New Organization Sets Out to Raise the Standard for “Vision Zero” Cities

Leah Shahum, former head of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, will head up the Vision Zero Network. Image courtesy of Leah Shahum.
Leah Shahum, former director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, will head up the Vision Zero Network. Photo: Lisa Beth Anderson, courtesy of PedaLove.org

Vision Zero — the idea that we should no longer accept traffic deaths and serious injuries — is gaining momentum as a framework for thinking about city streets and transportation, as more American cities adopt the goal of ending traffic fatalities.

But what actually constitutes a Vision Zero policy? What are the best strategies to dramatically reduce traffic violence? Which cities are doing it right, and which are talking the talk without walking the walk?

A new organization, the Vision Zero Network, seeks to help American cities adopt the most effective street safety policies. The organization launched today under the leadership of Leah Shahum, former executive director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, with support from Kaiser Permanente.

The purpose of the Vision Zero Network will be two-fold, says Shahum. First, the group aims to connect officials in leading Vision Zero cities to facilitate the sharing of best practices. Second, it will establish benchmarks to determine whether cities are backing up the rhetoric with real policy action.

“We really want to make sure that there’s a meaningful standard to being a Vision Zero city,” said Shahum. “And that’s not the reality so far. Because this concept is so new.”

Shahum said the Vision Zero Network will include representatives from several agencies in five to 10 leading cities, which have not yet been selected. Officials from the mayor’s office, transportation department, police forces, and public health department in each city will participate. The network will develop a standard to define what it means to be a “Vision Zero city.”

“It’s not beneficial for this to be something that everyone is just jumping on the bandwagon,” said Shahum. “The idea is that there is really legs and depth to this. There need to be real political commitments. There needs to be real resources committed.”

Cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco have all adopted Vision Zero goals, and there is growing interest among smaller cities as well, though it remains to be seen if cities will achieve results that measure up to their objectives. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has framed his administration’s street safety policies under the Vision Zero rubric. And last year, San Francisco agencies said they would eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024. The city recently published an action strategy that lays out the steps toward achieving that goal.

“We’re seeing a change in our thinking and priorities to ensure that safety is prioritized,” Shahum said. “This is very challenging work. It’s not something that’s going to come along very quickly or very easily. We’re going to help cities get there faster.”

  • Ben Ross

    It’s much less a matter of committing “real resources” in financial terms as being willing to shift priorities in the management of street space. What I see a lot is localities boasting about the money they spend on timers, beepers, and beg buttons as a substitute for real progress.

  • M.

    Among the several things I’d like to add:
    – Way more effective, efficient use of the resources cities do have
    – No-strings corporate contributions (or appropriate taxation)
    – Securing consistent funding over several years, not piecemeal
    – Budgets w/ earmarks for specific, best measures
    – Planners encouraged to be bold, creative, and take initiative
    – Forbidding optometrists and nearsighted others from derailing good design.

  • Mesozoic Polk

    Our experience in San Francisco is that optometrists are actually some of the most visionary people when it comes to making sure that our streets stay absolutely the same and never change. http://sf.streetsblog.org/2015/02/26/sfmta-cuts-block-of-polk-bike-lane-fought-by-visionless-mayors-optometrist/

  • M.

    Thanks for adding citation; didn’t know dinos could be so conscientious

  • You go Leah!

  • 2of3jays

    Vision Zero is a helluva lot more than just adding bike lanes, also. On Polk for instance, we have double parking by commercial trucks, parklets that eat into narrow lanes making some intersections deadly, slow buses, lots of jaywalking, incredibly poor driving and ZERO traffic enforcement.

  • I’m glad to see her still in the fight.

  • ijfsfj
  • Carina Tina

    Vision Zero has zero vision for person vehicle owners and the homelessness problem. Their goal is to make it as difficult to those who need a car to commute to work by marking up the city so that there’s no gray asphalt left. Furthermore, they’re shutting down access to major arteries like sections of Market Street thinking its the personal vehicles that are causing accidents. Wake up! That’s the worst stretch of Market in terms of homelessness. Unless you solve the homelessness problem, you’re not going to stop people from walking into the streets and getting run over. This is just a giant band aid on a much bloodier problem.

  • Aaron

    I get it. “Carina Tina” is a parody of left-leaning, baby-boomer, San Francisco opinion on matters related to automobiles. Funny!

  • Carina Tina

    I am 30 years old and work for the public transportation sector for the city. I am a car owner (and a bicycle owner) and I previously had to do a grueling commute from the city to job sites all around the bay for four years before I was lucky enough to get a job near where I lived. I sympathize with those having increasing difficulty owning a car, especially when one does not have much of a choice in terms of getting to work. I also walk around the city enough so that I know what problems exist. You can mock me with your preconceptions of my views – and remain ignorant on the matter. Doesn’t change the fact that the core problem is going unsolved and car owners are paying for it.

  • “… jaywalking…”?

  • SAS

    “We can’t solve our automobile dependence problem or make streets safer until we solve the homelessness problem.”

    Indeed, your views are worthy of mockery and will be mocked.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    I think everyone recognizes that transportation and housing are very tightly related issues. San Francisco needs to build a *lot* more housing, both to put a dent in the problem of homelessness, and to make transportation easier.

  • Carina Tina

    SAS thank you for agreeing with me then contradicting yourself by stating that you’re mocking my views. It’s clear that you have solid views.

  • Miles Bader

    The core problem is too many cars, driven by entitled and clueless idiots, and the justice system that encourages them…. If they’re the ones to pay, well, awesome!

  • noname

    Vision Zero should be called Zero Thought, because their two year action plan makes not one mention of training/educating non drivers….I covered this on my blog. Maybe I can get a grant and start my own motorist lobby group.

  • Yes implementing vision zero means traffic will go slower making it more difficult to drive. It’s not possible to reduce traffic fatalities without slowing down traffic flow. The point of vision zero is that we, as a society, are tired of prioritizing traffic flow over people’s lives and safety. The majority of ER visits to SF General were from cars hitting people. Would you seriously prefer faster more dangerous streets with less congestion if it meant people are going to die for your convenience? Get some perspective! Vision Zero was started because when we subsidize car ownership with the lives of pedestrians and cyclists, our cities become unlivable.

  • Miles Bader

    There seems to be a common sentiment amongst drivers that “If I’m going to suffer, those damned pedestrians (and bicyclists) should suffer too!”

    Thus you see calls from drivers for restrictions and strict enforcement to be applied equally to all parties (“fair’s fair”)—completely missing the point that the drivers are the problem, and a huge danger and cost to society … and the pedestrians aren’t.

  • Miles Bader

    Indeed… a good transportation network (which SF doesn’t have), should increase the livable area of the city, and thus bring down the cost of housing.

    Unfortunately this seems a big issue with U.S. cities generally… within the city proper there’s urban blight and too many areas which should be reasonable for housing, but aren’t so much simply because they’re dangerous or unpleasant, and outside the city proper, there’s suburban blight, with nothing accessible except by auto, and a horrible soul-killing landscape of low-rise ticky-tack housing, strip malls, and freeways.

    Because of the crappy transportation network, many of these areas are annoying to get to, making them less desirable for anybody with a choice.

    … and then you have crazy American zoning laws preventing any density increases.

    Thus you get people piling into the few available units in the few desirable areas left, driving prices through the stratosphere… ><

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