Vision Zero. It’s a cool name for a radical goal: to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries for all drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians to zero.
The concept began in Sweden in the 1990s, has proven successful across Europe, and was adopted by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock in 2016. Vision Zero goes beyond the traditional, piecemeal approach to traffic safety. It is a systemic method, utilizing data analysis, collaboration between traffic planners, engineers, policymakers, and public health professionals, roadway restructuring, speed management, equity (the idea that everyone has a right to safely travel no matter how they travel) and community engagement (so enforcement does not rile existing tensions, i.e., profiling).
In other words, Vision Zero prioritizes human life and health over travel speed. Accidents, the strategy insists, are not really “accidents.” They are preventable if transportation systems prioritize safety. That may seem extreme, but consider this– 40,000 people die on American roadways every year, more casualties than the entire population of Northglenn. That’s extreme too.
Can Vision Zero really stop the madness?
Mayor Hancock hopes so. Denver is in the process of implementing a plan to reduce traffic deaths and serious injuries to zero by 2030. The strategy includes building bike lanes, sidewalks and curb extensions, traffic calming measures, and improved street lighting. Since 50% of traffic fatalities occur on just 5% of Denver’s streets– the HIN, or High Injury Network– the city is focusing efforts on those areas.
And improvement is needed. Denver is up to six times more dangerous for travelers than cities of comparable size, like Seattle and Oklahoma City. Ten percent of the city still lacks sidewalks. Denver’s 2019 traffic fatality rate already equals that of 2018, with two months left in the year.
That’s why the 2019 city budget includes $3 million for new sidewalks, $7.1 million for bicycle paths, $4.3 million for Vision Zero general projects, especially Safe Routes to School, $500 thousand to redesign the cloverleaf interchange of Federal and Colfax, and $500 thousand for developing “Complete Streets Design Guidelines” that prioritize equity and human life in all transit design decisions. Notoriously dangerous Federal Boulevard is being improved as well, with work to be completed in early 2020.
Getting Better and Better
This is progress. Just imagine citywide travel, by any method, that doesn’t risk your life!
Or, Vision Zero advocates would put it, imagine a world where “collateral damage” is not an acceptable side effect of mobility. Imagine a world where zero travel deaths is normal. Imagine a world where everyone walks, bikes, or drives in perfect safety!
That sounds good to us, too.
Article by Molly Fuscher