Vision Zero, because a little bit of death and a little bit of Racism in New Jersey is not acceptable

On February 8, Jersey City became the first New Jersey municipality to say through action it is no longer accepting death by car crash as part of its citizens lives by the adoption Vision Zero.

“In most road transport systems, road users bear complete responsibility for safety. Vision Zero changes this relationship by emphasizing that responsibility is shared by transportation system designers and road users,” from a paper presented by Ingvall and Haworth at the 2016 6th International Road Safety & Traffic Enforcement Conference.

New Jersey’s Toward Zero Death street safety policy is not working. In 2017 overall death of pedestrians by car crash was at a three year high.  People are continuing to die on New Jersey roads. They are dying, because in New Jersey we accept crashes as accidents. We accept policy based on the faulty idea that death from crashes is about bad personal choice and not about bad engineering and bad data.

Vision Zero does not accept that some people have to die, so that some people can get to where they are going in in their cars slightly faster. Vision Zero emphasizes infrastructure and education.

If we want a New Jersey that has Complete Streets, streets that all people can use regardless of ability, race, age, or mode of modality of the user, we have to have streets that are just and fair.  We must have street design and technology that supports fair and just streets. We must have cycle tracks (protected bike lanes), safe crosswalks, and pedestrian plazas.  We also need reduced speed limits and good public transit. Finally we must have good public policy. The police have to stop being the sole tool used in African-American and Latino communities for traffic safety. It is bad and lazy policy.

In African-American and Latino communities street design, technology, and systematic change is historically not prioritized.  In these communities safety in regards to urban planning and transportation is put almost exclusively on the individual through police via punitive individual consequences.

For communities of color the police have been a huge part of enforcement in regards to safe streets policy and in many communities of color they have been the only component of safe streets policy.

Vision Zero is a chance to turn the tide against punitive enforcements on communities of color. Vision Zero is a chance to make real fundamental change to the infrastructure of all communities.

Vision Zero began in Sweden in 1997. In Sweden getting to work as quickly as possible is no longer prioritized over safety.

In 2014 Vision Zero came to the US via New York. In 2014 New York City had the fewest pedestrian deaths in its recorded history.

In 2014 New York reformed Stop-and-Frisk a policy to harass and terrorize pedestrians that overwhelmingly impacted African-American men.

In 2013 191,558  people were stopped owing to Stop-and-Frisk. 56% African-American 29% Latino. 88% innocent.

In 2014 45,787 were stopped owing to Stop-and-Frisk.  53% African-American. 27% Latino. 82% innocent.

The harassment of people because of their race does not make streets safer. Fixing infrastructure and good policy does. In 2017 New York City allocated $400 million for Complete Street infrastructure owing to Vision Zero.

Vision Zero cannot just be for predominantly white and middle class communities.

Vision Zero needs to continue to be embraced equitably as it was intended with the four principles Vision Zero adopted from the World Health Organization:

  • Ethics: Human life and health are paramount and take priority over mobility and other objectives of the road traffic system
  • Responsibility: providers and regulators of the road traffic system share responsibility with users;
  • Safety: road traffic systems should take account of human fallibility and minimize both the opportunities for errors and the harm done when they occur; and
  • Mechanisms for change: providers and regulators must do their utmost to guarantee the safety of all citizens; they must cooperate with road users; and all three must be ready to change to achieve safety.

Roads in Sweden are built to prioritise safety over speed or convenience. Low urban speed limits, pedestrian zones, and barriers that separate cars from bicycles,” from the Economist.

Infrastructure, technology, and smart policy are all keys to the success of Vision Zero.

Vision Zero was about equity in its inception and it needs to continue to be about equity in New Jersey.  Policies are only as fair and just as the people implementing and interpreting those policies.

People in bicycle/pedestrian advocacy, urban planning, social justice,  and public health need to continue to be in the conversation for Vision Zero and  continue to push the conversation on topics  like racism, which so much bad transportation policy in New Jersey and around the United States is based on.

Vision Zero is about not accepting a little bit of death or a little bit of racism, just so some people can get to where they are going a little bit faster.

by Lark Lo

(This is modified from my Transportation Alternative May 2017 column.)

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