Compared to peer cities with established Vision Zero policies, Philadelphia has one of the highest rates of traffic-related deaths per 100,000 residents.
Vision Zero (VZ) is multi-nation initiative with a guiding principle that death and serious injury should not be an acceptable outcome of transportation. Vision Zero plans often draw attention to flaws within the transportation system such as dangerous traffic patterns, speeding and a lack of sufficient protected bike/pedestrian lanes. VZ action plans utilize data to identify areas of high injury and communities with limited access to safe roads of transport. Community engagement, education and enforcement of new laws are integral to the campaign’s success.
Sweden Takes the Lead
Vision Zero first began as a national policy in Sweden in 1997. The Swedes developed a strategy to eliminate all traffic-related deaths and severe injuries by 2020 – and adopted that strategy into law. Due to their forward thinking, Swedish roads are considered some of the safest to travel in the world; traffic- related deaths have dropped by 30% since they began VZ. Many other countries within the European Union have adopted Vision Zero laws and policies.
Slow Start by the U.S.
In contrast to our European friends, the United States has lagged in the race to make our roads safer for vulnerable users such as cyclists, pedestrians, construction workers, etc. In the absence of a national law, cities across the U.S. are adopting city-centric Vision Zero initiatives and laws to improve underlying issues of transport safety.
Chicago was the first U.S. city to adopt its own Vision Zero-type initiative in 2012 when it passed a law calling for zero transport deaths in 10 years. Two years later, four other cities adopted VZ action plans, laws or developed a task force (San Francisco, New York, Austin and Los Angeles). By 2016, Philadelphia joined this group of early adopter cities when they launched their own Vision Plan Task Force.
Philadelphia’s Need for a Plan
The need for a city-wide plan in Philadelphia remains significant; every year residents sustain more than 10,600 traffic crashes killing almost 100 individuals and injuring 300. Compared to peer cities with established Vision Zero policies, Philadelphia has one of the highest rates of traffic-related deaths per 100,000 residents. Every 5 hours, a driver hits a person walking in Philadelphia.
Tragically, for the family of Shien Ching Shen, their recent loss became enmeshed in this avoidable trend. Shien, a 79 year-old Philadelphia resident and beloved grandmother was killed while walking across Roosevelt Boulevard. She was dragged 120 feet and was pronounced dead at the scene (November 14, 2017). No one deserves that tragic outcome when out walking or cycling.
Vision Zero History in Philadelphia
Signs of change began to take hold in 2015 thanks to the “Better Mobility Working Group” led by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (BCGP). The group successfully put the issue of safe streets into the debates of the 2015 Philadelphia Mayoral Race. This group would eventually evolve into the current Vision Zero Philadelphia Alliance, also led by BCGP. By November 2016, Philadelphia Mayor James F. Kenney signed Executive Order 11-16 creating a Vision Zero Task Force and set a target of zero traffic-related deaths by 2030. By March of 2017, the VZ task force launched its website and a three- year Draft Action Plan. The plan relies on data to identify areas of high injury and communities with limited access to safe roads and transport. Also addressed are engineering and street infrastructure issues which affect safety. The plan includes components of education and enforcement of new laws. You can read the plan here: http://visionzerophl.org/uploads/attachments/cj8a9vbdj074ojnd66ah3mxxi-2017-vz-action-plan-final.pdf
The Vision Zero Alliance is led by Bob Previdi at BCGP and includes organizations such as AAA, AARP, Clean Air Council, Jefferson Hospital and the African American Chamber Commerce. The Alliance is working towards a March 17, 2018 conference during which they plan to take stock of action items and target goals set forth in the three- year Action Plan.
Proposed Pennsylvania Legislation
While Philadelphia is working on a city level to address traffic-related crashes through the Vision Zero platform, the state legislature has stepped up efforts by introducing three bills currently under consideration. These proposed state laws speak to some of the most vital issues underlying Vision Zero including speed, use of cell phones and penalties for causing death or serious injury. The bills are proposed amendments to Title 75 (Vehicles) of PA Consolidated Statutes.
- Speed Cameras (Senate Bill 172) This bill proposed by Senator David G. Argall would legalize speed cameras for a nine mile stretch of Roosevelt Boulevard. http://www.legis.state.pa.us//cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=S&SPick=20170&cosponId=21122
- Vulnerable User Protection (House Bill 1646) Introduced in July 2017 by Representatives Brett R. Miller and John Taylor, this bill increases the penalties for auto drivers who seriously injure or kill a vulnerable user of the highway. Vulnerable users include pedestrians, cyclists, those in wheelchairs and others. Currently penalties for causing serious bodily injuries to a vulnerable user is $250 and the penalty is a mere $500 for causing death. The proposed House bill changes those penalties to $5,000 and $10,000 respectively. http://www.legis.state.pa.us//cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=H&SPick=20170&cosponId=24266
- Ban Cell phone use (House Bill 1684) Introduced by Representative Rosemary M. Brown, this proposed bill prohibits the use of hand held cell phones and imposes penalties. Currently, Pennsylvania prohibits texting on a cell phone but drivers are still permitted to have conversations via hand-held cell phones. Our state is behind the pack as many states in the northeast corridor have already banned hand-held devices for text and other functionalities (including, NJ, NY, CT, MD, DE, VT, NH, WV). The proposed bill imposes a $50 fine and 3 points for a first offence. http://www.legis.state.pa.us//cfdocs/Legis/CSM/showMemoPublic.cfm?chamber=H&SPick=20170&cosponId=24260