You may hear Vision Zero described variously as a plan, a strategy, or an initiative. Vision Zero is all of those, but it is more accurately described as a philosophy.
Here is some information about Vision Zero and how policymakers can use it to improve road safety.
What Is Vision Zero? Its Philosophy
Vision Zero responds to cost-benefit analysis. Under cost-benefit analysis, good policies have benefits that outweigh their costs.
For example, suppose a city estimates it will pay $2 million to fix a dangerous intersection. But the city only expects to pay $1 million in settlements to people injured or killed at the intersection.
In this case, cost-benefit analysis strongly favors leaving the intersection in a dangerous condition.
Under the Vision Zero philosophy, no cost can justify the loss of human life. Using this philosophy, a city faced with a $2 million intersection redesign would undertake the project if it can save lives.
What is Vision Zero? Its founders refer to Vision Zero as an approach to road projects based on ethics instead of economics.
The Goals of Vision Zero
Vision Zero does not set numerical goals. Instead, it encourages any steps that policymakers can take to reduce traffic deaths. This includes all road users.
The goals of this philosophy include:
- Making policymakers more mindful of the injuries and deaths resulting from their decisions
- Building safety into the design of new roads
- Improving the safety of existing roads
By pursuing these goals with every road project, the number of car accidents, motorcycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and bicycle accidents should fall.
For example, a city facing traffic congestion could implement solutions directed solely to improving traffic flow. Expanding roads and increasing speed limits could reduce traffic jams. But they might also make those roads more dangerous for road users.
A city that follows the Vision Zero philosophy would look for ways to improve the safety of all users by including pedestrian bridges, bike trails, and median strips. This ensures that improved traffic flow does not come at the expense of safety.
Tools to Implement Vision Zero Road Planning
Since Vision Zero represents a change in philosophy for most cities, they must implement new systems for road planning projects. Some tools they can use to improve the safety of their roads include:
Data Gathering and Analysis
Before improving road safety, cities need to gather data to tell them:
- Where accidents happen
- How accidents happen
- Which road users get injured and killed
Cities also need data analysts to examine the data and determine the problems to address.
For example, analysis of the data might show that most of the accidents on a “dangerous” road happen during rainstorms. Thus, instead of focusing on road design, policymakers could focus on water drainage and the road surface.
Community members know the high-risk roads and intersections in their neighborhoods. They also have ideas about how those roads and intersections can be changed. Engaging with communities can help policymakers identify projects that can improve road safety.
Communities can also help with two other aspects of Vision Zero:
- Safety enforcement
Community members can identify areas, such as school zones, where increased enforcement can improve safety. And they can help spread the word about steps the residents can take to keep themselves and their neighbors safe.
Not every safety hazard requires a three-year, $3 million fix. The time needed for major fixes can result in more deaths. And costly projects are at risk for budget cuts and delays.
Instead of seeking grand plans, Vision Zero encourages short-term solutions as simple as speed limit changes, road signage, or extra enforcement. These solutions can improve road safety while policymakers consider larger-scale solutions.
Implementing Vision Zero
Many communities, including San Diego and Los Angeles, have implemented the Vision Zero policy program. This program will not necessarily show immediate benefits. But over the long term, it should make roads safer for all users.
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