Why Has Vision Zero Stalled?

Vision Zero promised safer roads. Yet to some observers, that initial vision has yet to produce much in the way of tangible progress.

The backers of Vision Zero made an extraordinary promise: If you commit to our plan, it’s possible to reduce road fatalities to zero in cities across the world.

When met with skepticism, Vision Zero advocates would point to a city such as Oslo, Norway, which managed to have zero pedestrian and cyclist deaths in 2019 by taking steps such as car-free zones and creating new road fees to reduce congestion in downtown areas.

However, slow implementation of Vision Zero policies in many of the cities that promised to adopt them have led to minimal progress – and San Francisco is no exception.

Stalled Progress on Safer Streets in San Francisco

Nearly a decade ago, the San Francisco Mayor’s Office, the city’s police and public works departments and more than a half-dozen local agencies agreed to work to enact Vision Zero goals, which included significant new commitments to safety infrastructure and policy changes to protect pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

Tangible progress has been minimal. So far, not much has changed in terms of annual traffic deaths and injuries – a state of affairs that some observers believe is due to a lack of commitment by government officials.

Safe Streets Advocates Hit Back

Recently, safe streets advocacy group Walk San Francisco issued a press release decrying the lack of progress with Vision Zero:

“In 2014, the City of San Francisco committed to end severe and fatal traffic injuries within ten years: Vision Zero. Vision Zero launched an interagency, data-driven approach to traffic safety. But while some important changes have come out of this commitment, including a focus on redesigning the streets with the highest crash rates, progress has stalled. City budget challenges put Vision Zero at further risk.

“Vision Zero continues to be the right approach and our best hope for traffic safety,” said Medeiros. “Streets can be designed and enforced to keep people safe. But it will take real commitment and real changes from City leaders, as well as much deeper interagency coordination.”

Walk San Francisco isn’t alone in their concerns. Streetsblog published an article on Vision Zero’s stalled progress (scathingly headlined “Zero Progress on Vision Zero) that made the following argument:

“the aggregate of 30 deaths a year in San Francisco and many more throughout the Bay Area is absolutely attributable to a lack of serious political commitmentbad road designs that prioritize speed over safety, and the watering down of projects.”

After 8 years of halting progress, it remains to be seen whether sufficient political commitment can be gathered to seriously address the concerns of the city’s beleaguered cyclists and pedestrians.

One thing that remains clear, however, is that the roads and streets of California’s cities continue to become increasingly dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians, rather than safer. We’re not just making zero progress – we are actually moving backward.

 

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