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Phoenix has approved Vision Zero for pedestrian safety. Here's how it's working in other cities

The Phoenix City Council earlier this month unanimously approved adopting a Vision Zero Road Safety Action Plan; the vote also came with $10 million a year to implement it.

This came after the council voted against implementing Vision Zero in 2019.

Phoenix has a problem with traffic safety and pedestrian deaths.

Data from the city show more than 30,000 crashes per year on average. Preliminary numbers from earlier this year found 97 pedestrians in Phoenix were killed last year.

The problem is not unique to Phoenix, though. The state was recently featured as part of a documentary called, “ The Street Project.” Among other things, it found in 2020, more than 200 pedestrians were killed on roads across Arizona. That gave the state one of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the country.

Vision Zero is a program started in Sweden in the ’90s. It aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries. Cities big and small have adopted it; Tempe, for example, has been using it for about three years now.

One of the cities that’s often hailed for its work on eliminating traffic fatalities is Hoboken, New Jersey; that city hasn’t had a traffic death since 2018.

“To be honest, it’s not like we’ve discovered a secret that no other city is aware of, or we’re doing things that most cities aren’t doing or haven’t tried,” Ryan Sharp, Hoboken’s director of transportation and parking, said.

He says his city’s approach is to use data to find out on which streets crashes tend to happen and then make targeted investments in those areas. Sharp says about 80% of Hoboken’s crashes used to happen at intersections. So for several years now, he says officials have focused on what he calls “reducing conflicts” at intersections with a few go-to strategies.

“Our first is known as ‘daylighting.’ And basically what that means is at intersections, we install some kind of physical infrastructure near crosswalks to physically keep parked vehicles or other obstructions from blocking sightlines at the corner near the crosswalk, where you’re most likely to have an incident or a conflict,” Sharp said.

He said the second strategy involves what are sometimes called “bump-outs” of curbs — basically, an extension of the curb in a particular place that reduces the distance pedestrians have to cross and slows down the cars that are making turns around them. He says in Hoboken, they’re installed at corners that have a high crash history, but also near places that attract the most vulnerable users in the community — think parks, schools and senior centers.

The third strategy Sharp says his city uses is called “Leading Pedestrian Interval,” or LPI.

“Basically, that’s kind of a fancy, wonky engineering term for reprogramming traffic signals to give pedestrians about a five to seven second head start,” Sharp said. “When they get into the intersection, all other vehicles at all approaches have a red light for those five to seven seconds, so the pedestrian gets to effectively claim that space.”

All of these things seem to be working.

The Show spoke with Sharp and asked how his city’s residents responded to these various strategies when they were being rolled out.

Despite Hoboken’s success in reducing traffic deaths, other cities are still struggling. And you don’t have to look too far — right across the Hudson River, New York City, which also uses Vision Zero, has seen more than 50 traffic deaths so far this year. In 2020, nearly 6% of all vehicle crashes there involved a pedestrian.

Toronto is similarly struggling. Matti Siemiatycki says there are typically about 57 deaths per year, and that number could fluctuate somewhat. But in the mid-2010s, it spiked into the 60s, with a high of 78.

At that time, there was interest in solutions, and Vision Zero became more popular.

Siemiatycki, who’s director of the Infrastructure Institute and a professor of geography and planning at the University of Toronto, says fatality rates plateaued in the late 2010s and have come down a little bit since the pandemic. But he says some horrific crashes and deaths over the last couple of years have put Vision Zero back under the microscope.

The Show spoke with Siemiatycki and asked what kinds of things Toronto has done under the guise of Vision Zero to try to reduce the number of traffic fatalities.

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.