Vision Zero Is Tough in North America, When the Drivers Have the Votes

Senior Safety Zone

Local politics win over saving lives every time.

Writing from Los Angeles, Matthew Fleischer complains that pedestrian fatalities are up 58 percent over the last two years, and that the City is doing nothing about it.

City officials’ lackluster response to the rising body count seems to indicate that pedestrian safety falls somewhere between tree trimming and gum removal on their priorities list. In fairness, though, they face a political backlash whenever they try to improve pedestrian safety.

In fact, when a "road diet" was applied to a few intersections, motorists organized a recall campaign and got the improvements pulled out. Fleischer notes that traffic lights and fear of tickets doesn't work. "We need infrastructure that forces drivers to slow down and respect the rights of pedestrians."

But readers didn't agree; a few lives are a small price to pay when people are in a hurry. Tweeter Peter Flax pointed out some comments:

I just get angry whenever I read an op-ed wanting to slow everybody down even more. Saving a couple of people's lives is not worth slowing down millions of people in a city that already moves at a snail's pace. So the author can take his column, roll it up, and put it you know where.

Pedestrians should know their place, and never try and cross the street.

I always laugh when I read these whiny articles about "poor" pedestrians. They need to understand that the streets are for vehicles and the sidewalks are for pedestrians. Venture onto a roadway and you take your chances. Why is that so hard to understand?

Meanwhile, in Toronto....

In Toronto, on the same day that the City approves a $1.5 billion rebuild of a waterfront-killing expressway that saves a few people a few minutes, they actually propose crowd-funding to pay for Vision Zero. A big part of Toronto's Vision Zero plan is to create "Senior Safety Zones" which feature "enhanced pavement markings and increased pedestrian walk times at crosswalks."

This is what they look like. Sean Marshall explains how Toronto is much like LA in its response to improvements that might save lives:

The installation of sidewalks in residential neighbourhoods is often opposed by local residents resistant to losing driveway space on which to park their cars, or unhappy about having to clear sidewalks of snow and ice. Affluent neighbourhoods might be dotted with “drive slow – kids at play” lawn signs, but their residents and elected representatives will oppose new bike lanes and lower speed limits on the arterial roads they use to commute downtown.

He concludes that we need more than just signs.

Without road engineering works to slow traffic down, and without effective police enforcement against speeding and drivers’ failures to obey traffic signs and yield the right of way to pedestrians, we only get feel-good measures and ineffective signs. A real commitment to Vision Zero requires political will, which so far is lacking at City Hall. Instead, we get zero vision.

London, too -- it is apparently the same everywhere. And unless we elect politicians with guts and vision, we will never get to Vision Zero.