Where to Start on the Road to Vision Zero

by Jenn Fox February 10, 2022 in Case Studies, News

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 important 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 in starting on the road to Zero.

1. Educate yourself and others on Vision Zero fundamentals

Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. The approach recognizes that people will sometimes make mistakes, so we have a responsibility to design and operate a transportation system that makes inevitable mistakes less severe. It is important to recognize that 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.

More is described in our Core Elements for Vision Zero Communities and our webinar Vision Zero 101.

Traditional approach versus Vision Zero

2. Assess your community’s traffic safety situation

Los Angeles High Injury Network
Los Angeles overlaid the High Injury Network with data from Healthy Los Angeles using the 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 traffic fatalities 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 important 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. Mapping the HIN with quantitative data – and qualitative, based on community input – should inform prioritization and accountability, incorporate equity goals, and support interagency collaboration. Read more about HIN examples in San Francisco, Denver and San Jose, CA.

3. Build common understanding of challenges and opportunities

Prioritizing community and creating a Vision Zero Task Force are critical steps to build engagement and buy-in for change. Both of these will help cities share data and best practices with other key internal stakeholders and the public. 

Common question: When is the best time to involve the community? The community should be engaged early and often. Attention must be paid to center equity. Vision Zero’s data-driven, Safe System approach helps us recognize that the concentration of traffic safety problems are not accidental but largely the result of patterns of disinvestment and under-investment in certain communities, particularly historically Black communities.

Simultaneously, practitioners need to listen to and understand lived experiences. For example, some streets might be intimidating to walk or bike on, deterring people, and so may not show up on a HIN, but with safe crossings or streetlights to improve safe access, some areas may invite more use. And agencies should compensate participants in underserved communities for their time and expertise. Read more about Building Capacity & Empowering People with Funding. As this overview of work in Portland, OR describes, equity work is ongoing.

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. This often means supporting culture change within agencies and in the community, including setting up systems to move past typical silo-ization between agencies. The Task Force should meet regularly and support consistent communication, coordination and revisions to Vision Zero work over time, as described in our resource about creating and sustaining a strong Task Force. This is key to maintaining focus and accountability over time.

4. City commitment is required

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 the 9 Components of a Strong Vision Zero Commitment and this CityLab article.

Sending a clear signal of priority from the top leaders in the community is important in aligning the multiple agencies that touch traffic safety issues – not just the transportation/public works department, but also public health, policymakers, enforcement, and community members. Examples of strong, official 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, CA. The City of Alameda Vision Zero page includes links to its Vision Zero Plan, Vision Zero updates, including videos with the Mayor, Resolutions for specific safety improvements, and budget required to accelerate improvements. Building strong, cross-agency leadership and institutionalizing commitments is important, as elected leaders will move on.

5. Develop, implement, and monitor a strong VZ Action Plan

A Vision Zero Action Plan should identify priorities and provide transparency and accountability. While the goal, or vision, is important, the Plan should lay out actionable, measurable strategies, focused on managing speeds, designing roadways for safety, and 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: What should we think about when updating our Vision Zero Action Plan? Check out Pivoting to a Safe Systems Approach and It Is Time to Evolve Beyond the Es 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.

Common question: How can we track progress (and challenges) and update the public? Regular updates in public meetings and sharing 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 important role to play, as described in this webinar about Vision Zero review and report cards in Denver, Boston, and Cambridge.

The issue before us is urgent: an average of 115 people lose their lives each day in this nation in traffic crashes. This 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, but 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 & Vision Zero 201: How to shift to the Safe System approach.

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