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Is Vision Zero Not Going to Work in the U.S.?

Los-Angeles-Car-Accident-Lawyers-AttorneysIn 2015, the City of Los Angeles adopted Vision Zero following its implementation in multiple European cities. The city’s Vision Zero plan aimed to decrease traffic fatalities each year with the goal of eliminating all of them by 2025. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced an executive directive through which he committed the city to Vision Zero with the intention of reducing traffic death to zero by 2025 through a combination of infrastructure improvements and new policies. While the initiative initially showed promise with the city’s modifications of 18 traffic corridors to include protected left-turn signals and extended curbs, the traffic fatality statistics demonstrate that the impact of Vision Zero has not been as intended. Instead, traffic fatalities have increased since 2015 to reach a 20-year high of 289 people in Los Angeles in 2021. Similarly, other U.S. cities that have adopted Vision Zero programs have also seen increases in traffic fatalities, including New York City, Portland, Oregon, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

By contrast, European cities with similar programs have demonstrated a steady decline in traffic fatalities. For example, Helsinki, Finland, a city with a population the size of Las Vegas, Nevada, only had three traffic fatalities. By contrast, Las Vegas had 304 traffic fatalities that year despite having a Vision Zero program.

There are several reasons why Vision Zero has not worked as intended in the U.S. while it has been effective in Europe.

Vision Zero in Europe vs. the U.S.

Vision Zero originated in Sweden in 1997 with a call to change the road system to prevent traffic deaths. Sweden instituted new traffic policies and infrastructure changes in cities, including lowering speed limits, separating cyclists from vehicle traffic, and blocking certain areas and neighborhoods from traffic. Norway has similarly had success with its Vision Zero program. There, the standard speed limit for cities was lowered to 31 mph and to 50 mph outside of them. Norway also allowed local governments to set city speed limits lower than the national standard and has automatic speed cameras everywhere to deter people from driving recklessly.

A large portion of the central Oslo area has been blocked off from motor vehicles. Crashes are immediately investigated by the government to look for contributing factors and ways similar accidents can be prevented. In 2019, Oslo only had one traffic fatality, and there were only 93 nationwide in 2021. In 2021, Sweden had fewer than 200 deaths, which was a reduction of more than half since before it instituted its Vision Zero program.

Following the success of Vision Zero in Europe, numerous U.S. cities also adopted similar programs. However, U.S. cities have not experienced similar successes with their programs. While most cities were able to adopt Vision Zero programs without objections, they have run into significant obstacles with making related policy changes and adding the infrastructure needed to facilitate the goals of Vision Zero.

Public Pushback an Impediment to Progress

In Los Angeles, the public has engaged in a significant pushback against the city’s efforts to complete infrastructure changes and implement policies under Vision Zero. Los Angeles was built around motor vehicles. By contrast, many European cities were instead built around pedestrians and cyclists.

Efforts to install traffic cameras, create separate bike infrastructure, and block or slow traffic from certain areas have all been met with fierce resistance. Some of the pushback has come from the community, including residents who boasted about defeating various attempts at road diets. The effort has also run into roadblocks from politicians who lack the political will to push through changes. Finally, Vision Zero has also encountered resistance within transportation departments in which road engineers argue against infrastructure changes to avoid slowing drivers down.

Los Angeles has long prioritized the speed of travel. For Vision Zero to be successful, the focus would need to change away from prioritizing traffic speed to prioritizing safety. There are also many federal and state rules that impede the goals of Vision Zero, including the restriction of the use of traffic cameras in certain U.S. cities.

Los Angeles also had to increase its speed limits on numerous roads because of a state law requiring cities to match their speed limits to the speed that 85% of people are traveling on a given road. However, a regulatory change did allow the city to reverse some of those speed limit increases. Another issue is the cost of new signage. When a city lowers the speed limits, it also must install new speed limit signs. In a city as large as Los Angeles, the cost would be prohibitive.

State roads and interstates also cut through many urban areas, and the state controls those roadways. Local leaders do not have control over the state-managed roads, and many of these arterials boast high fatality rates.

The federal government has also gotten in the way of Vision Zero efforts in different cities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has routinely failed to adopt pedestrian safety in its crashworthiness ratings or to prevent manufacturers from moving towards heavier and larger vehicles. Federal regulators have also done little to address driver distraction and other issues that have increased the risk of serious accidents across the U.S.

Some cities have decided to move forward without waiting for the federal government to act. For example, Cambridge, Massachusetts required all bike paths that are built to be kept in protected lanes despite neighborhood opposition. However, before many cities, including Los Angeles, will move forward with needed policy and infrastructure changes, activists and residents must act. Plans without action do little to save lives, and the government has demonstrated that it is unwilling to act without public support and demands.

To reduce traffic fatalities, it will be necessary to make a number of changes. People need to be encouraged to choose public transportation to reduce the number of vehicles on the roads. Los Angeles is notorious for its heavy traffic, extra-wide avenues, and lack of protection for cyclists and pedestrians. Reducing the number of people traveling by car could help to address fatality rates. The city also needs to push forward by adding protected bike lanes and separated pedestrian paths to keep cyclists and pedestrians from encountering traffic. Blocking off some neighborhoods in the city from traffic could also help. However, none of these types of efforts will be successful without a change of priorities and a recognition that the high number of preventable traffic deaths is a public-health crisis.

While the rapidly increasing traffic deaths might be thought to spur outrage, that has not been the case. Instead, most people do not think about the traffic fatality rates as a crisis. Because of the multiple problems with how Americans view vehicles and prioritize speed, it is unlikely that Vision Zero plans will be successful in Los Angeles or in much of the U.S. Until people recognize that traffic fatalities are a problem that needs to be addressed despite the potential inconvenience, these initiatives are unlikely to have a positive impact on the reduction of traffic deaths.

Contact an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

While Vision Zero sounds like a great idea on paper, it has not shown the promised results because of a lack of action and multiple obstacles. If you have suffered serious injuries in a traffic accident in Los Angeles or have lost your loved one, you should speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer at the law firm of Steven M. Sweat, Personal Injury Lawyers, APC. Call us today for a free consultation at 866.966.5240.

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