April 21, 2023 BY Jenn Foxin Case Studies, News

Where to Start on the Road to Vision Zero

Interest in Vision Zero is growing across the U.S. and the world. Many are wondering: “Where do we start?” While every community is different, there are some common first steps that we recommend. So, whether you are a mayor, a transportation planner or engineer, or a community advocate, we hope the following list of early actions – and linked resources – will support your work on the road to Zero.

1. Build on Vision Zero fundamentals & Safe System approach

Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate roadway deaths and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. It is built on the belief that all people have the right to safe mobility. The foundation of Vision Zero is the Safe System approach, which recognizes that people will sometimes make mistakes and that human bodies are vulnerable.

Traditional approach versus Vision Zero
More is described in our Core Elements for Vision Zero Communities and our webinar Vision Zero 101

Common question: What is the Safe System approach and why is it so important to Vision Zero? The Safe System approach focuses on the responsibility to do all we can to both prevent crashes from happening, and to minimize the harm caused when crashes do occur. Vision Zero is more than a goal, or a slogan, or even a new program – it is a fundamental shift in how we think about and work on roadway safety. Leaders from Tacoma, Philadelphia, and Denver explain in this Safe System Foundation webinar.

Common question: What is the role of enforcement? Traditional roadway safety efforts have emphasized the personal responsibility of individuals, focusing on encouraging, educating and enforcing strategies to help people behave responsibly. The Safe System approach, on the other hand, recognizes that people will inevitably make mistakes, so focuses upstream on designing and managing safe systems – road infrastructure, vehicles, and related policies, rather than relying on enforcement. We encourage communities to depend less on this reactive, punitive strategy and to center equity. Read more about rethinking the role of enforcement in traffic safety here and here.

2. Assess your community’s traffic safety situation

Los Angeles High Injury Network
Los Angeles overlaid its High Injury Network with data from the city’s Health and Equity Index to combine demographic, socio-economic, health conditions, land use, transportation, crime, and pollution burden into a single lens to inform infrastructure investment priorities.

Vision Zero focuses on preventing roadway deaths and serious injuries. This starts with understanding what and where the most problems are, then prioritizing resources to make systemic improvements. Data should be analyzed over at least five years to identify locations and types of serious crashes and to identify patterns. It is beneficial to supplement police crash records, which can omit important information, with public health and equity data for a fuller picture, as described here.

With this data, communities should develop a High Injury Network (HIN) to focus limited resources on the most problematic locations and issues. It is important to overlay the HIN with other data – such as health equity and demographic information.

In addition to this quantitative data, practitioners should bring in qualitative data derived from community engagement. Numbers and statistics don’t always tell the full story, and people’s lived experiences are necessary to developing a full picture of risk factors on the HIN. For example, some streets might be intimidating to walk or bike on, deterring people or causing people to make unsafe choices. Community engagement to understand more about placement of safe crossings or streetlights could improve safe access. This multi-layered input should inform your Vision Zero work – from planning to prioritization to action and accountability.

3. Engage stakeholders and build common understanding and vision

Prioritizing community input and creating a strong Vision Zero Task Force are important ways to engage diverse stakeholders in shaping the work, build buy-in for change, and foster support for Vision Zero safety actions.

Common question: When is the best time to involve the community? The community should be engaged early and often. Read more about Promising Practices for Meaningful Public Involvement in Transportation Decision-Making, developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Vision Zero’s data-driven, Safe System approach helps us recognize that many of traffic safety problems are not accidental; rather they stem from patterns of disinvestment and under-investment in communities, particularly historically Black communities. More about reaching out to, and compensating participants in underserved communities for their input is described here: Building Capacity & Empowering People with Funding.

Common question: Is a Vision Zero Task Force needed? Because Vision Zero tackles interconnected systems affecting mobility – transportation, law enforcement, policy, health, technology, communication – communities need to ensure meaningful interagency collaboration. The Task Force should meet regularly and support consistent communication, coordination and adaptive management. Our resource about creating and sustaining a strong Task Force shares ways to maintain focus, collaboration, and accountability over time.

4. Leadership and sustained commitment are critical

An urgent, clear, and sustained public commitment to reaching Vision Zero within a set timeframe should come from the highest-ranking public officials in a community, usually the Mayor and City Council, as well as leaders of the major agencies that should be involved. Check out this Components of a Strong Vision Zero Commitment one-page reference, read this CityLab article, and download a Vision Zero Model Resolution developed by Change Lab Solutions. Building strong, cross-agency leadership and institutionalizing commitments is important, as elected leaders will move on.

A clear signal of priority from community leaders is also important in aligning the multiple agencies that influence roadway safety issues – from the transportation/public works department, to include public health, policymakers, enforcement, and community members. Examples of city commitments to the goal of Vision Zero within a specific timeframe include these Executive Orders from Houston and Jersey City, and this City Council Resolution from Berkeley. The City of Alameda Vision Zero page includes links to its Vision Zero Plan, Vision Zero updates, videos with the Mayor, specific safety improvement resolutions, and budgets for accelerating improvements.

5. Develop, implement, and monitor a strong Vision Zero Action Plan

A Vision Zero Action Plan should be based on data and community input (see #2 above); identify priorities and strategies; and provide transparency and accountability. While the goal, or vision, is important, the Plan also needs actionable strategies, focused on managing speeds, designing roadways for safety, and centering equity (more described here). Each Action Plan strategy should identify the lead agency responsible, along with supporting/partner agencies, a projected timeline, and budget needs. Components should be underpinned by a process of continued community engagement and attention to equity. Check out:

Common question: Should we hire a consultant to develop the Action Plan or develop the Plan in-house? Either approach can be effective, as long as in-house staff and leadership are deeply involved and feel ownership over Plan development and results. The process of development is just as important as the Plan itself because it brings key players more fully into the work.

Common question: How can we track progress (and challenges) and update the public? Regular updates in public meetings and annual reports help communities to evaluate and improve work toward Vision Zero. For example, Denver speaks about their monitoring and prioritization work in this webinar. And advocates have an essential role to play, as described in this webinar about Vision Zero review and report cards.

Common question: What should we think about when updating our Vision Zero Action Plan? Check out Pivoting to a Safe Systems Approach, It Is Time to Evolve Beyond the Es, and Demystifying the Safe System Approach resource for more about how to integrate a Safe System approach in planning and implementation, and also to recognize and elevate equity issues, including re-thinking the role of traditional enforcement.

Additional Questions

Common question: How can we fund Vision Zero efforts? Resources are available for roadway safety improvements. Consider the USDOT Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program and learn about state funding.

Common question: My community is small or rural, does Vision Zero fit for us? The fundamental principles of Vision Zero and the Safe System approach are the same, though may have different applications depending on the kind of community. National Center for Rural Road Safety and FHWA resources focus on smaller and rural communities.

Common question: What’s the role of regional entities in Vision Zero? Learn about ways to coordinate with regional partners, such as Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs): Centering Safety at Metropolitan Planning Organizations by Vision Zero Network and a Guide for Metropolitan Planning Organizations and Local Communities by FHWA.

The need for change is urgent: an average of 115 people lose their lives each day in this nation in roadway crashes. The loss and suffering are avoidable, and we have a responsibility to prevent these tragedies with safer systems for everyday transportation. Vision Zero’s priorities to engage the community, center equity, build safe systems and manage speed may look different in different communities, and they core to making life-saving, lasting change.

What we do matters. In your work, remember that Vision Zero is not just a tagline — it is a fundamental shift in how we think about and approach safe mobility. Vision Zero Network is excited to support your community toward the goal of safe mobility for all people.

Watch these related webinars: Vision Zero 101: Learning the Basics, and Vision Zero 201: How to shift to the Safe System Approach; and read Fundamentals of Vision Zero Action Planning and Core Elements for Vision Zero Communities.

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