Are Vision Zero Programs Working in Our Cities—and Would They if We Took Them National?


All traffic deaths are preventable. Yes, even the ones we currently call “accidents.”

That’s the bold sentiment behind Vision Zero, and we at Strong Towns couldn’t agree more. Since the 1990s, the Swedish-born organization has been demanding an end to fatalities and serious injuries on roadways around the world, and cities across North America have taken up the mission.

But while Strong Towns is on board with many of the Vision Zero organization’s platforms—especially their emphasis on fundamentally re-thinking road design and planning for the inevitability of human disorder in public space—individual cities’ VZ policies haven’t always lived up to the promise of the original program. And in some cities, advocates claim that the Vision Zero stamp itself gives cities a smokescreen to work too slowly on one of the most urgent public health crises of our time, rather than doing the real, difficult work of curbing traffic fatalities today. After all, it’s vision zero, not zero-traffic-fatalities tomorrow. Without real incentives to make change fast, why wouldn’t cities lean on ineffective softball tactics like driver education and lowering posted speed limits without actually designing roads that compel drivers to slow down?

One city that’s been a subject of particular focus in 2019 is New York. After seeing an astounding 20% uptick in cyclist deaths, Mayor DeBlasio has newly committed to keeping the city’s streets safe, promising a “green wave” of $58 million in new infrastructure improvements, including 30 miles of protected bikeways per year. But does NYC’s example truly make the case that Vision Zero programs are feasible for cities across America, as DeBlasio’s suggesting on his campaign trail for presidential office?

This week on Upzoned, Chuck and Kea talk about all things Vision Zero. How can well-intentioned pedestrian safety policies and programs truly penetrate our culture? How can a set of top-down strategies like Vision Zero be adapted to the unique needs of individual places? How do we guard against a so-called Vision Zero program that prevents pedestrian and cyclists deaths by simply not allowing them on the streets? And how could we scale a national program like this and create a future where no one dies on our streets ever again?

Top photo via Creative Commons.