20 December 2017

Chasing Zero In The Emerald City

Nearly four years ago, Bill de Blasio began his first term as Mayor of New York City.  One of his first major acts was to implement Vision Zero, a project with the goal of eliminating traffic fatalities.  It began in Sweden two decades ago and, since then, most European nations, as well as Canada, Japan and other countries, have adopted it.  So have a number of US cites besides New York.

One such city is Seattle.  The stated goal of the Emerald City is zero fatalities by 2030.  Casualties have certainly decreased since its implementation, but questions remain as to how much this reduction has to do with the program itself or the demographics of the city.

by Gabriel Campanario, The Seattle Times

To its credit, Seattle has achieved decreases in traffic casualties, particularly among pedestrians and cyclists, even though it is the fastest-growing large city in the nation.  It has among the largest percentages of commuters who cycle or walk to work among large cities, though those percentages have remained unchanged since 2012 and had changed little for several years before it. It should be noted, however, that mass transit usage has increased at a faster pace than the population growth, in part because of changes to bus routes and new light-rail stations in key locations.

It's also interesting to compare Seattle's statistics with those of other comparably-sized cities.  In 2016, the number of police-reported traffic collisions increased to 11,603 from 10,930 in 2015.  That followed a decade of steady decreases in both the number of collisions (15,744 in 2005) and the collision rate per traffic volume (79.4 to 55.5 from 2005 to 2015).  The 2016 collisions resulted in more serious injuries than those in 2015, but in 20 fatalities, compared to 21 in 2015.  In all, five pedestrians and three cyclists were killed in 2016:  both numbers were down by one from the previous year.  

(It should also be noted that 23 percent of the 2015 fatalities occurred in just one crash on the Aurora Bridge.)

While one fatality is too many, I think it's fair to let Seattle take some pride in its numbers.  While it witnessed a total of eight fatalities among cyclists and pedestrians, in Nashville, with roughly the same number of people, 50 cyclists and pedestrians died in traffic crashes.  Meanwhile, Washington DC and Portland OR, with slightly fewer people than Seattle, had 26 and 13 such deaths, respectively.  And, in the same year, my hometown of New York, which has about twelve times the population, recorded 162 deaths (18 cyclists and 144 pedestrians).

Will any city or country ever reach "zero"?  If so, which will be first?  If not, which will come closest?


  1. It has been interesting to follow the move to electric cars. Since they are expensive there has been a move to faster silent models rather than sensible slower human friendly models. Cleaner cities my not be safer cities...

    The closest one to me has removed all the pedestrian overhead walkways and underpasses which kept people away from impatiently driven cars and trucks. Now there is frustration to both as they each have to wait an age for lights which several times each day cause tailbacks which block other junctions which cause more tailbacks which... Ten lanes of traffic have to be crossed to get to the new art gallery being built, that is going to be fun.

    We are trying hard to avoid zero!

  2. Coline--Interesting point about electric cars. Also, I don't understand why any planner that's trying to make a city safer or greener would remove pedestrian walkways and overpasses. Hmm...I guess if most bike infrastructure is designed by people who don't ride, it makes sense that pedestrian infrastructure would be left in the hands of people...who don't walk?