Cities look toward design in achieving Vision Zero

By Chris McCahill

Looking to improve safety and eliminate traffic fatalities, at least 17 American cities have committed to Vision Zero. In addition to ramping up education and enforcement, these efforts require road designers to rethink streets and intersections in ways that minimize risks to non-motorized users. This often means correcting issues resulting from a strict, decades-long focus on vehicle movement.

This month’s ITE Journal features a success story from Seattle, where the city’s DOT redesigned one of its most dangerous stretches of road to calm traffic and improve conditions for people on foot and in buses. Seattle launched its Vision Zero plan early in 2015 and immediately tackled Rainier Avenue South—a road carrying upwards of 28,000 vehicles and experiencing more than one crash per day, including two fatalities since 2011. The street’s $700,000 redesign features a four down to three lane road diet, a speed limit reduction from 30 to 25 mph, transit priority, and leading pedestrian signals. As a result, travel times, vehicle speeds, and the number of severe crashes have all decreased.

The Seattle DOT has also worked closely with the Police Department on data-driven enforcement citywide and automated enforcement in 14 school zones, where traffic violations have dropped by 64 percent. Revenues go toward the city’s Safe Routes to School Program.

Meanwhile, just as Seattle has been scaling back turn lanes and prohibiting right turns on red at busy intersections, members of the New York City Council recently called for pedestrian scramble intersections—also known as the Barnes Dance—at 25 of the city’s most dangerous intersections, reports Next City. This design, which was phased out in many cities in order to improve traffic flow, stops traffic in all directions to allow for diagonal pedestrian crossings. If passed, the legislation would require a feasibility study before the end of the year.

Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.