Rebuilding From the Failures of Vision Zero

Vision Zero pledges in New York City and Washington, D.C. have failed to slow the carnage on streets and roads—traffic fatalities are only increasing. It's time to start over.

3 minute read

May 5, 2021, 11:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Street Construction

Steve Hamann / Shutterstock

Gersh Kuntzman shares the findings of a new report by Transportation Alternatives that analyzes traffic fatality data for New York City.

"Last month was the deadliest April since Mayor de Blasio took office in 2014 — and 2021, his last year in office, is on track to be the second deadliest year for road violence of his tenure, despite seven-plus years after the city officially adopted the Vision Zero initiative," writes Kuntzman to summarize the report's most topical findings.

Kuntzman shares more specifics, among others listed in the article:

  • "Through April 30, 70 New Yorkers were killed in traffic violence — the deadliest start of any year since 2014 (when there were 72 fatalities)."
  • "The pedestrian death toll is staggering: 43 pedestrians have been killed so far this year — the deadliest first four months for walkers of any year since Mayor de Blasio took office."

With statistics like that, the narrative about the success of Vision Zero in New York City has clearly changed since Mayor de Blasio touted the program's success on Queens Boulevard in Brooklyn, once known as the Boulevard of Death, in 2017.

Kuntzman also notes the prescriptions for traffic fatality reductions included in the Transportation Alternatives report, including fast tracking design improvements like those on Queens Boulevard in other parts of the city, creating more car-free spaces, and funding the city's Streets Master Plan, among other suggestions.

Reevaluating and reformulating Vision Zero is also the focus of a recent series of posts by Conor Shaw and Nick Sementelli for Greater Greater Washington, which offers solutions for Washington, D.C.'s Vision Zero program "after six years of failure."

People of every age, from all walks of life, using any form of transportation are more vulnerable today than they were when Mayor Bowser launched Vision Zero six years ago. When the campaign was announced, DC had experienced 26 fatalities on our streets the previous year. The Mayor was unambiguously clear in her goal: these deaths were unacceptable and, more importantly, preventable. “By 2024 we will do everything in our power to eliminate transportation fatalities or serious injuries.”

The 2016 report set an explicit target. To get to zero deaths on schedule, the District needed to see a 35% reduction every year. But the reality is that DC is not making any progress. Instead, things have gotten steadily worse: 37 people were killed last year, a 40% increase over the 2015 baseline.

To get Vision Zero back on track, Shaw and Sementelli suggest following the success of other cities, like Oslo, in slowing down automobiles and adopting a strategies actually show to "protect lives, increase mobility, and achieve greater equity in transportation." More specifics are added in a separate, follow up post, including:

  • Implementing emergency "road diets" by reducing lanes on all arterial streets
  • Reducing speed limits on all roads
  • Deploying automated speed enforcement
  • Reappropriating street space for public transportation, walking, and micromobility
  • Making safe transportation modes free and charging more for deadly forms of transportation
  • Adding oversight for the work of the District Department of Transportation and the City Council toward Vision Zero goals.

A lot more detail on each of those prescriptions is available in the source article.

It is not delusional to work toward Vision Zero goals—even if it's hard to look around at the results of Vision Zero programs, such as they are, and not tend toward skepticism. The city of Hoboken has implemented major changes to its streets, for example, and earlier this year completed a third year without traffic fatalities. For more prescriptions for how to actually commit to ending traffic fatalities, see a Planetizen feature by Angie Schmitt.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021 in StreetsBlog NYC

View of Mount Hood at golden hour with Happy Valley, Oregon homes in foreground.

Clackamas County Votes to Allow ADUs, Residential RVs

County officials hope the zoning changes will help boost the housing supply in the region.

June 18, 2024 - Mountain Times

Single-family homes in a suburban neighborhood in Florida.

New Florida Law Curbs HOA Power

The legislation seeks to cut down on ‘absurd’ citations for low-level violations.

June 16, 2024 - The Guardian

Aerial view of intersection in New York City with yellow cabs and zebra crosswalks.

Planners’ Complicity in Excessive Traffic Deaths

Professor Wes Marshall’s provocatively-titled new book, "Killed by a Traffic Engineer," has stimulated fierce debates. Are his criticisms justified? Let’s examine the degree that traffic engineers contribute to avoidable traffic deaths.

June 13, 2024 - Todd Litman

View of Palos Verdes Drive along Pacific Ocean in Palos Verdes, California at sunset.

Erosion Threatens SoCal Road, Lloyd Wright Icon

The city of Palos Verdes is closing parts of a roadway to cyclists, citing safety concerns as the land underneath moves between 7 and 12 inches per week.

June 23 - Daily Breeze

Faded image of vacant storefront in rural area with American flag stars painteind on windows.

COVID Isn’t to Blame for the Retail Vacancy Crisis

A drop in demand for retail space began well before the seismic shifts of the pandemic.

June 23 - Slate

Heavy New York City traffic headed toward Holland Tunnel in Manhattan.

Judge Rules in Favor of MTA in Congestion Pricing Suit

Advocates of the program are calling on Gov. Hochul to reinstate the program in light of the decision.

June 23 - StreetsBlog NYC

City Planner I

Department of Housing and Community Development

City Planner II

Department of Housing and Community Development

City Planner Supervisor

Department of Housing and Community Development

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.