For many years cities throughout the United States have dealt with increasing numbers of traffic incidents resulting in passenger and pedestrian injuries and fatalities. In response to the losses to individuals and communities, many cities have begun implementation of Vision Zero, a long term safety program designed to implement fundamental changes in the planning approach to traffic safety. In this article, Denise Hamet discusses Vision Zero and its recent growth in American communities, including the latest implementation of the program this year in Cincinnati.
Vision Zero is an international road traffic safety project. The project began in Sweden in 1997 and has expanded throughout the world in the years since. The program is intended to work toward a roadway and traffic system without serious injuries or deaths resulting from traffic. The core concept of the program is to move planners away from a pure economic cost-benefit analysis to one that doesn’t merely place a dollar value on human health and life, looking instead to a more holistic approach to risk management and planning.
Vision Zero breaks from traditional planning and incorporates a multidisciplinary approach to traffic and roadway planning. Active collaboration between traffic planners and engineers, public health professionals, and policymakers is key to the Vision Zero approach. As a result, the shared goal of zero severe injuries or deaths includes consideration of road design, speed limitations, technologies, traffic policies, and user behaviors. The program breaks from traditional assumptions that death and injury are inevitable in the planning process and takes human error and actions into account in the process.
Since the beginning of the Vision Zero program, many countries have seen reductions in traffic-related injuries and deaths. The Swedish Parliament implemented Vision Zero in 1999; as a result, Sweden’s road fatality rate fell 55 percent between 1994 and 2015. Other countries such as the Netherlands and Norway have taken similar approaches. According to a recent study by the World Resources Institute (WRI), countries employing a Safe System such as Vision Zero have achieved both the lowest rates of traffic deaths and the largest reductions in fatalities over the past 20 years.
Many U.S. cities have begun adaptation of Vision Zero concepts in vehicular and pedestrian traffic in recent years. Across a wide variety of traffic planning applications, cities have been implementing multi-departmental collaboration while focusing on decision making based on relevant data and prioritization of proven safety measures.
Several major and some smaller cities have made affirmative commitments to Vision Zero and are in multiple stages of development of the program in traffic and roadway planning. Since 2014, Vision Zero programs have been approved in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Austin, among others.
As of 2019, the City of Cincinnati is moving forward with comprehensive implementation of the Vision Zero safety program. Currently, the city is seeking community input regarding school zone safety, general traffic safety throughout the city, and mapping of specific areas that are known to residents as specific traffic safety concerns.
The city expects to take data gathered from the community for comparison to official traffic data to develop broad policy recommendations for traffic and pedestrian safety. The city expects recommendations in various categories, including Education, Enforcement, and Engineering.
The city has also appointed a pedestrian safety manager and allocated $250,000 for additional pedestrian safety spending for FY2020. In support of the Vision Zero launch, the city has also brought online an interactive Vision Zero website to act as a hub for all city-related traffic information, surveys, and reporting concerns.
The city’s proactive approach to traffic safety planning through Vision Zero will produce exciting results in the coming months. It will continue to directly involve community members in the active initiation and carrying out of the program.
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