Vision Zero : A Commitment to Safer Streets
Silicon Valley Bike Summit 2016; Source: Silicon Valley Bike Coalition
On August 20, 2016, I had the opportunity to attend the 6th annual Silicon Valley Bike Summit, hosted by the Silicon Valley Bike Coalition. At this summit, bike activists, enthusiasts, and professionals learned about what Silicon Valley is doing to create safer bicycle networks throughout the South Bay Area. I am new to the South Bay, but I have been a passionate bike rider since attending UC Davis, so learning about more about the local bicycle community is an interest to me personally and professionally. The daylong summit covered a wide range of topics, which activated group dialogues and panel discussions about the environment of active transportation in Silicon Valley. The event focused largely on three topic areas: California bicycle and pedestrian policy updates, case studies on protected bikeways and other progressive bicycle infrastructure trends, and the newly adopted Vision Zero for the City of San Jose. Each topic provided beneficial information, but Vision Zero was new and unfamiliar topic that I am compelled to share widely. Vision Zero is an impactful policy that will revolutionize roadway design, and there is tremendous opportunity for community designers in San Jose and other metropolitan regions will help propel this effort forward.
What is Vision Zero?: Vision Zero is a multi-national, road traffic safety project that aims to achieve a highway system with no fatalities or serious injuries in road traffic. Vision Zero began in Sweden in 1997 as a street policy to eliminate traffic fatalities for all transportation modes (Vision Zero Initiative, 2016). The effectiveness of Vision Zero comes from a “safety first” collaboration among political leaders, roadway designers and managers, traffic enforcement agencies, vehicle manufactures, transit operators, government regulators, educators, public health officials, community advocates, and the public (Vision Zero San Jose, 2015). In May 2015, San Jose became the fourth city in the nation to formally adopt a Vision Zero transportation safety initiative and commit to eliminating fatalities and reducing severe injuries caused by traffic collisions (City of San Jose, 2016). Today, over 200 cities across the nation have joined the Vision Zero movement to end roadway fatalities for all roadway users.
Vehicle-related injury; Source: Vision Zero Seattle, 2015
Vision Zero in San Jose: The Bike Summit featured a few of the founding members of the Vision Zero initiative in San Jose, who discussed lessons learned from the first year of implementation, and how the city will continue to reach its target of zero roadway fatalities. Speakers for this session included Jessica Garner, Senior Community Health Planner for San Mateo County Health System, Jaime Fearer, Planning & Policy Manager for California Walks, Lieutenant Steven Payne of the San Jose Police Department, and Laura Wells, Deputy Director of Transportation Safety for the City of San Jose. A reoccurring sentiment from each speaker was that roadway fatalities are 100% preventable, and statistics on roadway incidents collected by San Jose show just how much work is yet to be done in achieving Vision Zeros ultimate goal. There are about 2,400 injury crashes annually in San Jose, resulting in approximately 3,200 injuries, including roughly 40 fatalities and 150 severe injuries (Vision Zero San Jose). In 2014, 93% of traffic fatalities in San Jose occurred on major City streets and County expressways. Incredibly, at least 50% of these fatalities occurred on just 3% of the roadways in the City. A majority of these accidents occur on streets near or within low income and minority neighborhoods. Many of these areas have poor street lighting, and over 75% of the fatal traffic crashes occur most frequently at night when visibility is limited (Vision Zero San Jose, 2015).
Vision Zero San Jose Logo; Source: City of San Jose
What is San Jose doing to reach Vision Zero?: Vision Zero is a collective effort that requires community support and constant attention and centers around three core concepts: engineering, enforcement, and education. The City of San Jose is making the most of their limited budget to roll out a variety of operational improvements to reduce traffic fatalities, focusing on engineering, enforcement, and education. Engineered improvements include upgrading streetlights from “yellow” sodium vapor lights to brighter and more energy efficient “white” Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lights. As of 2015, 37% of San Jose’s streets have been retrofitted with brighter lighting, including nearly all portions of the 14 major streets identifies as having the highest frequency of fatalities and severe injuries (Vision Zero San Jose, 2015). Enforcement includes a partnership with the local police department, which helps keep track of crash rates and updating the crash and incident data. At the Bike Summit, Lieutenant Steven Payne spoke about how officers in San Jose are now trained to be attentive to high-risk crash areas and help patrol more heavily around problematic road sections that have been flagged in the Vision Zero traffic incident data. Education is one of the largest and most important tools because education helps establish partnerships between local groups and individuals to help build Vision Zero as a more visible and recognized effort. Education also comes in the form of available data and materials. The City of San Jose has made the data on traffic incidents and fatalities available to the public, so community designers, planners, and engineers, can use this data in their plans to best support the Vision Zero effort. For instance, if a project resides in an area that has been identified as a high-risk area, design concepts can incorporate roadway safety components that will support the Vision Zero target goal and help establish safer community road networks. At Callander Associates in the San Jose office, we will be able to follow the evolution of Vision Zero and apply design strategies to help construct a safer, usable, and more versatile roadway network for all road users. Vision Zero is not just a policy intended to improve roadway efficiency, but also a community effort to increase regional connectivity and equity.
Commuting in San Jose; Source: Richard Masoner, Creative Commons
Jana Schwartz, Designer in our San Jose Office