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At the corner of H and 8th streets NE yesterday afternoon, the District hosted the first in a series of ten events this month to publicize Vision Zero, an initiative to make transportation in D.C. safer. The kickoff drew a few hundred people throughout the afternoon, mostly in steady streams. Wearing bright red shirts featuring the Vision Zero logo on their backs, about ten young staffers from the District Department of Transportation and Nspiregreen—a local environmental consultancy—administered surveys to passersby about their experiences of getting around D.C.
Originally a Swedish concept, Vision Zero has already been adopted in a handful of U.S. cities, including New York, Chicago, and Portland. Its ultimate goal is to eliminate traffic deaths through “three E’s”—engineering, enforcement, education—and the effective use of data. As City Paper previously reported, D.C.’s commitment to Vision Zero was announced earlier this year as part of the Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets, a national program. Since then, District officials have made some progress towards drafting a plan, with a full and public version scheduled for a September unveiling. The details have yet to be settled.
“There are some themes that are emerging, but we honestly are still pinning down the specific strategies,” says Jonathan M. Rogers, a policy analyst for DDOT who is leading D.C. Vision Zero. “There’s been a lot of talk [in internal meetings] about speed reduction in general, enhancing risk-analysis for crashes, and combating impaired, distracted, and aggressive driving.”
Upwards of 20 District agencies aim to implement Vision Zero by 2024. That’s a lot of stakeholders, Rogers says, but the level of coordination is necessary to achieve the initiative’s goal. Also necessary is public input. Rogers explains that the brief surveys given at Vision Zero events this month will allow officials to gauge which transportation issues are the most important to D.C. residents. Between 200 and 250 people completed the survey at yesterday’s event, he adds. The survey asks about the “top three challenges” to traveling safely in D.C., whether participants had been involved in a traffic incident, and demographic information. Similarly, D.C. Vision Zero recently released an interactive map that crowdsources safety issues.
Terry Scott, a three-year resident of the District, had just picked up a new Scwhinn when he stopped at the Vision Zero event on H Street. (His old bike had recently been stolen, he says.) Scott says he didn’t know whether 2024 was a realistic date for the fulfillment of the project. An avid biker who has lived in New York and California, he adds that D.C. is “paradise for bikes.”
“Unless you’ve lived in L.A., you don’t know traffic,” he says. “But there’s always room for improvement.”
Moriah Costa, an Arizona native who has lived in D.C. for a year, also says she didn’t know whether 2024 was a realistic end-date for Vision Zero, because of the rushed way in which people drive in D.C. Stricter speeding laws might help curb unsafe driving behavior, she adds.
According to Greg Billing, advocacy coordinator for the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, there are currently 20 to 25 traffic-related fatalities in the District each year: about half are of drivers, half are of pedestrians, and one or two are of cyclists. “Fatalities are accepted as an inevitable cost of transportation, and that’s not the case,” Billing says. “[Vision Zero] is an opportunity shift public policy and transportation decisions to prevent people from being killed.”
The initiative is receiving $500,000 annually from automated traffic enforcement revenues, per D.C.’s FY 2016 budget. The next Vision Zero event is today at the Cleveland Park Metro Station, at 5 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Jonathan M. Rogers/D.C. Vision Zero