Vision Zero: Working Toward a Year with No Traffic Deaths

A fender-bender on a sunny day

It’s a shocking and tragic fact that, on average, over 4,000 pedestrians and nearly 1,000 bicyclists are struck and killed each year on American roads. Fortunately, this number is much lower than it has been in the past. This is thanks in large part to transportation professionals and lawmakers who have dedicated their careers to making cities safer for non-motorists. Today, the fight continues, and young transportation professionals like Ryan Greene Roesel and Juan Martinez are turning the tide toward the lowest numbers of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities seen on record.

Ryan is a senior planner for the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. Juan is a lawyer and policy expert working with the New York City Department of Transportation. Though located on opposite sides of the country, these safety experts share a common goal: to witness a year with zero pedestrian or bicycle fatalities in their cities. In separate interviews with Fast Forward, Ryan and Juan described the different ways they and policymakers in their cities are working to achieve this ambitious vision.

Juan Martinez, Policy worker for the New York City Department of Transportation

Click a button to watch an interview with Juan Martinez:

Ryan Greene Roesel, senior transportation planner, San Francisco County Transportation Authority

Click a button to watch an interview with Ryan Greene Roesel

Ryan explained that one of the most effective ways to reduce pedestrian and bicycle fatalities is to determine where collisions and fatalities are occurring and then use engineering measures to improve safety at those locations. For example, a spot where a highway off-ramp intersects with a city street is an example of a dangerous location, because cars may fail to reduce their speed upon entering the city street which is a high pedestrian traffic area. Once such a location is determined, she said, the city can ask engineers to redesign the intersection so that cars are forced to slow down, thus making the intersection safer for pedestrian traffic.

“You might try to narrow the road a little bit at the intersection. When pedestrians have shorter distances to cross, that tends to be safer. You can do things to try to slow the traffic down as it approaches the intersection,” Ryan explained, giving examples of how changing the design of the roadway can reduce accidents. “There’s a whole set of tools you can use. What I typically do is to try to develop plans for what we might do at a specific location.”

Juan said New York is taking a very similar approach.

“We’re redesigning streets faster than we ever have before. Better than we ever have before, in order to make complex intersections—where people get confused and make bad decisions—make them a bit simpler, make people more visible,” he said.

Another way to reduce accidents, both Ryan and Juan said, is to ramp up traffic law enforcement.

“There’s an effort to ramp up enforcement. So we’ve got a lot more traffic cops out there writing speeding tickets, writing other kinds of tickets to improve safety,” Ryan said.

“We’re stepping up enforcement of important traffic laws—speeding, failure to yield,” said Juan. “If we could get every driver in New York City to follow the speed limit and to look before they turn, we could save a lot of lives.”

However, both Ryan and Juan agreed that neither of these methods would be effective without educating the public about the issue and making concerted efforts to encourage safe driving and pedestrian awareness.

“We’ve started a huge public conversation with New Yorkers about what it means to be a safe driver,” Juan said. “We’ve been doing that with ads on TV and on billboards, and in face-to-face interactions with New Yorkers as they drive and walk around the city.”

“Trying to educated drivers that they should yield to pedestrians. We just had a huge campaign on that,” Ryan said.

Check out Ryan and Juan’s videos to learn more about how transportation professionals in New York, San Francisco, and across the United States are doing their part to improve the safety of America’s roads. With your help, someday Vision Zero could become a reality!

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 3 Issue 5 – Safety