date (and more coming), strong project management and tracking is key. Learning and evaluation are both an internal and external process. NYC ensures progress is publicly available, developing and sharing annual reports with detailed data, charts and trends on progress and challenge areas. One key evaluation tool, Vision Zero View, allows the public to see how Vision Zero is impacting their community over time. This resource provides granular neighborhood data on traffic injuries, fatalities, crashes, street design features, speed limits and even upcoming and past outreach workshops.

Cross Agency Collaboration Breaks Down Silos

NYC prioritizes a holistic approach to the task force, with its sum being greater than its parts. As pointed out by Julia Kite-Laidlaw of NYC DOT: "We don’t divide and conquer. Through the Vision Zero Task Force, we unite and synthesize." In the past, agencies and departments missed valuable opportunities for collaboration and problem solving because they were less aware of each other’s data sets and projects. Now, through the task force, collaboration is central. For instance, there is an active data working group within the task force that ensures staff from multiple departments are using the most up-to-date data to advance their work.

These steps are also essential in sustaining engagement by task force members over a period of time. For instance, each agency presents progress against KPIs in data dashboards which are discussed during task force meetings. This step ensures ownership towards the agency’s role in achieving zero. This creates an ongoing agency investment in and responsibility towards meeting the goals, further highlighting the "unite and synthesize" approach.

Including Community Input in Task Force Efforts

While NYC’s Task Force is comprised of agency directors, commissioners and senior personnel, the group engages with the community also via a comprehensive outreach plan that targets schools, senior centers, community and faith based organizations. Additional focus is placed on outreach in areas with high concentrations of serious traffic crashes.

One signature initiative includes NYC’s Street Teams, a joint community engagement effort undertaken by the Department of Transportation and NYC Police Department. Before targeted traffic enforcement begins in a high crash community, members from both departments educate residents using all modes of transportation about common driving and cycling violations. The Street Teams have visited over 600 priority locations and over 1,000 schools within these locations. The Task Force also engages and often partners with advocacy organizations through meetings and events and with academic institutions via research and peer exchange.

NYC also uses online and crowdsourced tools, academic forums, town halls and community meetings, meetings with nonprofit and community based organizations. Their online public input map allows community members to note safety issues. As Kim Wiley-Schwartz, of NYC DOT, points out, the public map overlays perceptions from New Yorkers with facts and figures so that the Vision Zero Task Force can "understand where [the] schisms" are when making street changes and help ensure community voices are heard.

Strong Task Force Leadership Leads to Progress

Entering its sixth year of Vision Zero, New York City has effectively engaged its task force over 115 meetings to-date with measurable progress to show. The city made international headlines earlier this year for having the lowest number of recorded traffic fatalities in over a century, along with five consecutive years of declining traffic fatalities since Vision Zero was adopted in 2014. But NYC is also honest about the progress yet to be made. Julia Kite-Laidlaw notes, "progress is not always linear [but that] doesn’t mean the project isn’t working. It means you have to look deeper into the data and refine what you’re doing."

NYC’s example shows that leadership must commit to the cause, even when progress is slower than desired, while recognizing that advancing Vision Zero may not be quick nor easy. It requires an investment in systemic, long-term change. Key to building and sustaining support for Vision Zero among city leaders and community members is transparency, communication and steadfast commitment. Vision Zero communities can look to the strong task force model established in NYC and focus on clear goal-setting, cross-agency collaboration, constant monitoring and evaluation, and shared ownership and commitment.

Other Examples Around the Country

Other examples of strong interdepartmental collaboration in other cities are highlighted in the Vision Zero Network’s 2016 case study. For example, Los Angeles Steering Committee membership goes beyond the traditional departments to include other relevant agencies such as disability, street lighting, water and power, and neighborhood empowerment, as well as AARP. In San Francisco, leadership of the task force is shared by the city’s transportation and public health departments, highlighting the importance of collaboration beyond the traditional transportation realm.

Portland, Oregon provides a good example of institutionalizing community engagement into its Vision Zero Task Force. Half of Portland’s task force is comprised of "community members" from organizations working on issues pertaining to pedestrian and bicycle advocacy, education, health and communities of color.

Resources to Tap Into

Cities with task forces note that having a formal structure that meets regularly, includes senior level staff and relies on shared data to coordinate messaging and next steps, are more likely to see sustained progress towards Vision Zero goals. This is a key takeaway from what we’ve learned from the leading, early-adopter Vision Zero cities.

In guiding documents such as our 9 Components of a Strong Vision Zero Commitment and the Core Elements for Vision Zero Communities, we emphasize multi sector and agency leadership. Our guidance document, Moving from Vision to Action, also articulates how giving Vision Zero a permanent, high level home within a city’s bureaucracy is key to institutionalizing the work and ensuring accountability.

Vision Zero progress and success are the outcome of the shared ownership of Vision Zero goals across the agencies. A well led, focused and resourced task force can make the difference between long term success or stalled progress. Learn more by watching the webinar below. Also, scroll down for webinar Q&As.

We encourage you to watch the full 1-hour webinar to get more details from this information rich discussion. But, we also pulled out some Q & A highlights shared by our presenters for easy reference.

Q: How to ensure community participation and input into task force?
A: The community is core to Vision Zero progress. NYC DOT works closely with victim advocacy groups such as NYC Families for Safe Streets, advocacy organizations including those focused on street safety, older adults and transportation and schools. [Also see above section on community input.]

Q: How do you keep the task force interested and engaged?
A: Agency specific data dashboards track progress across agencies and monitor program performance and measurement against KPIs. Each agency becomes invested in its role in achieving zero as part of a collective whole. This emphasis on data shows areas of improvement and incremental progress. Minds begin to change when task force members acknowledge they are part of something that is changing and saving people’s lives.

Q: What is an ideal meeting schedule?
A: The NYC Vision Zero Task Force meets every two weeks. The week in between meetings allows for one-to-one engagement with individual agencies and working group via meetings or calls. The bi-weekly schedule was important to maintaining momentum and is key to NYC’s success. One key point: even if the agenda was light, the bi-weekly meeting frequency was maintained to encourage conversation and on-the-spot discussions that often result in a meeting “magic” of new ideas and problem solving.

Q: What level of representation should the task force include?
A: Task force members should include high level personnel who have authority to gather information within the agency, are authorized to discuss and make decisions and have direct access to their agency leader. NYC’s team includes assistant commissioners, directors and agency leaders. NYC’s kick off meeting included all agency leadership to determine who would represent on the task force. A project management approach was applied to agency coordination.

Q: What tools are used to share data within the taskforce?
A: Agency specific data dashboards measure KPIs and inform the task force agenda, discussion and actions steps. Each agency monitors conditions daily and is able to address patterns and trends.

Q: How to encourage buy-in across agencies with varying levels of Vision Zero support?
A: Agency leadership must commit to Vision Zero and send a message that Vision Zero is not optional nor negotiable. It must be included in everyone’s job across all departments within an agency. For those who are reluctant or opposed, emphasize the power and opportunity to save lives and use data to show other improvements that positively highlight the work of the agency (for e.g. showing the community positive streetscape improvements as opposed to crash data). An emphasis on saving lives helps champions emerge organically.

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