Blog › 10 U.S. cities aiming for Vision Zero


10 U.S. cities aiming for Vision Zero

Marc Lefkowitz  |  08/17/15 @ 11:00am

It may not rival Lebron’s big college scholarship program with University of Akron, but Boston worker’s comp and injury attorney John J. Sheehan is offering college scholarships to young adults with spotless driving records. Sheehan is digging into his pocket to help law students through a Vision Zero Auto Accident Prevention Scholarship.

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Vision Zero—the safe streets movement that started in 1997 in Sweden and jumped the pond last year—has really gained steam—with 10 U.S. cities now fully committed to a policy of reducing traffic fatalities to zero.

The high-profile cases of New York and San Francisco adopting Vision Zero in 2014 raised the profile and started cities like Seattle, Boston, Austin, and recently Washington, D.C. on the path. The 10 cities doesn’t include Los Angeles whose city council this month made Vision Zero a goal of its Transportation Strategic Plan. Or other cities—from Houston to Cleveland—where the conversation has started.

What is Vision Zero? New York sees it—and their directive to reduce speed limits in the Big Apple to 25 mph—as a major health initiative. Others adhere to goals of safety and equity as they shine a light on dangerous roads in the city.

As this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer notes, “Vision Zero addresses two primary causes that lead to severe crashes: Poorly enforced traffic laws and poorly designed streets and intersections.”

Vision Zero itself isn’t a panacea; just as important is finding the right safety initiatives. So, for example, San Francisco tapped its tech community to set up an interagency, open-source database using injury and fatality figures to visualize the city’s most dangerous streets. This matters, wrote Next City, because most pedestrian danger zones are complaint driven and are in low-income neighborhoods where they’re less likely to be reported to city hall.

What about the critics who want to know if Vision Zero working? As Sweden discovered, fatalities caused by cars have dropped from 541 to 314 a year. Likewise, in New York fatalities are dropping, while accountability—like when a bus driver struck and killed an elderly woman recently—is rising (the city agreed to fix some of the worst roads despite push back from safety and transit officials).

Instead of calling it an accident and moving on, Vision Zero is a framework for making better decisions.

In my experience, speaking to local safety officials, they appreciate the goals of Vision Zero. The policy changes the game from pointing fingers to using data to identify the worst places while prioritizing a path to fixing chronic offenders. Anyone who’s walked or biked has probably come across a dangerous intersection or a road that was poorly designed in Cleveland. Vision Zero could give us some hope for working out a solution.

In addition to catching speeders and reducing their ability to speed with traffic calming, a secondary benefit of Vision Zero could be in creating a culture that values safety, particularly for those who get behind the wheel. Since young and older adults are by far the most frequent to be involved in fatal car crashes, we take note and commend the culture shift that the Boston policy has inspired.

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