Vision Zero, would it work here?

In Sweden, fatalities involving pedestrians have dropped by almost 50 per cent in the last five years, at least according to the Vision Zero Initiative, a Swedish road safety policy that has been hailed for its success.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Urban Institute (CUI) hosted a seminar to discuss Vision Zero and how it could be implemented in Canada. The Swedish Ambassador to Canada, H.E. Per Sjögren, spoke along with Toronto city councillor Jaye Robinson about the need for policy on road safety. Robinson pointed out that city was looking into variations of Vision Zero policies being used internationally in Sweden, Netherlands, United Kingdom, and the United States. However, the panel discussion with Lorenzo Mele, Public Health Advisor of the Region of Peel, Steve Buckley, General Manager of Transportation Services for Toronto, and Teresa Di Felice, Director of public affairs at the Canadian Automobile Association, was less optimistic.

Here is what you need to know:

The ultimate goal of Vision Zero is to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries caused by vehicle collision to zero by the year 2020 — a lofty goal if ever there was one. It focuses on protecting pedestrians, the most vulnerable population moving along city streets.

The policy’s mantra is that  “no loss of life is acceptable.” Instead of automatically putting the onus on drivers, the plan puts a certain level of responsibility on system design. Therefore, questions such as “if there was a traffic light here, would it have prevented this death” or “would a roadside barrier prevent head-on collisions” would be asked along with the typical inquiries about speed, seat belts, and alcohol use. There will be significant educational materials provided for collisions not related to system design.

Vision Zero began with a promise by the Swedish National Traffic Safety Programme, who predicted 600 less fatalities by the year 2000. The government was so committed that they achieved this goal by 1994. This was when the concept for Vision Zero became a reality. Parliament adopted the Road Traffic Safety Bill, which wrote Vision Zero directly into the legislation, in 1997.

Whether or not a policy such as this could be implemented in Canada was inconclusive. Councillor Robinson; however, was adamant there was a need for a stronger policy for road safety. “The numbers are staggering,” she said. “As of December 1, there have been 58 road fatalities, 44 are pedestrians [in Toronto].”

On a municipal level, Robinson says the city is currently developing a Road Safety Strategic Plan and will present it to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in the second quarter of 2016. A public roundtable will be held on Jan. 25th to discuss how to reduce traffic deaths and injuries. “While Toronto has a number of policies that speak to different aspects of road safety, we lack an overarching umbrella framework that focuses squarely on the issue. In my mind, it’s time Toronto take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to road safety,” she said.

New York is the first city to adopt Vision Zero outside of Europe, and it is already showing some success. The city is three-years into it’s 10-year plan, and traffic fatalities have declined from 277 in 2013 to 217 in 2015. Pedestrian deaths have also been reduced.

The Ontario Minister of Transportation, Steven Del Duca, is aware of Sweden’s Vision Zero Road Safety Approach and is “pursuing similar road safety goals to those highlighted in Vision Zero, as a party to Canada’s Road Safety Strategy (RSS 2015),” a statement from their office confirmed. The Road Safety Strategy is a five-year framework to reduce fatalities and serious injuries caused by collisions on Canada’s roads. It has been adopted by both the federal and provincial governments. Some elements include educating the public about road safety, improving communication and collaboration among stakeholders, enhancing enforcement, and improving road safety information for use in research and evaluation.

The panelists at the CUI seminar, especially Buckley, the general manager of transportation services for Toronto, were not as quick to jump on the Vision Zero bandwagon. The idea of the city being more responsible for the safety of pedestrians. It puts a lot of pressure on municipalities, provinces, and even the federal government to keep legislation up to date and to constantly be checking safety mechanisms in high-risk areas.

The question is: are we ready for that?

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