Revisiting Vision Zero in DC and NYC
The Washington Post reports ("D.C. pledged to cut traffic fatalities by 2024. Deaths are up, and now the program is under audit") that advocates are complaining that DC's traffic safety initiative, Vision Zero, is ineffective as the number of traffic safety deaths has increased since the program started. In NYC, Mayor De Blasio faces similar complaints ("Things were looking up for Bill de Blasio. Then crises started piling up," Politico).
Thinking about this, one of the problems in getting a grip on the problem is that comparatively speaking, the number of traffic-related deaths in DC is relatively low, and even the same can be said for NYC, given its population.
Here are 11 points:
1. How to measure and benchmark traffic deaths? Because traffic-related deaths in cities like DC are comparatively low, I've found it difficult to get a handle on how to think about this.
This blog entry, "First global benchmark for road safety in cities published by International Transport Forum," calls our attention to the metric promoted by the ITF, fatalities per 100,000 residents.
They used the measure "deaths per 100,000 residents." Stockholm had the fewest deaths on that score, 0.9 per 100,000, while Montreal had 1.8.
But with 700,000 residents, that means that DC's fatality rate is 4.28, almost five times higher than Stockholm, which has a population about 25% larger than DC, or 952,000 residents. The study recognizes that better measures, including daytime population numbers--nonresident workers and visitors--are necessary to get a better handle on what the data means.
DC has a high daytime population, but so do most of the other comparison cities. So now I see, comparatively speaking, DC's road-related fatality rate is pretty high.
The study finds that in cities, walking and cycling death rates are lower compared to countries as a whole, and within metropolitan areas, center cities are safer for vulnerable road users. Interestingly, the risk to men is about double that of women. Younger and older age cohorts are more vulnerable as well.
The report, Safer City Streets: Global Benchmarking for Urban Road Safety, makes some important recommendations.
2. The issues are unchanging. Basically what I wrote about this issue last year is still completely relevant, pretty much explains what's going on.
3. Government has a bias for inaction*. A big issue is that transportation agencies (and government agencies more generally), even very good ones like NYCDOT, aren't always that proactive, and tend to not have "a sense of urgency" when it comes to action.
It varies depending on the mayor. It's fair to say that in NYC Mayor De Blasio cares a lot less about this than former Mayor Bloomberg ("A Playbook on the Politics of Better Streets," Bloomberg), and in DC, most elected officials are from "the outer city" where the automobile remains dominant ("DC as a suburban agenda dominated city," 2013).
That's why too often, improvements are implemented after someone dies rather than systematically addressing problems beforehand ("Salt Lake City paints crosswalk where children were struck on way to school," Salt Lake Tribune).
A key point in the iterative improvement of my writings on Vision Zero is focusing initiatives in terms of the "6 E's" of sustainable mobility planning ("Updating Vision Zero approaches," 2016).
One of the reasons for failures in improvement resulting from Vision Zero "initiatives" is the lack of a systematic approach.
* A bias for inaction is a riff on the "bias for action" element of forward-looking corporations as discussed in the book The Search For Excellence.("Putting a Bias for Action into Planning Agency Management: A Practitioner's Perspective," Public Administration Review, 1986).
4. Planning for mode versus planning for place and livability. More recently, I wrote a piece, "Planning for place/urban design/neighborhoods versus planning for transportation modes: new 17th Street NW bike lanes | Walkable community planning versus "pedestrian" planning," making the point that there is a difference between planning for sustainable modes like walking or biking, versus planning an environment that is pro-walking, pro-biking, and pro-transit from a sustainable mobility standpoint more generally ("Extending the "Signature Streets" concept to "Signature Streets and Spaces"" "50 Reasons Why Everyone Should Want More Walkable Streets: from the Arup report, Cities Alive – Towards a walking world," "Further updates to the Sustainable Mobility Platform Framework").
Just focusing "on walking" or "biking" or "transit" is too limiting. Transportation agencies need to plan for "urbanity", "livability, "placemaking," and "quality of life."
A good example is how applying Safe Routes to School approaches have broader benefits for the neighborhoods where the school is located.
5. Not treating the road system as a network. I've come to understand that looking at individual elements of the transportation infrastructure rather than the network is a problem. Often there are streets referred to as "Boulevards of Death" ("'Boulevards of death': why pedestrian road fatalities are surging in the US," Guardian, "A more radical approach to "Vision Zero" is needed: reconstructing streets out of different materials to reduce speeds," 2019, "Pedestrian fatalities and street redesign," 2019). That's because the failures are systematic and result from urban design.
While it's not uncommon to at least mention this with biking ("1979 Delft cycling master plan," Bicycle Dutch blog) it's rare for traffic engineers to consider major streets as a sub-network element and consider intersections as a whole ("Barnes Dance Intersections as possible "solutions" to Wisconsin & M, 14th and U intersections," 2014).
While the Smart Transportation Guidebook doesn't call for treating streets as systems and networks, it does provide a great framework for thinking about some of these issues in terms of:
- land use context
- whether roads are local or regionally serving
- desired operating speed of traffic, and
- roadway and roadside characteristics in terms of (1), (2) and (3)
6. Traffic deaths can be broadly categorized into three segments. In reading the Politico article, it occurred to me that from "a big data" perspective, in center cities you can segment traffic-related deaths in three broad categories:
- drivers generally unfamiliar with driving in cities, in "mixed traffic," that is alongside pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users, where pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users make up a preponderance of traffic. Such drivers don't think of non-automobiles as being legitimate users of the right of way. As a bicyclist in DC, a majority of the incidents I had with motor vehicles had non-DC license plates.
- traffic engineering and design that promotes automobility over pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, when those users make up a preponderance or majority of traffic. This can be as simple as pedestrian timing signals that don't provide enough time to get across the street, and putting bicyclists and motor vehicles in conflict by the way roads are designed.,
- reckless driving by motor vehicle operators.
But typically this isn't a process with much public involvement, and because of the bias of inaction, it can take a long time to make change. So open it up, make this a function of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee.
11. Mapping pedestrian, bicycle, transit and car accidents. Systematic collection and publication of accident data is key to doing the kind of analysis where you can make extraordinary improvements through urban design changes (blog entry, 2009)..
Labels: bicycle and pedestrian planning, car culture and automobility, civic engagement, public safety, sustainable mobility platform, traffic engineering, traffic safety and enforcement, urban design/placemaking