Seattle's Vision Zero Program Emphasizes Safe Systems Over Enforcement

Looking for traffic safety improvements while responding to 2020's Black Lives Matter protests, Seattle has spent much of the past two years implementing a Safe System approach to move closer to its Vision Zero goal to eliminate traffic fatalities.

January 12, 2022, 12:00 PM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


SR-99 on-ramp in Seattle

Joe Mabel / SR-99 in Seattle

Ryan Packer reports in detail on the ongoing evolution of the city of Seattle's Vision Zero initiative to end traffic fatalities. According to Packer, the Seattle Department of Transportation is in the process of moving away from "emphasis patrols" performed in conjunction with the Seattle Police Department to target specific dangerous driving behaviors. In the place of such enforcement measures, the city is implementing a Safe System approach.

According to Allison Schwartz, the city's Vision Zero coordinator, the safe systems approach "emphasizes the responsibility of a city to design and operate our transportation system in a way that acknowledges and plans for both human error and human frailty." (A recent Planetizen article by Angie Schmitt provides additional details about the Safe Systems approach to traffic safety.)

As proof of the shift away from enforcement, Packer cites the Safe Routes to Schools action plan published by the city last year. The seven "Es" proposed for action by the plan notably lack "enforcement."

And for proof of the shift toward Safe Systems, Packer lists attention to high-injury corridors, leading pedestrian intervals, and hardened center lines.

The source article includes a lot more detail and context for the shifting Vision Zero approach in Seattle.

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