The international Vision Zero movement began in the 1990s in Sweden, where it apparently worked well. The Swedish government claims a 50% reduction in traffic deaths since 2000. Hoping to achieve similar gains, U.S. mayors from New York City to North Pole, Alaska, have adopted Vision Zero. Projects range from multibillion-dollar light-rail lines to retiming traffic lights for slower traffic. Road diets are key.
In neighborhoods across New York City, residents, community boards and local businesses have done battle with city officials over “traffic calming” measures imposed by city hall. Lane reductions, bike lanes, new meridians and other innovations designed to reduce vehicle speeds make it difficult for bulky ambulances and fire trucks to respond quickly to emergencies. And while pedestrian deaths have plummeted in the Big Apple under Vision Zero, deaths of bicyclists, motorcyclists and people in vehicles have ticked up.
Around the country, officials have implemented projects on short notice, over local objections and without consulting first responders. Howard Holt, a fire captain in Oakland, Calif., said he found out about a road diet in front of his station when he arrived for a shift one morning. “I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to drive in the new green lanes,” he said recently. “Turns out they’re bike lanes.” He calls the city bureaucracy “The Wall.”