Richmond’s Vision Zero for transportation-related fatalities

We all assume that someone’s gotta die in order for us to continue moving around this city of ours in our cars. It sounds crazy, but we do! That’s not right!

Pictured above: Crashes involving pedestrian and vehicles over the last couple of years

What’s an acceptable number of transportation-related injuries and deaths? Recently, Portland, San Fransisco, New York City, and a bunch of other cities have signed on to a multi-national road traffic safety project called Vision Zero. It’s a vision to reduce that number of transportation-related deaths or serious injuries to zero. Yeah, zero. Like…none. 

Admittedly, this seems like a crazy and unreachable goal. But when you think about it, zero folks getting killed by cars should be the exact goal that we’re working towards, right? Keeping humans alive is way more important than getting to work five minutes faster, and our transportation systems should reflect that order of priorities1.

Different cities are doing different things to work towards this ambitious goal2, but generally the steps involve:

  1. Looking at existing danger zones and putting traffic engineers to work making them safer.
  2. Enforcing existing laws–especially speeding–that help prevent fatalities and injuries.
  3. Educating the public on how to maneuver safely while transportationing around.

I just finished reading The Martian, and all of these seem way easier than half the stuff that guy pulls off. Plus, now would be a great time for Richmond to start working on our own Vision Zero. RVA’s bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is just now really taking off, folks are moving back into the city, and there’s a greater focus on transportation across the region. We’re also a much, much smaller city than New York, San Fransisco, or even Portland–so we have far, far fewer transportation-related injuries and fatalities to eliminate. 

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So how many injuries and fatalities do we need to eliminate to get to zero, and where do they happen? Here’s the crash data for Richmond since 2012 (pulled from DMV’s handy Traffic Crash Data reporting tool): 

There was a pedestrian involved

    Crashes Fatalities Injuries
2012 120 2 135
2013 104 2 112
2014 138 2 165
2015 107 1 131

There was a bicycle involved

  Crashes Fatalities Injuries  
2012 78 2 81
2013 72 0 71
2014 62 0 75
2015 47 0 56

Anything at all was involved

  Crashes Fatalities Injuries
2012 4,835 16 2,799
2013 4,970 12 2,804
2014 4,733 9 2,521
2015 4,186 7 2,166

Considering all the time and money (and excitement from people like me) spent on creating bike infrastructure in Richmond, it’s interesting to see that almost 1.9 times the number of people are injured just walking around than are injured while cycling. There are just many more walkers than bikers.  Also: cars are dangerous, but we all knew that.

Richmond collects its own data about about where bicycle and pedestrian accidents involving vehicles occur–and you can find maps of both bicycle accidents and pedestrian accidents on the City’s data portal. Here’s a heat map of all of that data, which you should be careful about interpreting because it’s probably just a map of where folks walk or ride bicycles a lot:

Screenshot 2015-11-02 14.59.51

You can see that there are some places, intersections mainly, that are more dangerous than others. I cross Broad at Lombardy almost every day and fear for my life regardless of my mode of transportation, so it’s reassuring (I guess?) to see it highlighted on the map. Now let’s get a brilliant traffic engineer out there.

In addition to knowing where all of the accidents have occured in the past, it’d be nice to know where they may occur in the future. When taken with existing traffic data like ours, something like Portland’s NearlyKilled.Me can help highlight existing danger zones where crashes are lying in wait, just waiting to happen–like a terrible, no-fun-at-all ninja.

How it works: Folks get almost-killed while biking or walking around the city, log the near miss on the website, and every week a report is sent to people who have the power to do something about it (transportation officials, police, the mayor’s office–that sort of thing). It’s a neat idea but does come with its own built-in biases: the users who take the time to self-report are definitely not an accurate representation of the city’s users of alternative transportation. 

New York City did something similar and collected 10,000 public comments on a giant map of the city, which they used to inform their Vision Zero plan.

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Because I’m a terrible person, I’ve been just assuming this whole time that a certain number of people probably had to be injured or die as a result of our crazy car-based world. Just part of the system. But seeing massive cities like New York and San Fransisco seriously work towards making transportation much, much safer for all is pretty inspiring. Does Richmond have what it takes (smart, engaged folks; political will; money) to create its own Vision Zero plan? Honestly, we don’t have that far to go!

But if the answer is no, can I at least get someone to come look at Broad and Lombardy? Seriously, it’s pretty dangerous over there.

  1. By the way, getting to work faster and staying alive are totally not mutually exclusive goals! 
  2. Check out New York City’s Vision Zero Scorecard for a good look at who and what’s involved in rolling out something like this. 
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Ross Catrow

Founder and publisher of RVANews.

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