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With about 54,000 residents, the city of Hoboken in New Jersey has reportedly recorded no traffic fatalities for three straight years. The city implemented the Vision Zero program two years ago, and it seems that it got to work quickly.
Vision Zero is an ambitious plan that aims to prevent all traffic fatalities and serious injuries worldwide. The program has had an impact on reducing traffic deaths, and especially pedestrian deaths, in some cities and countries around the world, but mainly Europe. The first country to implement Vision Zero, Sweden, has seen a 30% reduction in fatalities since changing policies in 1997.
“Hoboken is a pedestrian-oriented city,” Hoboken’s director of transportation and parking, Ryan Sharp, told Streetsblog. “There are so many ways that you can get around without driving, some people have stopped driving in Hoboken.”
Los Angeles, however, can’t relate. In 2019, 244 people were killed in traffic collisions on city streets, a decrease of 0.8% compared to 2018, according to the Los Angeles Times. The victims included 134 people who were walking and 19 people biking. It signaled another year of lackluster progress for the city’s Vision Zero program, which Mayor Eric Garcetti signed in 2015 to eliminate traffic deaths on city streets by 2025.
Since Vision Zero was launched, the number of pedestrians, vehicle occupants, bicyclists, and motorcyclists killed in traffic crashes annually has risen 33%. Fatalities surged in 2016 — the year after the initiative was signed— from 183 to 253, and have fallen 3.6% since then. And to make matters worse, Los Angeles has yet to achieve the first major benchmark set out in Vision Zero: a 20% reduction in deaths that officials had hoped to achieve in 2017.
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore reportedly said at a news conference last year that the future of traffic safety in Los Angeles will be in question until the city can wean itself off its reliance on cell phones.
In 2019, the Transportation Department made more changes to streets in L.A. than in the prior two years combined. Many of the modifications were reportedly aimed at improving safety for pedestrians, including 1,162 upgrades to crosswalks and 13 sets of flashing lights that alert drivers when someone is crossing the street.
In this city, though pedestrians are involved in a fraction of the traffic crashes, they represent a disproportionate number of the victims. Over a five-year period this decade, people on foot were involved in 8% of collisions but represented 44% of those killed, according to city data. Moreover, the number of pedestrians killed has soared as the number of drivers and passengers killed annually in traffic collisions has fallen. In 2019, about 55% of the people killed in traffic crashes were on foot, an increase from 40% in the year Vision Zero began.
And it doesn’t help that Los Angeles is typically a city resistant to, for example, the elimination of traffic lanes. When this was attempted on several streets in Mar Vista and Playa del Rey in 2017, it sparked a massive outcry and a failed recall attempt against Councilman Mike Bonin. The city ultimately eventually undid most of the changes, but left a protected bike lane on Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista.