Vision Zero—An Unrealistic, Cynical Vision

Vision Zero came to America last year with the election of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who campaigned on the promise to eliminate all traffic fatalities in the five boroughs within 10 years. His program for doing so, known as Vision Zero, relies on the usual complement of command-and-control traffic safety interventions, such as:

  • Road “improvements” including narrower streets, wider sidewalks and medians, and more bicycle lanes
  • Reducing the default speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph
  • Quadrupling the number of 20-mph slow zones throughout the city
  • Stepped-up traffic enforcement particularly for speeding and failure to yield
  • Huge expansion of the city’s speed-camera program

The Vision Zero movement started in Sweden as a partnership between the Swedish government and Swedish business interests. With its motto, “In every situation a person might fail. The road system should not,” Vision Zero Swedish edition conveys the belief that human fallibility can be overcome with enough intervention. Here’s more from the website:

Transport systems are traditionally designed for maximum capacity and mobility, not safety. This means road users are held responsible for their own safety. The Vision Zero Initiative takes the opposite approach. We place the main burden for safety on system design because we recognise human weaknesses and low tolerance to mechanical force. Ultimately, no one should die or suffer serious injury in traffic.

No one should die or suffer serious injury in traffic, but this goes beyond anything today’s central planners have envisioned. Shouldn’t drivers bear some responsibility for their own safety and by extension, for their actions on the road? And aren’t the highway safety systems that Vision Zero Swedish edition puts so much faith in designed and implemented by fallible humans?

Domestic traffic “safety” advocates tout Vision Zero as the means to eliminate all traffic fatalities, and a few more cities around the country, notably San Francisco, have begun to implement Vision Zero programs.

Mot ominously, however, Vision Zero has caught the attention of federal lawmakers. Two leaders of the Congressional Bike Caucus (yes, that’s a real thing) have introduced legislation to speed the adoption of Vision Zero nationwide. If enacted, The Vision Zero Act to End Transportation-Related Fatalities would provide $30 million of our taxpayer dollars annually to help cities plan and implement their Vision Zero programs. That’s a modest sum, but one can imagine such a program expanding quickly, complete with federal incentives to encourage compliance.

The goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities is of course completely unrealistic, and every stakeholder in the traffic safety community knows it. Why? Because people are people, and people make mistakes. Safety improvements are always possible, but not through the command-and-control, vehicle-hostile tactics the plan calls for.

Vision Zero is nothing more than a tool to escalate the assault on driving and to encourage heavy-handed, revenue-based enforcement. The federal push has gained support from the likes of AAA as well as several national bicycle rights organizations. In addition, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), has previously proposed a national vehicle-miles-traveled tax pilot program. Need we say more?

If we’re truly serious about eliminating all traffic fatalities, we need to establish a maximum speed limit of five miles per hour on any road. Better yet, we should ban people from driving, walking, biking or taking the bus. Oh heck, let’s just keep people locked up in their homes 24/7. That would do it.

Editor’s Note: We will continue to monitor Vision Zero programs around the country and alert you as to what you can do to make your voice heard.

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