By Nora Hanak
We are encouraged to see that Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) are increasingly recognizing their roles in the critical work of safety and equity in their mobility efforts. In our September 24th webinar, “How MPOs Can Lead on Vision Zero & Equitable Mobility" (linked below), we were pleased to learn from Lake McTighe, of Oregon Metro, and Beth Doliboa, of Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), how their MPO agencies have developed Vision Zero plans with a strong focus on equity. Their agencies demonstrate a promising trajectory in building safe, healthy, and equitable mobility.
You can read more about MPOs roles in Vision Zero in our 2017 resource Traffic Safety at Metropolitan Planning Organizations, showcasing the regional influence on policy, funding, and regional planning.
Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan
Metro, the MPO for greater Portland in Oregon, approved their Regional Transportation Plan in 2018, and is one of the first to set a regional goal of zero traffic deaths/serious injuries, accompanied by explicit and measurable strategies, at the regional level.
For background, Metro serves 1.5 million people living in the region’s 24 cities and three counties. The Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), updated every five years, is a blueprint to guide investments for all forms of travel and the movement of goods and freight throughout the greater Portland region. The plan identifies the region’s most urgent transportation needs and priorities for investment over the next 25 years. It also establishes goals and policies to help meet those needs and guide priority investments.
Metro’s RTP explicitly sets the goals of “Eliminating traffic-related deaths and life-changing injuries and increasing the safety and security of the transportation system” as well prioritizing safety for people of color, people with low incomes, people with disabilities, people walking, bicycling, and using motorcycles, youth and older adults.” Accompanying these goals – most critically – are clear, time-bound actions and measurable outcomes. The RTP also links these with important related priorities of climate change, increases in population and cultural diversity, housing affordability and safe, reliable and affordable access to education, jobs and other important destinations.
As many Vision Zero communities are doing, Metro analyzed the regional roadways to identify the High-Injury Network that is in greatest need of safety improvements. Their analysis found that 60% of fatal and severe injury crashes occur on just six 6% of the region’s roadways. And, a majority of these high injury corridors and intersections – and a majority of pedestrian deaths and severe injuries – in the region are in areas with higher concentrations of people of color, people with low incomes and English language learners.
Metro is also an early-adopter, amongst MPOs, to emphasize the importance of using a Safe Systems approach in its work. We recommend checking out the details. The RTP states: “Consistent with the region’s long-term safety vision, it acknowledges that people will make mistakes and may have road crashes – but the system should be designed so that those crashes should not result in death or serious injury. Design emphasizes separation – between people walking and bicycling and motor-vehicles, access management and median separation of traffic – and survivable speeds.”
Metro’s Strategic Plan to Advance Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Recognizing that significant work and change are needed to address “long-standing institutional barriers that inhibit success for all,” Metro developed an impressive Strategic Plan to Advance Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. The goal is to ensure “that all people in the region have the opportunity to thrive in all aspects of social well-being, regardless of their background or zip code. This is both the purpose of good government and an economic necessity: to effectively serve all people.”
The Strategic Plan calls for department-specific plans, in addition to five goals across all departmental strategies:
- Metro convenes and supports regional partners to advance racial equity
- Metro meaningfully engages communities of color
- Metro hires, trains and promotes a racially diverse workforce
- Metro creates safe and welcoming services, programs and destinations
- Metro’s resource allocation advances racial equity
Metro’s vision is grounded in concrete actions with measurable timelines. And the Plan is commendable in that it does not shy away from recognizing that in addition to the challenges of individual racism, the agency and partners must focus on addressing institutional and systemic racism. It includes an excellent Glossary of terms (see p.71) to help build understanding and stronger communications and collaboration. It also explicitly defines and differentiates such important (and often misunderstood) terms such as “equality” and “equity”, as well as “color-blind” and “racism.”
Metro’s Strategic Plan to Advance Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is a worthy model for other agencies eager to incorporate meaningful, measurable plans and goals for racial equity in their work, including Vision Zero.
DRCOG Taking Action on Regional Vision Zero
More recently, the Denver Regional Council of Governments, DRCOG, developed Taking Action on Regional Vision Zero, a safety action plan establishing a target for zero fatalities or serious injuries in the region's transportation system. The plan, approved earlier this year, provides specific action initiatives, a timeline for implementation. It also acts as a toolkit for local governments to use when planning a Vision Zero strategy in their own communities.
Like Metro’s plan, DRCOG’s plan also recognizes that, to be successful, Vision Zero should be built on the Safe Systems foundation, which recognizes that traffic deaths are preventable, that we must expect and integrate human error into planning, and establishes road safety as a social equity issue (i.e. all people have the right to move about their communities safely).
As part of the Safe Systems focus, the plan emphasizes the importance of managing speed for safety – including lower speed limits, re-designed roads encouraging lower speeds, and automated speed enforcement. In a survey of people in the region, they found that 40% ranked “speeding” as one of their top three traffic safety concerns.
And, perhaps even more impressively, people showed they are willing to trade a bit of travel time for increased safety. In the survey, 82% of respondents were willing to add one or more minutes to their commute to improve safety. And 50% of respondents were willing to add five to 10 minutes to their commute to improve safety.
DRCOG also recognizes the urgent need to better prioritize equity in transportation work. As the plan states: “Disadvantaged communities are disproportionately affected by traffic safety issues. Often, this results from a combination of streets not designed for all users or streets designed for high vehicle operating speeds traveling through areas otherwise affected by a combination of economic, health and environmental burdens where people are more likely to walk or bike.”
The plan also points out that: “41% of the regional High-Injury Network is in areas with higher-than-average numbers of households in poverty and minority populations” in the Denver region. Given this disproportionate impact, DRCOG incorporates Vision Zero’s equity principles in their toolkit, referring to the broad goals of investing where needs are greatest, engaging the community, using data to focus efforts, and examining the role of enforcement.
The plan states: “Equity and empathy are critical considerations in a Vision Zero-aligned enforcement campaign to ensure that people already burdened by unsafe transportation infrastructure, including low-income populations and people of color, are not further burdened by unreasonable enforcement.” Tellingly, DRCOG’s survey of residents showed that only 48% of English language survey respondents and only 23% of Spanish language survey respondents would contact the police with a traffic safety concern.
Watch DRCOG’s powerful Vision Zero video:
What about Your MPO’s Safety, Equity Focus?
Does your MPO have a regional transportation plan? Does it prioritize safety? Equity? If not, we encourage you to show them these strong examples from Oregon Metro and DRCOG to show that it can be done. Encourage your regional policymakers to step up their responsibilities to prioritize effective and equitable safety for all on our roads, sidewalks, and bikeways.