Will DC’s Plan for Zero Traffic Deaths Work?

(December 17, 2015) Washington, DC – Mayor Muriel Bowser has released her long-awaited plan to combat traffic deaths in the District of Columbia.

Bicyclepedestrian, and motor vehicle deaths have been rising in the District. “Vision Zero” is a safety plan imported from Sweden designed to reduce traffic fatalities to zero – literally.

From 2010 to 2014 there have been 131 traffic deaths in DC – 67 in cars, 57 walking and 7 people on bikes. The 1.39 incident rate per 100,000 is slightly above the national rate.

The Mayor’s Vision Zero plan has four components: better data collection, more enforcement, education and improved roadway engineering. It is not clear that the Vision Zero plan is anything different than what DC is already doing.

The plan doubles down on photo enforcement. Proponents cite a reduction in collisions near speed cameras. Detractors see a money grab. The highest incidence of fatal crashes is in the dense downtown area, where impatient and distracted drivers, not speed, is responsible for most collisions.

Urban design improvements are promised in the Vision Zero plan. Protected cross-walks, dedicated bike facilities, and traffic calming devises have been used successfully in parts of the city. However, at least one traffic calming improvement, on Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown had to be removed after locals complained the scheme was ineffective. Sidewalk/crosswalk improvements in Adams Morgan have been more successful, but the two (2) years the roadway remained torn up hurt local businesses.

Other Vision Zero plans seem of dubious value for safety. The city plans to install public art to create “placemaking.” Presumably, the art would encourage motorists to slow down and relax. Art is nice, but it perhaps DDOT should stick to engineering improvements.

Paul Zukerberg is a partner at Zukerberg & Halperin, LLC, a personal injury law firm, and advocate for pedestrian and bike safety in the District of Columbia.