Tuesday, December 2, 2014

For transportation leaders, the number zero is a really big deal

Earlier last month we reported on the Statement of Principles from the Vision Zero Symposium for CitiesAs a follow-up, the CEO of Alliance for Biking and Walking, Jeff Miller, wrote a great piece today that contains highlights and lessons learned that should be useful to local campaigns to reduce bike/ped fatalities and injuries.  It also includes links to useful resources on the "Vision Zero" campaign.

For Transportation Leaders, The Number Zero is a Really Big Deal

The most important number in biking and walking advocacy is the number for "nothing." But it is a really big goal.

The number is zero.

Last month, at Transportation Alternatives' Vision Zero Symposium for Cities in New York, 300 transportation advocacy and policymaking leaders came together to focus on the number zero. Specifically, these leaders concentrated on Vision Zero: the goal of eliminating all traffic deaths and serious injuries.
Photo courtesy Transportation Alternatives
The idea behind Vision Zero is that no one should lose their life while trying to get from one place to another. No child or senior should die while crossing the street. No parent should be killed while riding a bike. No loved one should be lost just because they were driving.

A key aspect of this work is the acknowledgement that human beings make mistakes all the time. While we can’t prevent humans from making mistakes or poor choices, we can limit the impact of those missteps by designing our streets for safety. It’s up to engineers and planners to design systems that make common mistakes non-catastrophic. When we build streets that prioritize pedestrian movement, physically protect bicycle riders, and slow down automobile traffic, we prioritize safety in our communities. These design decisions, along with rules and enforcement of those rules, can stop crashes from happening in the first place.

Many people automatically assume we can never get to zero traffic fatalities. Among their objections: “There are too many variables!” “You’ll never get all people to follow all the rules all the time!”
These protestations are symptomatic of a culture that far too readily accepts preventable tragedies. Traffic deaths are too often dismissed as happenstance or attributed to being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Indeed, Vision Zero leaders talk openly about culture change. Matts-Åke Belin, traffic safety strategist with the Swedish Transport Administration, acknowledges that “the idea that it’s not acceptable to be killed or seriously injured when you’re transporting” is a major departure from the commonly accepted idea that there will always be a human cost to any transportation system.

Still, Sweden’s Vision Zero initiative has brought the number of traffic deaths down from 7 traffic fatalities per 100,000 people to fewer than 3 fatalities per 100,000. We have a lot of work to do in the United States, where there are 11.6 road fatalities per 100,000 people.

Growing efforts in New York, San Francisco, Portland, and other areas hope to replicate Sweden’s success. Belin noted that Vision Zero will be done differently in each city. Every community has different challenges and realities, but Vision Zero can and should be adapted by all.

It was an honor to represent the Alliance at such a groundbreaking, action-oriented, and richly educational symposium. We were pleased to see so many of our member organizations and many of our national partners, including PeopleForBikes, at the Symposium. The Alliance will continue to work with Transportation Alternatives and our many member organizations to advance Vision Zero work around North America. We are working with several Alliance member organizations to coordinate, support, and disseminate information in Vision Zero advocacy campaigns. Through our Advocacy Advance partnership with the League of American Bicyclists, we also made two big investments in Vision Zero campaigns in Philadelphia and Oregon

In the spirit of sharing innovative ideas – a core tenet of the Alliance’s work – I’d like to summarize a handful of compelling ideas that leaders offered at the Symposium. Scroll down for key highlights and resources from the Symposium, and keep an eye out for a full white paper from Transportation Alternatives in the coming months.

Key highlights

  • Share the stories of the people behind the statistics. This is one of the most important ways to get people to realize that enough is enough. Work in partnership with families who have lost loved ones. Theirs are the most powerful voices in bringing attention and helping educate policymakers. In New York, Families for Safe Streets was a key partner in the campaign to lower the city’s speed limit.
  • Cross-agency collaboration is essential. Partnerships among departments of transportation, public health, enforcement, and taxi commissions are instrumental. In New York, Mayor de Blasio has made Vision Zero a priority and his agency leaders have worked together under this direction.
  • Safety cameras are incredibly effective at changing dangerous behavior and preventing fatalities. (Also, note the nomenclature: “safety cameras,” not “speed cameras” or “red light cameras.”) Gabe Klein, former Director of the DC Department of Transportation, noted that traffic deaths in DC dropped from over 70 per year to under 20 largely because of safety cameras. New York City has seen 11-46% drops in speeding where their two dozen safety cameras have been installed.
  • While stories are key, stats and facts are important in educating the public and dispelling myths. For example: You are twice as likely to die if you are hit by a car going 30 MPH instead of 25 MPH. In New York City, dangerous driver choices like speeding and failure to yield are the primary or contributing cause of 70% of pedestrian fatalities. Statistics can also be crucial for accountability. The New York Police Department’s Traffic Stat is a powerful motivator within the agency. 
  • Acknowledge that the burden of traffic tragedies to not affect all neighborhoods equally. There are well-documented correlations between underserved communities and higher traffic deaths. Poorer areas have approximately double the fatality rates of wealthier communities. In New York City, the intersections with the most fatal crashes are located near public housing developments. 
  • Find innovative ways to invest in safety. Paying for improvements associated with Vision Zero can be captured in tolls, and would be an ideal compliment to congestion pricing. Innovative plans like the Move NY Fair Tolling Plan could help resolve significant gaps in tolling while improving the condition of local roads.
  • Good transit is part of the solution. Studies have shown a direct correlation between reductions in roadway deaths and increases in transit trips, such as trips associated with new bus rapid transit systems


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