[UPDATE to what follows: In May 2016 I launched the Vision Zero Canada website.]
What is Vision Zero?
Vision Zero is a global movement dedicated to the elimination of the 1.2 million deaths and 50 million injuries caused by vehicular collisions each year. In many places the numbers are mounting, and progress will only happen by way of substantial changes in attitude and public policy. It’s time for Canada to get with the program.
As Neil Arason notes in his indispensable 2014 book No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads, Canadians tend to regard motor vehicle crashes as accidents, acts of God, or the fault of individuals engaging in aberrant behavior. This fatalistic attitude helps explain why Canada’s per capita traffic fatality rate is almost double that of the world’s best performers. To improve this lamentable toll Canadians will need to take action based on the example of countries who lead in the development and implementation of safe design.
The first step towards a Vision Zero policy is raising public awareness about the extent of the carnage, and showing how it can be avoided though improvements in regulation and design. The next step is working with concerned citizens to ensure that civic officials set bold targets, allocate funds and make steady progress toward the elimination of traffic deaths and serious injuries.
Progress in this area is a matter of political will, as we can see in the Netherlands. In just four decades (1970-2011) the Dutch reduced their road crash fatality rate fell from 24.6 persons per 100,000 to just 4.0 persons. A seismic shift occurred in the early 1970s, when parents grew indignant about the slaughter of their children on the nation’s roads and initiated the Stop de Kindermoord (Stop the Child Murder) campaign. Dutch engineers are now acknowledged leaders in the implementation of “self-explaining” and “forgiving” streets designed for the safety of motor vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians alike. As a rule, traffic in the Netherlands flows smoothly for all, and there are sweeping public health benefits thanks to increased physical activity and reduction in emissions and injuries.
From Laggard to Leader: The Plan for Vison Zero Canada
In an effort to raise awareness and establish standards in this country I have incorporated Vision Zero Canada as a federal nonprofit with a head office here in the capitol. Vision Zero advocacy has long been part of the Slow Ottawa project, which I’ve been hosting for two years on the present site as well as on Twitter and Pinterest.
Examples of safe streets abound on the Slow Ottawa Pinterest boards, which at time of writing have more than 30 categories, 3,800 carefully-labelled images, and 7,680 global followers. Where else can a road safety geek pick through extensive smorgasbords of designs for complete streets, cycle paths and multi-modal intersections?
The Slow Ottawa boards are clearly engaging many people in thinking about safe, healthy urban infrastructure. Each month the boards attract more than 300,000 views and 8,000 repins or clicks, attesting to a burgeoning global interest in smart urban design. Likewise, Slow Ottawa’s Twitter feed has 1200+ followers who regularly critique examples of best and worst road safety practices. So the machinery is in place for a sister site devoted exclusively to road safety advocacy in Canada, always with an eye to best practices elsewhere in the world.
While promoting smart urbanism Vision Zero Canada will address other safe streets issues including the regulation and design of highways and motor vehicles. The aim is to engage a broad public with the smartest developments in road safety, and to persuade municipal, provincial and federal decision-makers to work decisively toward zero-casualty streets.
Since incorporating five days ago I’ve set up the Twitter account @VisionZeroCA and I’ve purchased the URL www.visionzero.ca. That link will lead, in due time, to a full, dynamic website complete with a mission statement; the latest data about Canada’s road safety standing; examples of best practices; and tools for civic engagement including petitions, event planners, agitprop and swag. There will even be an audiocast for which Neil Arason himself has agreed to be my first guest.
The Vision Zero Canada safety campaign will be:
- evidence-based, relying on the gathering and careful dissemination of accurate, up-to-date traffic safety data, and on the promotion of policies and designs that have been proven to save lives worldwide;
- specific in its goals, focusing on the implementation of benchmarks, reports and accreditation;
- holistic, taking a “safe systems” approach that considers the general well-being resulting from reduced injury and increased active transit;
- inclusive, intent on forming alliances with the global Vision Zero community, and with a broader network of safety, health, environment and placemaking experts;
- diverse, aiming to reach a broad national demographic through outreach and educational programming at all levels;
- bold in its bid for demonstrable safety progress from the people who administer Canada’s traffic infrastructure.
If you think this sounds like a good idea, please help me put it into action.
How You Can Help
All of this advocacy requires funding. You can help launch Vision Zero Canada by scrolling up this page (or down, on some mobile devices) and clicking the Donate button below the square Vision Zero banner. Alas, I can’t give you a tax receipt for your contribution; VZC has to be registered as a non-profit rather than a charity, since more than 10% of its activities—all of it, really—will be devoted to some form of advocacy.
What you will get, as a donor of $25 or more, is a place of honour on a Vision Zero Canada section of the Slow Ottawa sponsors page. Those names will be transferred to the sponsors page of the VZC website as soon as I’ve raised the $5,000 needed to design and author it. You can give $50 to have your name linked to your personal website, and to be thanked on social media. $100 will get your business name listed and linked. Alternatively you could donate in honour of a person or a cause, or you could choose to give anonymously. All of this can be specified in the secure donation message.
You don’t need to give a lot to make a big difference. Even a few dollars each from enough people would help move things forward.
From Strength to Strength
Once I’ve built the Vision Zero Canada web site I will seek partners and volunteers, and apply for further funding from sponsors and grant programs. I am confident that a concerted effort could make the elimination of traffic deaths into a national priority, and that we could see dramatic casualty reductions in the years to come.
Thank you for your interest, and for anything you can do to help.
Yours in solidarity,
UPDATES (Twitter links to this post and other Vision Zero info):
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Lessons from a talk by Dr. Matts-Åke Belin, traffic safety strategist with the Swedish Transport Administration:
From the Vision Zero Initiative in Sweden:
Some beautiful infrastructure: