How Cities Are Moving Toward Vision Zero


Everyday, I see interesting examples of data making a difference in understanding and determing policy.  You wouldn’t be incorrect to note that I am a data guy who gets geeked out about seeing examples of analytics – particularly spatial analytics – at work in shaping government action and constituent services.  When it comes to initiatives in which data has been truly impactful, the Vision Zero initiative really stands out; and, the Vision Zero implementations I have seen across the country are truly impressive.

For those not familiar with Vision Zero, it is a multi-national road-safety initiative that began in Sweden, but has expanded globally.  Vision Zero started in the U.S. in 2014, and as of August last year, Vision Zero is in 18 cities across the country.  Vision Zero seeks to eliminate traffic deaths and injuries through shared responsibility for the safety of travelers by transportation system designers and road users.  Traffic deaths are a global problem – in fact, every year more than one million people die in traffic-related accidents around the world.  Another sobering fact – for people aged between 15 and 29, road traffic accidents are the most common way to die.

To address this serious issue, Vision Zero aims to bring together both transportation system designers and road users to work together to design the entire transportation system to accommodate human fallibility.  What does that mean?  In a nutshell, humans are not perfect:  they are always going to make mistakes and our transport systems have to be created in a way that takes our very human nature into consideration. And the data shows this approach is working:  traffic deaths in New York City (the first city in the U.S. to adopt Vision Zero) are down 22 percent since 2013, just before the city launched Vision Zero.

Take distracted driving:  Distraction.gov has some alarming information about this issue on their webpage, including this gem – a 2015 Erie Insurance survey found that one-third of drivers admitted to texting while drive, and three-quarters say they have seen others text while driving.  Education about the dangers of distracted driving helps, but so does designing roads with human nature in mind.

To that end, some cities in our country are engaged in truly innovative work around the goals of Vision Zero, and I wanted to share a few examples with you.  These examples bring together the secret sauce for impactful actionable data – they enable interaction with data to provide a context for that data which has led to better informed policies.  Check these out:

  • Portland, Oregon: Long known as a city that embraces walking, bicycling, and public transport with livable neighborhoods, Portland is committed to protect the health of their residents by addressing behaviors and infrastructure gaps that put people’s lives at risk.  The need has become ever more acute as gentrification and changing demographics force low-income, transit-dependent residents into neighborhoods where walking is especially dangerous.  In areas of Portland where streets were built to move cars efficiently, they must be redesigned to move people safely. Vision Zero’s guiding principles and actions prioritize infrastructure investment on the city’s most dangerous streets in traditionally under-invested communities.  You can learn more about their approach to Vision Zero here.
  • Los Angeles, California: In 2015, Mayor Garcetti launched LA’s Vision Zero making human life the top priority in the design of Los Angeles’ city streets.  Their goals are to reduce citywide traffic deaths by 20 percent by 2017 and to eliminate traffic deaths citywide by 2025.  Their analysis of collision data found that children, older adults, and people who walk and ride bikes are at the greatest risk for collisions that result in severe injury or death.  In LA, people walking and bicycling are involved in only 14 percent of all collisions but account for almost half of all traffic deaths.  In January, LA released their Vision Zero Action Plan which offers a comprehensive look at their approach to eliminating traffic deaths.  Check out their efforts here.
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida: Motorists who want to avoid running into a road block or getting stuck in a traffic jam can use the City of Fort Lauderdale’s searchable, mobile-friendly map, LauderStreet to get to their destination safer and sooner.  LauderStreet provides location-specific information about current and upcoming road and sidewalk closures in the City’s public right-of-way.  The goal of LauderStreet is to improve traffic flow in the City to help prevent delays, make traveling to and from a destination more efficient, and to make City streets safer – which supports the City’s Vision Zero goal of achieving zero traffic-related deaths or serious injuries on their streets.  You can check out this new initiative here.

Vision Zero has a big goal – to eliminate traffic deaths, and cities across the world are signing on to find ways to keep their citizens safer.  This is the kind of data-driven policy making that energizes me and makes me eager to see what’s next.

Christian Carlson is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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chris timmerman

Risk is inherent in life. Comes with the territory of being human. When can one predict when an individual will have a heart attack, epileptic seizure, or stroke while driving on any given day in any given major city.