The Not-So-Hidden Cost of Vision Zero

Originally posted on August 12, 2018, this NMA newsletter is #500.

The implementation of Vision Zero programs, with the goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities through various means including reducing vehicle speed and movement, is spreading to many U.S. cities seemingly without concern for cost.

If Vision Zero had a goal of minimizing road deaths rather than the unrealistic plan to eliminate them all (as if we can make life totally risk-free at whatever the cost), if it recognized that all road users ─ drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians ─ have a personal responsibility for their own safety as well as those around them, and if it didn’t automatically demonize drivers and motorized traffic, we could offer our support. But as Vision Zero initiatives make clear, there is no middle ground. So we will keep on pointing out the fallacies of the singular focus against motorists (while others ignore the contributory errors made by pedestrians and bicyclists) and continue to fight road diets, speed cameras, and all other artificial devices designed to get cars and trucks ─ primary engines of our economy ─ off of the road.

The taxpayer cost of instituting Vision Zero is staggering. A few examples of current program annual budgets:

San Diego     $18.0 million
Boston           $18.9 million
Los Angeles  $37.0 million

Of course, the king of all-in is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio where Vision Zero expenditures of $1.6 billion are scheduled through 2021.

But are even these significant budget amounts a realistic estimate of the total cost of Vision Zero? NMA members participating in a recent discussion thread on the topic think not. Excerpts from their exchange:

VZ is a lovely policy idea but in implementation will justify just about any measure, no matter how extreme. Add the local block that wants cars off their street, or a speed hump, or a cam, and it’s bad for actual engineering but good for cash and politics.


The anti-car forces forget that cars aren’t the only traffic on the streets. When you slow down traffic, you make a direct subtraction from the economic productivity of all kinds of businesses. Say a repairman now makes four calls a day, charging $100 each. If you slow down the trip between calls enough so that he can only make three, the cost to unclog your drain or fix your washing machine just rose by 33 per cent.


They completely ignore economic realities AND they ignore the negative results of diversion of some frustrated drivers onto smaller less-safe parallel streets when the collectors and arterials get too clogged up with improper changes that engineers should never make.


There were a few articles in our local (NYC) papers about how, on a few VZ re-striped  streets, trucks unloading were now causing backups. Pre VZ, they went from two travel lanes with a truck unloading on each side, to one travel lane with trucks, and if there’s a truck on each side plus any sort of misalignment or other vehicle issue (with hard bike lanes now) that one lane is European tight. 

The result is not to blame the VZ nonsense, but to restrict times of delivery for the trucks. This made the local merchants quite unhappy, and the bonus in NYC is that no store keeps a lot of stock due to limited inventory space so frequent visits are needed. The cost of out-of-hours delivery is more, of course, and this hidden cost will get passed along to the Manhattan consumer. The VZ lobby views this road design as a success.

Add to that the removal of parking spaces, short-time parking meters that force cars to keep moving around and enforcement that raises a lot of money for the City and you have a perfect VZ storm. They have no idea how much that bike ride costs everyone else….they complain about the auto subsidy but it serves everyone!!!! And what about the bike subsidy? They pay nothing as bikers and have all of that pavement to use, FOR FREE!!!


City planners occasionally rediscover “goods movement” or “urban freight.” They have to be reminded that trucks exist and serve a purpose. I never thought about the “bike subsidy” as such, but the ratio of investment and the distribution of congestion costs on a bike-laned street amounts to an extreme subsidy.

As many of our truly great metropolitan areas rush headlong to adopt Vision Zero and all that it entails, we have yet to see a clear-eyed analysis of the true cost of implementation including the impact of longer commute times on worker productivity. Almost as certain as death and taxes, the law of unintended consequences can rarely be avoided.

To help the NMA fight against programs such as Vision Zero, join our association of like-minded motorists today!

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Leave a Comment

One Response to “The Not-So-Hidden Cost of Vision Zero”

  1. David Holzman says:

    One problem with vision zero–not addressed in this article unless I read it too quickly–is that plenty of factors besides speed cause crashes and fatalities.

    I suspect the worst of these is driver distraction from use of phones will driving for talking and especially texting. Texting takes the driver’s eyes off the road. Talking on the phone takes ones attention from the road. It doesn’t matter whether the driver is using hands free or having to hold the phone. The lack of attention to the road is the problem, as the University of Utah researchers have shown repeatedly.

    I’ve noticed that when I’m driving and listening to the radio, if the driving gets complex, my attention leaves the radio. When one is driving and talking on the phone (which I don’t do), the fact that you’re having a conversation keeps your attention on the person you’re talking with. Because there’s only so much bandwidth. I’ve recently discovered that under bad driving conditions, I feel much more in control if I keep the radio off. I’ve also found that under difficult driving conditions, if I have a passenger, I tell them I need to concentrate on my driving.

    As a long time bicyclist, who road literally thousands of miles a year in DC traffic during the 1980s and early ’90s, fast (within reason) cars don’t scare me. It’s the knowledge that a lot of drivers are texting or talking and driving that scares me. In fact, these days I do very little riding on roads, because of that. I’m lucky to live within half a mile of an extensive bike path.

    The Vision Zero people would do much better to forget about reducing cars to walking or running speeds, and forget about the road rage-inspiring road diets, and concentrate on getting rid of driver distractions.