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Culture Shift Critical for Vision Zero Success

Sandy James believes it’s time for communities to ban together and eliminate speeding. A city planner based in Vancouver, James argues that in order to curb the ongoing issue of speed, the public must force a culture shift. This call to action speaks to the holistic nature of Vision Zero, where all road users have a role to play in the safety of themselves and others. Although some may argue that drivers can “speed safety,” experts have repeatedly found direct correlations between higher speeds and more serious, fatal collisions.

In most major cities, cars are considered the dominant species on the roadways. We have traditionally built infrastructure for volume, focusing on moving vehicles from one area to another as fast as possible. Sidewalks and bike lanes are often an afterthought. Vision Zero has shifted the focus towards the Safe Systems model, where safe speeds, safe roads, safe vehicles, and safe road users all play a key role in the transportation system.  This framework can only be achieved through a shift in cultural norms, where pedestrians, drivers, planners, and council all do their part in making the roads safer.

However, we are a long ways from changing the mindset. Multiple projects in New York and Los Angeles have been received with public outcry, with the most infamous being the Vista Del Mar road diet that left Playa del Rey residents in an uproar. Formerly a short cut from Manhattan Beach to Play del Ray, the road diet was implemented to combat the increased concerns over speeding and pedestrian and bike collisions. Amendments included reducing traffic lanes from four lanes to two and adding a bike lane to make the street safer for cyclists. The changes caused major gridlock on the road, resulting in drivers taking alternate routes through residential areas and creating more unhappy citizens. After numerous petitions and lawsuits, the road diet was reversed just four months after it was implemented.

This extreme case of public frustration proves that Vision Zero is still largely misunderstood in North America. Changes in road design and speed must be communicate to the public effectively. Education leads to understanding, where citizens begin to accept infrastructure changes and being to demand them. This cultural shift has the potential to achieve complete cohesiveness among road users, respecting one another and actively contributing to the goal of zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

This is Vision Zero, and it starts with you.