For much of the nation, 2020 was an awful year in terms of increased traffic fatalities (and so many other areas). Interestingly, Denver, Colorado saw a decrease in traffic deaths from 71 in 2019 to 57 in 2020 -- note that Denver’s Vision Zero leaders will be quick to acknowledge this is no cause for celebration, as that was still 57 too many lives lost -- but trending in a better direction. We were pleased to hear from two of these leaders at our April 2021 webinar, Making Progress: Vision Zero in Denver.
About Denver’s Vision Zero Progress
Rolf Eisinger, the Vision Zero Project Manager with the Denver Dept. of Transportation and Infrastructure, shared the importance of growing the internal support for Vision Zero: Since 2017 the team has grown from 6 to 18 people, and the budget from $3M to $25M, supporting a strong Action Plan. Eisinger emphasized that it takes time to see that growth and to experience real progress from investments.
He shared several key case studies and key recommendations he flagged as priorities for a strong program, including the following:
- Building a multidisciplinary Vision Zero team with thoughtful organizational structure, ranging from staff to executive management and including advocates;
- Using strong analytic and project management tools to improve project delivery, process improvement, and program management;
- Meaningful community engagement include cross-sector partnerships and building multiple levels/opportunities for folks to get involved (Great, specific models detailed below); and
- Prioritizing measurement needs to be prioritized.
On this last point, Eisinger emphasized the importance of substantial and consistent evaluation of the Vision Zero work.
Denver uses an in-depth, internal tracking system to measure and communicate progress on 67 Action Items, as well as ensure accountability for all projects, programs, and policies. An example is detailed tracking of how infrastructure projects address both the city’s High-Injury Network and its Equity Index. And the City benchmarks progress quarterly and with a more robust annual status report.
Meaningful Community Engagement, Investments
Denver’s community engagement work as part of Vision Zero is particularly impressive and a strong model from others.
Kayla Gilbert, leads the Denver Community Active Living Coalition, also part of the Denver Dept. of Transportation and Infrastructure. This is a grant-funded program focused on reducing health disparities thru active transportation and built environment strategies - including Vision Zero.
Gilbert noted the uniqueness of having a community health-focused engagement team in the executive office of the transportation agency. She also focused on the important overlap of transportation and health goals, as well as the many socio-economic, cultural, and environmental conditions related to transportation that affect community health.
“What I think is really interesting about transportation is that it is an indicator on its own in the socio-economic conditions but it's also how we access almost all of these other influences of health,” Gilbert said. “So we can’t get from our housing to great education without transportation. It’s how we access food. It’s how we got to and from the doctor...Transportation is how we connect.”
She shared many examples of the Coalition’s engagement activities, including World Day of Remembrance, Transit Equity Day, and Walk & Bike to School Days, but one really stood out.
In their Community Connector model, the Coalition (remember this is part of a city agency) hires full-time employees with lived experience in the communities they serve to focus community-driven priorities and projects.
They aim to foster trust and relationships as the department works to build projects to improve safety and health in the neighborhoods. These Community Connectors also prioritize referring people to other health resources beyond transportation, such as those related to housing and jobs.
Gilbert thinks this model is effective because the Community Connectors “lead with relationships first.” They spend their first 6-9 months attending community events, meeting people in the neighborhood, volunteering, and becoming a known, friendly face. They show up, she explains not just “when we need something” but rather with the message of “how can we help you? What do you need?”
The Coalition also ran a successful micro-grant program in the Summer of 2020. Funding intended for in-person events was stymied by the pandemic, so the group created a new budget for mini-grants to support community members’ ideas to improve walkability, bikeability, or access to safe public places.
Gilbert said her team was blown away by the amazing community leadership and wanted to empower neighborhood leaders and support their great work on the ground. The program supported 30 projects at $100-$500 each and reached more than 250 partners in development and implementation and 7,800 people were impacted by the efforts.
We encourage people to learn more about the Community Connectors model and find similar ways to meaningfully engage community members in their own neighborhoods’ planning and decision-making and futures.