I’m delighted that the Mayor and Council last night adopted my suggestion that we include “Vision Zero” principles in the Rockville Pike Plan. Vision Zero is a policy that countries, states, and local governments can establish that sets a goal of zero fatalities and injuries on their roadways. Over time, this will save the lives of Rockville’s pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers.
At its heart, Vision Zero shifts the responsibility for road incidents from drivers to the road system itself:
Vision Zero requires a paradigm shift in addressing the issue of road safety… It requires abandoning the traditional economic model where road safety is provided at reasonable cost and the traditional transport model in which safety must be balanced against mobility. At the core of the Vision Zero is the biomechanical tolerance of human beings. Vision Zero promotes a road system where crash energy cannot exceed human tolerance. While it is accepted that crashes in the transport system occur due to human error, Vision Zero requires no crash should be more severe than the tolerance of humans. The blame for fatalities in the road system is assigned to the failure of the road system rather than the road user.
The concept first originated in Sweden in 1997. Its results have been good:
Fatalities involving unprotected pedestrians in Sweden have fallen by almost 50% in the last five years. The number of children killed in traffic accidents has also been cut. In 2008 the first traffic death involving a child did not occur until 22 October that year.
Results in the U.S. have been very good as well:
The plan cites successes from several U.S. states that have implemented similar approaches with dramatic results, including a 43% reduction in traffic fatalities in Minnesota, a 48% reduction in Utah, and a 40% decrease in Washington State.
This report from the Swedish Road Administration (on the United Nations website) has some great visualizations of the problems that Vision Zero intends to address.
New York City has embraced Vision Zero wholeheartedly (here’s a New Republic article about it); Mayor Bowser has also announced plans to commit the District of Columbia to Vision Zero. Each jurisdiction implements the vision in its own way; NYC has a focus on bus drivers and improvement of some archaic city and state laws that would be inappropriate for Rockville; the idea is to chart our own course in a way that will best get us to our goal.
The vision of keeping every adult and child safe on Rockville’s roadways is not controversial, nor will setting this goal ever obligate the City to spend money a future Mayor and Council doesn’t want to. What it does do is take Rockville’s already-impressive efforts in making our streets as safe as possible and focus it on the goal of reducing fatalities and injuries on our roadways to zero. We, and future mayors and councils, can do what we want, but our actions — appropriately — will be viewed through the prism of whether a proposed action helps reduce roadway fatalities and injuries.