Vision Zero: There’s Pledging and Then There’s Doing

As you know, Mayor Keller announced and formally signed last week a City pledge to “work toward zero deaths from traffic crashes.” As readers also know, we here at Better Burque have been whiny advocating such a pledge for a while now.

The pledge is a very good thing, but, like any pledge, “Pledge of Allegiance” included, the words are only as good as resulting public policy actions. A big concomitant action taken by the Mayor and City is proposed renewal/revision of its Complete Streets Ordinance as discussed here yesterday. Even more important will be making the hard, financially included, decisions based on Complete Streets and other policy mechanisms that should and must drive implementation.

Yes, I know phrases like “policy mechanisms” are not only boring, but lacking in human emotion. But we don’t get exciting things like “work toward zero deaths from traffic crashes” without the devilish details and politically difficult laws (money), engineering (money), and enforcement (money) that will force the changes in human behavior that have, for decades, made 40,000 U.S. traffic deaths annually seem generally “ok” and “the cost of doing business.”

Pledges are easy. Changing human behavior is hard.

The great Angie Schmitt @schmangee at Streetsblog USA put together a visual look at traffic deaths in cities that have pledged Vision Zero in recent years.

vz and deaths larger
From Streetsblog USA

Taking a minute to decipher the trendlines above, Ms. Schmitt reflects thus: “As you can see, there appears to be some progress happening since 2016 in at least a handful of cities.” This appears to be the case, but Ms. Schmitt and others in advocacy she quotes note progress, but that the progress is too slow and inadequate to get anywhere near zero deaths anytime soon.

While Vision Zero efforts in the States are too new to draw any definitive conclusions, a look into the trendlines and public policy decisions so far reflect that universal tendency toward finding more easily adoptable “low-hanging fruit” policy, more than implementing the truly difficult changes that will make or break Vision Zero.

Taking one of the better trendlines above, New York City, a read of that city’s 2018 Vision Zero report reflects some significant engineering changes:

Since the start of Vision Zero, DOT has completed 356 safety engineering
projects. In 2017, DOT implemented a record 114 of these projects, over twice
the average annual amount prior to the start of Vision Zero. DOT also more
than doubled the previous average of new dedicated cycling space installed:
66 lane miles, of which 25 were protected lane miles. Mindful that there are
many neighborhoods in New York City with disproportionately high cyclist
KSIs and few bike lanes, DOT has made the cornerstone of its Summer 2017
report Safer Cycling the designation of 10 Priority Bicycle Districts, which will
receive 75 lane miles of new or enhanced bicycle facilities by 2022.
Leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs), signal changes that give pedestrians a
head start crossing the street, were installed at 832 locations in 2017, bringing
the total of new LPIs installed since the start of Vision Zero to more than
2,000.

In contrast, Burque at present has 0, as in zero, Leading Pedestrian Interval signals and doesn’t even extend walking crossing times in areas with higher numbers of elderly/differently-abled users (e.g., areas near hospitals). More recently, NYC Mayor DeBlasio (one of the approximately 4.3 million people now running for President in 2020) called for the following:

“This year you’re going to see more pedestrian head starts at key intersections.  It’s going to give people more time to cross the street and make them safer.  This year you’re going to see traffic lights retimed in certain key areas to reduce speeding.”

While implementing retiming of traffic lights to slow drivers down may seem “duh,” the concept goes against decades of pretty much any and all traffic engineering ethos in cities like Albuquerque. Such efforts are also often not popular and require resolute leadership that withstands significant opposition (e.g., the Zuni Rd. SE “road diet,” which your humble blogger regularly hears about from disgruntled drivers).

Now, to truly address traffic deaths, Mayor Keller (and future mayors/leaders) must foist traffic slowing measures citywide, particularly on those major roads (Coors, San Mateo, Montgomery, etc.) where a great number traffic injuries/deaths occur. We must go from pledging to doing things like, just for instance, reconstructing San Mateo Blvd. in a way that limits speeds to 30 mph.

Really. No…really.

Public support from those of us in support of the VZ pledge must also extend praise to these, hopefully soon, controversial actions. It won’t be easy. It will also have that boring (both in terms of dull and the feeling someone is drilling into one’s skull) nature of crafting and implementing public policy.

Ready? Let’s go.

 

One thought on “Vision Zero: There’s Pledging and Then There’s Doing

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