Chicago Aims for Zero Traffic Deaths by 2022

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his DOT head Gabe Klein have introduced a bold, 100-page plan to make the Windy City’s transportation system more safe and sustainable.

Chicago's transportation "action plan" calls for increased camera-based traffic enforcement. Image: Chicago DOT

Published last week, the “Chicago Forward Action Agenda” [PDF] places a very strong emphasis on safety, in addition to setting admirable cycling ridership targets and goals for transit investment.

Highlights include:

  • A target of zero traffic fatalities annually in 10 years. (The city has been averaging about 50 a year.)
  • 20 mph zones in all the city’s residential areas.
  • A five percent bike mode share on trips less than five miles. (Currently 1.3 percent of Chicagoans travel by bike, but in the central city the figure is as high as two percent.)
  • An emphasis on street maintenance, or “fix it first.”

In his introduction, Emanuel makes it clear that it’s a new day at Chicago DOT: “Where we once built expressways that divided our communities, we are now reconnecting neighborhoods with new bus lanes and extensive and expanding bicycle facilities that offer safe, green, and fit ways to travel for all ages.”

To achieve the safety targets, the plan makes a commitment to address problem intersections, calling for the city to “analyze all fatal crashes involving pedestrian and cyclists” and improve the city’s top 10 traffic collision locations annually. The city’s ability to install speed enforcement cameras — recently granted by the state legislature and City Council — also figures prominently in achieving the safety targets.

The document reinforces the city’s promise to invest in new infrastructure to improve bicycling and transit, including the already-stated goals of building out protected bikeways and high-quality rapid busways. Among other projects, the plan calls for the installation of 500 new bike racks per year and 100 transit-priority traffic signals.

The “Action Agenda” appears to be modeled after New York’s sustainable streets strategic plan, laying out a roadmap for Chicago DOT over the “next 24 months.” The safety benchmarks are especially ambitious. No other major American city has set a goal of zero traffic deaths, a target first pursued by Scandinavian governments through a set of wide-ranging policies guided by the principle known as “Vision Zero.”

This is the city’s first ever comprehensive plan for transportation, according to Steven Vance at Grid Chicago. “Much of the plan’s actions are new and impressive, and it puts onto paper tasks and activities that CDOT was already doing (or announced it will do, like build new CTA stations),” Vance wrote last week. “It gives the public more information than it’s ever had about how it can hold CDOT accountable for maintaining streets, improving traffic safety, and managing a transportation system.”

In an interview with Vance, Klein said the city was aiming high with its zero traffic fatalities goal, and hoping to come close. “We have to push ourselves,” Klein said. “Some things are aspirational.”

The city will be reporting regularly on its progress toward the stated goals, said Klein.

9 thoughts on Chicago Aims for Zero Traffic Deaths by 2022

  1. Philadelphia is removing its bike lane in Chinatown because it might slow down traffic a bit.  We’re like Chicago, right?

  2. Alright, so it’s game on!  Who can be the first American city to reach Vision Zero?  Ready… GO!

    Did you hear me, NYC?  Go!  NOW!  We can’t lose to Chicago!

  3. Good for you Chicago! I wish our mayor took safety as seriously as does Chicago’s mayor and dot chief.

  4. Zero deaths is just rhetoric, but it’s helpful — it dares other cities to set the bar high and stop accepting traffic fatalities as inevitable. Almost 33,000 people died on U.S. roads last year and the DOT called it progress. 

  5. Two states — Washington and Minnesota– already have versions of vision zero. It would be interesting research to see whether that has led to a reduction in fatalities, or a faster reduction than the national average since the articulation of those goals, given that U.S. road deaths have been coming down sharply in recent years. Chicago presently has about twice the annual traffic deaths per capita as NYC, which would be nice to keep track of given this readership’s preference for rhetoric over reality.

  6. The major reason many more people do not use net zero and near net zero mobility is because of the extreme danger of transportation systems based on cars; also the major way this extremely destructive method of travel secures its monopoly.  This destructiveness, social justice, and the extreme value of human life — it is truly bizarre that this requires affirmation — is why zero deaths initiatives are so important.

    What we are talking about is making manmade vehicles and environments totally safe which is ultimately an easy problem to solve.  You just build them safe.

    Broadly deployed net zero mobility is a major solution to accelerating climate change that increases the quality of life; and it makes absolutely no sense even considering moving the current 1/2 billion cyclists in China and elsewhere to transportation systems based on cars.

    Chicago Aims for Zero Traffic Deaths by 2022

  7. “Vision Zero” or a variant thereof has been adopted by many places, from Sweden and Australia to even Dubai. In the USA, the “Toward Zero Deaths” campaign has led at least six states to pledge to work towards eliminating road deaths.

    I’m not sure what “near net zero mobility” is, though.

  8. Payton,  If walking is considered some sort of energy & greenhouse gas emissions baseline, where bicycles are about 3-4 times more efficient than walking, normal cycling should be considered net zero mobility as well as walking. 

    Near net zero might apply to vehicles that use a bit more technology with slightly larger environmental foot prints by incorporating auxiliary powering and other stuff perhaps to carry larger loads, etc.;  also special systems footprints might also be considered providing much higher functionality with collision avoidance, powering, much higher performance, etc.; all of which should have minimal environmental footprints, build-out emissions, and very close to net zero energy usage or better. 

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