Philadelphia’s Vision Zero: A Closer Look

November 25, 2017

In Philadelphia, half of traffic-related personal injuries and fatalities occur on just 12 percent of the city’s streets. City leaders aim to end that trend, through a project called Vision Zero.

Sweden developed the Vision Zero concept, adopting it as national policy in 1997. Leaders there hoped to eliminate traffic-related deaths though a mix of policy changes, infrastructure improvements, education, and enforcement. And while Sweden hasn’t yet reached its goal of zero traffic-related fatalities, the number of those deaths has fallen by 30 percent since Vision Zero began.

Many cities in the United States have developed their own Vision Zero programs and have gotten results. Since New York City rolled out Vision Zero in 2014, traffic-related deaths have decreased every year. Philadelphia has the ambitious goal of eliminating traffic-related deaths by 2030, but to make that happen, city leaders will need to convince residents that Vision Zero is worth the effort.

Broader Vision Zero Goals

Vision Zero focuses on improving the health and safety of all people, not just drivers. To that end, city leaders may see the need for changes that create bike lanes, pedestrian bridges, and traffic-slowing features such as roundabouts and speed bumps.

Cities that successfully implement Vision Zero may benefit in many ways. For example, people tend to get more exercise when they can safely walk or bike on city streets. And as more people commute by foot or bicycle, there are fewer cars on the road, further reducing crash numbers.

While Vision Zero programs have proven effective in improving safety, city dwellers aren’t always on-board with the infrastructure changes leaders propose.

Opposition from Drivers

Philadelphia’s Vision Zero seeks to expand authority for the city engineer to make street changes. Currently, the law says City Council must approve proposed streetscape changes; but the council may be reluctant to approve changes if they believe their constituents won’t approve.

According to The Inquirer, City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell said her constituents are angry about a new bike lane on Chestnut Street, because the street has fewer lanes for motorists now. Regarding Vision Zero efforts to reduce traffic speed, Councilman-at-large David Oh said he questioned whether that was the right thing to do, because slower traffic could increase incidents of road-rage among frustrated drivers.

Support from Cyclists

In 2016, 348 people suffered severe injuries or died in Philadelphia crashes (that number doesn’t include highway accidents). Bicyclists and pedestrians accounted for roughly half of the traffic-related fatalities in Philadelphia.

The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia says that while overall crash fatalities in the city have declined, 2016 pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities were the highest since 1997, which demonstrates a need for safety improvements. The coalition supports Vision Zero, saying it is the plan Mayor Jim Kenney promised he would follow, when he was campaigning in 2015.

Reconciling Needs and Concerns

Vision Zero leaders conducted many meetings and surveys to collect input from the public about their top traffic-related concerns. One survey found that 53 percent of respondents felt children could not safely walk to schools or parks in their neighborhoods; 79 percent said “fear of traffic” was the reason.

If infrastructure changes can keep children safe as they walk to school, protect bicyclists from fatal crashes, and reduce crashes overall, motorists may begin to understand that being slightly inconvenienced is a small price to pay in exchange.

If you have suffered an injury in a Philadelphia bicycle accident, the attorneys at Wapner Newman can help. For almost 40 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless personal injury victims and their families throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. We offer risk-free consultations and work on a contingency basis, which means that we do not require you to pay any fees until we have secured a recovery on your behalf. We encourage you to contact us today by calling (800) 529-6600 or filling out a free case evaluation form.