PEDS is working to help Atlanta become a Vision Zero City
PEDS has worked over the last several months with the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, AARP, the American Heart Association, as well as several Atlanta neighborhood associations and NPUs to help Atlanta become a Vision Zero City.
Recently, the Atlanta City Council voted unanimously to adopt the Vision Zero Strategic Transportation Plan, which includes lowering the default speed limit on city streets from 35 mph to 25 mph.
This is a critical step toward ensuring pedestrian safety. Pedestrians are at least three times more likely to be killed when struck by a vehicle going 35 mph rather than 25 mph. We are hopeful that the number of deaths by traffic violence will decrease and eventually be reduced to zero.
What is Vision Zero?
Vision Zero is based on the belief that any traffic fatality or severe injury is a totally unacceptable price to pay for mobility. The concept of Vision Zero was created more than 20 years ago in Sweden, and it has shown success across many cities in Europe. Vision Zero takes a systems approach of the 3 E’s (engineering, education, and enforcement) to enhance safety for all road users, including pedestrians, bikers, and transit riders.
The fundamental idea behind Vision Zero is that people will sometimes make mistakes, so a road system must be designed to ensure that these mistakes cannot lead to death or severe injury. Cities in the US face an especially difficult challenge because Americans drive much more than any other country in the world, which is directly correlated to more crashes and fatalities.
Having seen the positive impact that Vision Zero has had, more than 40 cities across the US have adopted it, with varying success rates.
Why do we need Vision Zero?
Vision Zero is particularly important given Georgia’s high rate of traffic fatalities.
- Over the last decade, Georgia had the 6th highest Pedestrian Danger Index of all US states, a ranking that takes into account factors including annual pedestrian fatalities and the number of walking commuters. In the last 5 years, Georgia had more than 1,050 pedestrian fatalities and 2,750 serious injuries.
- From 2014 to 2018, Fulton and Dekalb counties had 235 pedestrian fatalities or nearly 28% of total traffic deaths. The pedestrians who were killed were disproportionately in lower-income areas along multi-lane, high-speed roads that lack crosswalks and other pedestrian safety infrastructure.
Impacts of Vision Zero
Vision Zero has been successfully implemented in many cities around the world, especially in Europe.
- Cities in Scandinavia have nearly achieved Vision Zero after applying their strategies for almost 20 years. In 2019 the cities of Oslo, Norway, and Helsinki, Finland both had zero pedestrian fatalities and combined only had 4 total road deaths. They have succeeded by continuing to lower speed limits in crowded urban areas, narrowing roadways, and creating safer pedestrian infrastructure and crossings. These cities are among those that have prioritized pedestrians instead of cars.
- NYC was the first US city to adopt Vision Zero in 2014. Its Vision Zero plan includes the implementation of slow zones and increased police enforcement of speeding laws. NYC has recently reported its lowest number of traffic fatalities since cars were introduced a century ago. NYC openly shares its data by maintaining a detailed up-to-date map of its traffic crashes and fatalities.
Challenges for Vision Zero
Simply declaring an aim of Vision Zero does not guarantee real safety improvements.
- Since implementing Vision Zero, some US cities, including Portland, Los Angeles, and Austin, have actually seen their fatalities increase.
- Many cities in the US have roads that have been designed and dedicated almost exclusively for cars, which has led to significantly higher road deaths over other first-world countries. Dramatically lowering traffic fatalities will require a cultural shift and a redesign of many roads.
PEDS will continue working to ensure that the city reaches its goal of an effective Vision Zero strategy. To successfully become a Vision Zero City, Atlanta must do the following:
- Establish a Vision Zero Task Force
- Develop a Comprehensive Vision Zero Action Plan that uses data-driven strategies aimed to protect the most vulnerable road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, the elderly, the disabled, people of color, and citizens living in underserved communities
Many important components for a Vision Zero plan have already been proposed. In 2018, the Atlanta Regional Commission set a goal of reducing the number of traffic-related fatalities in Atlanta to zero by 2030. To do this, the ARC suggested that the city add street lighting, narrow lanes on certain roads to make room for bicyclists and wider sidewalks, and install medians on arterials such as Buford Highway.
PEDS is poised and energized for making this journey to Vision Zero a success. We are excited about Atlanta’s commitment to prioritizing pedestrian safety.