Has Vision Zero Lost Its Way?

Public Domain. Vision Zero Report: It's fine.

Laura Laker looks at the question in the Guardian, and talks to TreeHugger.

For some time I have been calling Vision Zero a failure in North America, little more than a tag line, or Band-Aids that do very little. Look at Toronto, where I live, where the Mayor called his ridiculous vision of reducing deaths by 20 percent, an “honest, realistic approach." Writing in the Guardian, Laura Laker looks at a number of cities and asks Vision Zero: has the drive to eliminate road deaths lost its way?

Vision Zero thinking

© Vision ZeroVision Zero started in Sweden, where it has been quite effective; although they are not at zero yet, it has made a dramatic difference. They figured that enforcement is important, but that it was pointless to try to “perfect human behaviour.” They try to get to the root of the problem: humans are fallible, everybody has responsibility, there are no such things as accidents but in fact solvable problems, mostly to do with road design. But as Laker notes, "Reducing road deaths in the long term means redesigning roads to restrict motor traffic – and that’s where things get difficult."

New York

Laker starts in New York City, where Vision Zero has had some success, with road deaths down 28 percent since 2013. But they have not gone nearly far enough, and every road diet and bike lane is a vicious fight. The city's priorities are differ from the original Vision Zero, and don't work particularly well. As Kate Fillin-Yeh of NACTO notes,

“If you have a programme focusing on the things that save lives, designing streets to protect people biking and walking, you will have a successful vision zero.” Focusing on education alone, she says, “won’t achieve anything”.

New York vision zero

© New York Vision Zero

Same with law enforcement, which is pretty minimal or misdirected.

Despite overall fatality reductions, between 2013 and 2017 New York hit-and-run collisions resulting in injury increased 14% to more than 5,000. NYPD make an arrest in just 9% of hit-and-run injury cases and less than half of the fatal cases. Meanwhile, NYPD ticketing of cyclists increased 25% from 2016 to 2017: 23,452 summons were issued to cyclists in 2017 alone.

As for legislation, the city barely managed to get speed cameras legal in time for school this year after a fight with Albany. If New York is held up as a role model, we are in trouble.

Los Angeles

Laker then looks at Los Angeles, where the Mayor announced Vision Zero plans last year, aiming to eliminate road deaths by 2025. It is not going well.

However, things started to unravel. On Temple Street, where 34 people were killed or severely injured within 2.3 miles in eight years, a “road diet” expected to reduce crashes by up to 47% met backlash from residents and drivers. Local city leaders downgraded lane removals to things that wouldn’t interfere with motor traffic: sidewalk repairs, new traffic signals and crosswalks. Road deaths rose rather than falling, increasing 80% in two years.


Aerial view Oxford Street

© Transport for London proposal for Oxford Street

Vision Zero got off to a rocky start.

As in LA, London’s plans for safer streets have been dogged by local opposition. In June, mayor Sadiq Khan’s flagship pedestrian safety scheme, the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street, was blocked by the local borough, Westminster city council, following local concerns about traffic displacement.

Laker interviewed me for this article, and I made the point that Vision Zero is not really Vision Zero at all.

“Everybody picks and chooses what they want, and in the end it isn’t Vision Zero at all,” Alter says. He believes Vision Zero needs stronger wording similar to the Stop de Kindermoord movement in 1970s Dutch cities. “We should rename it ‘Stop Murdering Our Kids’: make it real and make it something much stronger, because it’s just lost its meaning,” he says. “When it came over from Sweden it was a plan, it was things that we did, now it’s just a cliche.”

Read it all at the Guardian.