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What will Vision Zero mean for streets?

On Sept. 17, 20-year-old Ria Patel was killed by a suspected drunken driver in Northeast Minneapolis. Patel marked the fourth person killed in a crash on Minneapolis streets in a month.

Jill Friedrich, 34, was killed while biking near the Lowry Avenue bridge. Seventy-year-old Michael Webb was killed while trying to walk across Hennepin Avenue downtown. Michael Williams, 45, died after being hit by a bus while biking.

All leave family and friends mourning. All died too soon.

That same month, Minneapolis officials announced that they want to eliminate traffic deaths in the city by 2027 as part of an initiative called Vision Zero. There is certainly work to do. Over the last decade, an average of more than 10 people a year have been killed in crashes on Minneapolis streets and thousands more injured.

So, what exactly will Vision Zero work look like?

The Vision Zero page on the city website says, “We will use proven strategies such as lowering speed limits, redesigning streets, and implementing meaningful behavior change campaigns to help make the streets safer for anyone who uses them, no matter if by foot, bicycle, or vehicle.

“The commitment to Vision Zero is a citywide commitment, and will require the work of numerous departments throughout the City to reach the goal of zero fatalities or serious injuries. In addition, the City will engage communities affected by this vision to solicit their ideas and support in making safer streets a reality.”

Mineapolis will be creating a Vision Zero Action Plan over the next year or so to focus on specific strategies to reduce injuries and deaths. Some steps are already evident:

  • Reducing speeding traffic: The most fundamental reality of traffic safety is that speed kills. A pedestrian hit at 40 miles per hour dies more than 80 percent of the time, while one hit at 20 miles per hour dies about 10 percent of the time. The state currently mandates a standard 30-mile-per-hour speed limit, even on quiet residential streets. Most neighboring states have lower speed limits on local streets. Minneapolis can’t currently set its own speed limits, but the city has updated its legislative agenda to include local control of speed limits in the hopes of doing so in the future.
  • Being proactive about pedestrian safety: Mayor Hodges has proposed $600,000 in the 2018 budget for proactive pedestrian safety improvements at intersections, including new bump-outs, crosswalks and medians. The city is finishing a pedestrian safety study that will be used to prioritize improvements at the most problematic intersections.
  • Building complete streets: Last year, the city dedicated more than $20 million in additional funding for repairing streets. As streets are redone, the Minneapolis is leaning on its recently adopted Complete Streets policy and focusing on making streets safer for everyone.

Equity and Vision Zero

Around the country, people of color, people with low income, older adults and people with disabilities are more likely to be injured or killed in traffic crashes.

That’s partly because of historical inequities that have seen fast, busy streets routed through lower-income neighborhoods. Think 26th and 28th streets and Park and Portland avenues in Phillips or Emerson and Fremont avenues in North.

Minneapolis has the opportunity to put equity front and center within Vision Zero and learn from what’s worked well or hasn’t worked in other cities. Some other cities — most recently Chicago — have seen Vision Zero efforts slowed over concerns around lack of community engagement or enforcement measures.

Other Vision Zero cities, like Los Angeles and Portland, have been able to build community buy-in by empowering diverse community voices to be at the table shaping the key strategies of Vision Zero. Successful cities have also de-emphasized traffic enforcement as part of their strategy due to concerns about inequitable enforcement and biases in policing.

Minneapolis is quick to point out that they are at the very beginning of their Vision Zero work and that robust community engagement is still to come. The city’s Vision Zero resolution even says, “Vision Zero Action Plan will put equity at its forefront.”

We certainly hope it will be, and look forward to seeing the city engage communities most impacted by traffic crashes in a meaningful and collaborative fashion. Vision Zero has the opportunity to greatly improve street safety and improve the lives of people in Minneapolis, but it must be built with the community.