What is Vision Zero?
Vison Zero is the next big thing in bike and pedestrian safety in New York City, and its implementation under the leadership of Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Department of Transportation is attracting attention from around the country. Vision Zero is a new way of thinking about traffic “accidents” and the injuries and fatalities that result from them. The “Zero” refers to a goal of zero traffic fatalities by 2024. In order to achieve this, all traffic “accidents” are treated as a result of policy and planning decisions, therefore not accidents at all. This mentality stands in contrast to a traditional view of these incidents as somehow unavoidable, especially in dense urban settings where interactions between motorists and non-motorists are frequent.
When planners and policy makers shift to a Vision Zero mentality, they are free to experiment with a wider range of policy and planning tools in order to prevent collisions. These tools include better engineering and planning of urban streetscapes with accessible and welcoming pedestrian and cyclist facilities, new penalties for speeding or aggressive driving and enforcement through a variety of means, and even laws that reduce local speed limits and/or create special low-speed zones. Vision Zero also deviates from traditional traffic engineering in that a broad range of stakeholder groups are involved in achieving the safety goals. Of course planners and engineers are involved, but police and emergency responders, community groups, local businesses, and community institutions also provide input and energy. Moreover, legislators are asked to pass supportive legislation; in New York City’s case, state lawmakers have been asked to pass bills implementing red light cameras, providing the City with authority to lower the local speed limit to 25 MPH, and imposing tougher consequences for driving on the sidewalk
The City Council has also been an active participant in Vision Zero, making it a misdemeanor for any motorist to hit a pedestrian or bicyclist who has the right of way (previously, it was not automatically a criminal offense). They’ve also passed Cooper’s Law, giving the city the power to suspend or revoke the license of a cabdriver who kills or maims a pedestrian with the right of way on a New York street. This may not sound radical, but up to a few weeks ago, taxi drivers who killed or grievously injured pedestrians faced relatively minor penalties and often could be driving again shortly.
Vision Zero aims to be a comprehensive safety effort, so it augments these street design and enforcement policies with education. In New York City, a coordinated marketing and public education campaign has been undertaken that aims to raise the profile of traffic safety problems and, hopefully, to transform cultural attitudes toward traffic fatalities and injuries.
Does it work?
Vision Zero in NYC is based on a successful Swedish program that has reduced traffic deaths by more than one half since it was written into law in 1997. In the United States, Vision Zero-type programs in Minnesota, Utah, and Washington State have reduced traffic fatalities from 40-48%.
What is the background on the New York City effort?
New York City’s focus on preventing pedestrian injury began with the Bloomberg administration’s Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Her overriding objective was to claim a larger share of the pavement for pedestrians and cyclists and shift the focus of the transportation network away from the minority of New Yorkers who own cars and toward the majority who don’t. In the course of Sadik-Khan’s seven-year tenure, the bike share program was launched and NYC’s bike lane network doubled to 600 miles. NYCDOT also experimented with a range of treatments to create pedestrian plazas and zones. Building on the foundations laid by the preceding administration, Vision Zero was launched by the de Blasion administration in 2014.