Safe Streets Public Policies Don’t Always Make Safer Streets

Complete Streets – which underlies the City of New Orleans’ bicycle-centric roadway designs – and Vision Zero, are transportation systems planners’ strategies that share a common and laudable goal: Reduce the number of bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities through street engineering and public policy.

We couldn’t agree more with such a worthwhile cause.

In 2019, 22 bicyclists were killed, and another 728 were injured statewide, while 122 pedestrians were killed and 1,398 were injured, according to the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. Alcohol played a factor in almost 60 percent of those bicyclists numbers.

In New Orleans, meanwhile, five bicyclists were killed and 251 were injured in traffic crashes in 2016, according to the city. Another 55 pedestrians were killed and 412 injured similarly during that year. That led the City Council in 2017 to pass a resolution in support of the Vision Zero initiative. As a member of the City Council, Mayor LaToya Cantrell co-sponsored the Vision Zero resolution. Also inking his name on the resolution was outgoing Councilman Jared Brossett, who in the Nov. 13 primary placed third in a four-candidate race for an at-large seat.

But do these strategies lead to safer streets, as proponents in New Orleans and elsewhere assert?

Not always, as the reports below show.


Portland, Ore.

City of Portland dissolves Vision Zero task force (February 2021)

“Portland adopted the Vision Zero program in 2015 with a mission to reduce traffic deaths. The program has had success in other cities, but the numbers in Portland have been moving in the wrong direction. The city saw 28 traffic deaths the year before Vision Zero started compared to 58 traffic deaths in 2020, which marked the worst year for fatal traffic accidents in Portland in 25 years, according to the Portland Police Bureau.”


New York, N.Y.

Vision Zero Sputters As NYC Traffic Deaths Reach Highest Level Of De Blasio Era (October 2020)

“Six years into the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero campaign, New York City is on track to see the highest number of fatalities in a single year since the mayor took office. There have been 200 deaths on city streets so far this year, the most since 2014, according to a new analysis by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. At the current pace, the city is on track for 243 deaths in 2020 — marking the second straight year of increased road fatalities.”


San Francisco, Calif.

City Performance Scorecard (December 2020)

“Vision Zero, adopted as a city policy in 2014, is San Francisco’s commitment to eliminating traffic deaths on our streets by 2024.”


Chicago, Ill.

Several years into a ten-year “Vision Zero” target, some cities that took on a radical safety challenge are seeing traffic fatalities go up (November 2019)

“The first city to “envision zero” wasn’t the first to follow through on it. The city of Chicago didn’t draft an action plan for how it would eliminate traffic casualties until five years after it first declared its intentions in 2012.”


Los Angeles, Calif.

Los Angeles’ Vision Zero Plan is Not Working…Yet (February 2020)

“Since joining the Vision Zero project [in 2015], Los Angeles has seen an increase in traffic fatalities of about 30 percent.”


Washington, D.C.

D.C. traffic deaths rise during pandemic, impeding plans for zero-death goal (October 2020)

“D.C. has seen 29 people killed in traffic-related deaths so far this year, marking a 53 percent increase from 19 deaths at this time last year . . .”


Austin, Texas

Austin, TX traffic fatalities nearly triple in January (February 2020)

“The City of Austin, TX is off to a rough start for achieving its Vision Zero goals in 2020. Austin experienced 11 traffic fatalities in the month of January — almost three times the number of traffic fatalities that occurred at the same timeframe last year. The city also experienced an increase in total traffic fatalities in 2019 after three consecutive years of declines following its adoption of Vision Zero in 2015.”


San Jose, Calif.

With traffic deaths on the rise, San Jose renews focus on safety (July 2020)

“Five years after San Jose committed to eliminating all traffic-related deaths and serious injuries, the city is focusing on outreach after 2019 had the second highest number of incidents. There were 60 traffic fatalities last year, the same number as in 2015 when San Jose first became a Vision Zero city, joining a worldwide initiative to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries.”


Seattle, Wash.

24 Deaths in 2020 Show Seattle Still Falling Woefully Short of Vision Zero Pledge (February 2021)

“Twenty-four traffic deaths is down from from 26 deaths in 2019, but up from 21 deaths in 2015, the year the City of Seattle officially committed to Vision Zero . . .”


Philadelphia, Penn.

As traffic deaths spike, Philly reveals updated Vision Zero action plan (November 2020)

“Philadelphia adopted a Vision Zero plan in 2017, when Mayor Jim Kenney called for a variety of measures to improve road safety in the city. Over the past few years, that has included the installation of speed cushions, protected bike lanes, red light cameras and a large project to redesign high-risk roadways. The goal the city set was to reduce traffic fatalities to zero by 2030. Though there have been areas of progress, the last two years have seen an alarming rise in serious injuries from crashes.”


Toronto, Ontario

Why Toronto’s approach to Vision Zero isn’t making streets safer (October 2019)

“Despite adopting a Vision Zero road safety plan in 2016 and passing an expanded Vision Zero 2.0 plan in June this year, Toronto’s road safety initiatives have so far been incapable of creating safer, let alone safe streets for vulnerable road users. Toronto is far from alone in this regard. Since New York City became the first North American city to adopt a Vision Zero road safety plan in 2014, more than 30 American cities have formally adopted Vision Zero plans. And yet, cyclist and pedestrian deaths are increasing or remaining stable across most Canadian and American Vision Zero cities.”