Vision Zero Momentum Builds From Philly to Portland

Eight years ago, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia challenged candidate Michael Nutter to build transformative, protected bike lanes, and he did. The Coalition's goal for the next mayor: Vision Zero. Photo: ## Coalition##
Eight years ago, a campaign promise yielded this buffered bike lane on Philadelphia’s Spruce Street. Will the next mayor promise Vision Zero? Photo: ## Coalition##

This Friday, more than 200 movement leaders for safe transportation will gather in New York City for a symposium on Vision Zero — how New York and Sweden did it, and how their city can too. New York’s leadership on the issue has been inspiring: If you can make it (to zero) there, you’ll make it (to zero) anywhere.

And Wednesday, Advocacy Advance — a partnership of the League of American Bicyclists and the Alliance for Biking and Walking that helps local groups maximize their efforts — will announce $10,000 awards to groups trying to make Vision Zero a reality in their cities: the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and a partnership between Portland’s Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Oregon Walks.

Portland has already announced a Vision Zero goal and is now working to define its strategy, amid competing ideas from business interests and safety activists. Philadelphia, despite its progressive leadership, hasn’t yet embraced the idea and activists are still struggling to determine whether zero is even a sensible goal. After all, a commitment to zero deaths, unfortunately, most likely sets a city up for failure.

In February, Portland’s transportation director, Leah Treat, announced that Vision Zero would be part of the city’s next two-year action plan. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance and Oregon Walks want to make sure that one component of that commitment is the allocation of significant funding for safe streets.

Portland officials will vote next week on a proposed new street fee, the details of which are still being worked out. BTA and Oregon Walks hope the final $40 million package will be scaled for different income levels and that at least 45 percent of it will be dedicated to safety projects. The Portland Business Alliance is trying to reduce the fees for high earners and wants the entire sum to pay for maintenance.

BTA and Oregon Walks also want to make sure the city’s Vision Zero policy includes a strong focus on equity and inclusion in funding decisions and legislative support for speed cameras. The groups are working on a Vision Zero report identifying strategies and priority locations for safety improvements in the Portland area, based on crash data.

Philly is taking a different path. Not only is there no stated commitment from city leaders, there isn’t even a formal campaign yet. But Mayor Nutter leaves office in early 2016 and the Bicycle Coalition wants Vision Zero to be the signature issue of his successor.

The Coalition wants to use the campaign period to press candidates to support its platform, Better Mobility Philadelphia 2015, and to make safe streets a hot-button campaign issue. The platform includes a Vision Zero plank, though it doesn’t quite get to zero: It calls for a commitment from the mayor to reducing traffic deaths by 50 percent by 2020.

The Coalition is also pushing for $5 motor vehicle registration fee as a funding source for transportation infrastructure and for the new mayor to shore up the Streets Department’s sagging budget.

The current mayor is no slouch on safe streets issues. Just this week, Mayor Nutter created a Philadelphia Bicycle Advocacy Board, and he’s been honored by the bike movement for building 200 miles of bike lanes and using highway safety funds to improve pedestrian safety in the city. Nutter’s wife races bikes (she’s actually a member of that new advocacy board), but it wasn’t just a family connection that made the mayor a champion for street safety.

It helped that when he was a candidate, the Bicycle Coalition got him to commit to building buffered bike lanes between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, which now grace Spruce and Pine Streets. And before that, in 1996, the Coalition had secured a commitment from then-mayoral candidate Ed Rendell to secure funding for the city’s first bike/pedestrian master plan, which he did. The Coalition clearly has a good track record when it takes advantage of the campaign period.

Whoever wins Philadelphia’s Democratic primary next May will almost certainly win the general election and serve two terms — meaning that getting an incoming mayor jazzed about street safety would pay eight years’ worth of dividends.

Sarah Clark Stuart of the Coalition says New York’s actions have sparked a lot of interest in Vision Zero in Philadelphia. “It has definitely penetrated the conversation about safety,” she said, “but it’s still a little bit undefined.” The Coalition is holding a listening session with supporters tonight to hear more about their goals for the campaign.

Portland and Philly aren’t the only cities taking action to reduce traffic violence. Chicago and San Francisco have also embraced a goal of zero deaths. At least 15 cities will be represented at Friday’s symposium in New York, all with a goal of achieving or strengthening a commitment to zero deaths in their communities. Some smaller towns and suburbs are working on it, too. Montgomery County, Maryland, recently launched a Vision Zero campaign. Soon, communities like these may have more successful examples to follow.

12 thoughts on Vision Zero Momentum Builds From Philly to Portland

  1. I think the use of the past tense in NYC (“did it”) is premature. They’ve announced the goal, and they’ve passed a couple of laws, but it’s too early to see any results. And some of the actions or inactions of the local authorities have been downright disappointing.

  2. At this point, I’m a little hesitant to see it spread to other cities since in NYC it’s basically a nice slogan and that’s it. I’d rather cities not even pretend to care than adopt the hot term of the moment to make it look like they’re doing something without really committing to it.

  3. The bike lane in the photo isn’t a “protected” lane, it’s a “buffered” lane. There’s no physical separation here such as a curb or parked cars.

  4. In NYC, Vision Zero means zero protected bike lanes. Since Mayor de Blasio announced Vision Zero the DOT has painted wider parking lanes as part of road diets instead of installing protected bike lanes. That’s right folks zero protected bike lanes since Vision Zero. How “inspiring” is that for bicyclists?

  5. Cycling deaths have more than doubled this year. Ped deaths are down, but we don’t know the cause – could be lingering echo effects of the JSK years or could be the weather. And the NYPD is not on board with Vision Zero at all. The jury is most definitely out.

  6. The number of cycling deaths is so small, statistically speaking, that I wouldn’t rule out chance. Let’s say that the “true average” were a constant 16/yr; that would have a standard deviation of 4 (assuming a Poisson distribution), which means that roughly 1/3 of years would have fewer than 12 or more than 20. Or going to two standard deviations, 1/20 of years would have fewer than 8 or more than 24. Hence an “unlucky year” could easily double the number from a “lucky year”.

    That said, however you look at it statistically, it’s still too far from zero.

  7. Agree. I mention the numbers only to say that even with a doubling in deaths, DOT can’t bring itself to mention Vision Zero and bikes in the same sentence, except to tell cyclists to behave. I’ve yet to see anything that shows bikes have a part of this plan.

  8. The buffered bike lane in the photo would be classified as a buffer protected bike lane by the Chicago DOT.

    In New York City a sharrow or shared lane marking is classified as a shared bicycle lane by the DOT. Every video I’ve seen of ex NYC commissioner of transportation Janette Sadik-Khan in which she mentions the miles of bike lanes installed under her administration sharrows are included in the total.

  9. Vision Zero in New York City is a joke, with the NYPD bike stings and people getting off Scott free for driving over children and attempted murder with a car.

  10. Hard to believe that San Francisco is really interested in street safety beyond some pro forma gestures in that direction. Back in December, 2012, UCSF published a study that found that the city was radically under-counting cycling accidents by relying on police reports and ignoring many accidents treated at SF General Hospital, the primary trauma center in the city.

    Since that study was published, SF Streetsblog—and the rest of the city’s media—haven’t even mentioned it!

  11. THIS ABSOLUTELY TOTAL BULL EXCREMENT!!! The flashing crosswalks are a WASTE of our taxpayer dollar!!! If DRIVERS and PEDESTRIANS PAYED attention to THERE OWN SURROUNDINGS, these incidents WOULD HAVE NOT OCCURRED!!! PERIOD!!! Yes, it is just that SIMPLE!!! Stop screwing the taxpayer and start holding people accountable for their own stupidity!!!

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