By Kathryn M. Miller
Across the country, there are an estimated 40,000 traffic deaths each year, and millions more injuries.
In Phoenix, the numbers are sobering. In 2019, crash data showed there were six fatalities involving cyclists; 72 involving pedestrians; and 99 involving motor vehicles. Despite “stay at home” orders and other pandemic related actions, the numbers jumped by 5 percent in 2020. Fast forward to 2021, and the unofficial numbers show there were 8, 97 and 127, respectively — that’s a 25 percent increase from the year prior.
During a presentation at a March 2022 meeting of The HUB (Hatcher Urban Businesses), Kini Knudson, director of the City of Phoenix Street Transportation Department, shared these grim statistics. He added that Phoenix is the third highest in the nation for overall traffic fatalities, behind only Los Angeles and Houston, first and second, respectively. And when you look at the stats on a per-capita basis, Phoenix surpasses both cities.
Phoenix is 520 square miles, has 5,000 miles of city streets and 1,200 traffic signals. That’s a lot of area to cover. So, what is the city doing to make the roadways safer? Successful action begins with a plan.
The Phoenix City Council and the mayor in March 2021 approved the development of a Road Safety Action Plan. The plan will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of current safety conditions; establish a clear vision and mission that unites residents, stakeholders and city staff with a common goal; provide public engagement; and determine a High Injury Network that informs prioritization. All of this will be done through updated evaluation and recommendation tools.
Now, the city is ready to take the plan to the next level. At its Jan. 25 meeting, the Phoenix City Council voted to incorporate Vision Zero into the goals of the city’s Road Safety Action Plan (RSAP/VZ).
Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all.
First implemented in Sweden in the 1990s, Vision Zero is gaining momentum in major American cities. The Vision Zero Network (www.visionzeronetwork.org) recognizes cities that take action towards adopting this approach to road safety as “Vision Zero Communities.”
The core philosophy behind Vision Zero is that traffic-related deaths and serious injuries are preventable, and that one traffic fatality is one too many. The goal is to explore and implement strategies to get cities to a point where serious injuries and fatalities on roadways are down to zero.
“One fatality out there is somebody’s mother or brother or sister or grandfather or child,” Knudson said, “One is too many.”
What are the advantages of incorporating a Vision Zero strategy in Phoenix’s existing safety action plan? First, it creates a public, high-level and ongoing commitment on the part of the city, which must set a timely goal to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries — and share their progress. The program also allows the city to access federal support.
The bipartisan infrastructure bill that was signed into law in November includes programs such as Safe Streets and Roads for All, which will provide $5–6 billion in grants over the next five years, and focuses on Vision Zero cities to help them develop and implement road safety plans.
“Becoming a Vision Zero City puts us in line to be very competitive at the federal level for Vision Zero dedicated resources to help us implement things here in Phoenix,” Knudson shared.
The first draft of the RSAP/VZ plan will be available in summer 2022, and residents will be asked for their input, then a task force will be developed to finalize the plan, which will then be presented to the mayor and council in fall 2022.
In the meantime, the Street Transportation Department continues to work on near-term safety improvement projects.
At the end of March, the city officially activated its 75th HAWK (High-Intensity Activated CrossWalK). If you’ve driven through Phoenix’s Melrose District and elsewhere, you’ll recognize the HAWK. The pedestrian traffic signal helps provide a safe and easy crossing point for pedestrians at busy intersections and at mid-block locations. The March installation was one of 38 new HAWKs installed in just the last five years, and more are scheduled for installation before the end of the calendar year.
The 3rd Avenue Improvement Project, which is ongoing, will improve the safety, access and comfort for people walking and riding bicycles in the neighborhoods along 3rd Avenue, between Camelback Road and Missouri Avenue. The study will recommend and design sidewalks and innovative facilities, including shade trees and features that will minimize neighborhood cut-through traffic and keep vehicle speeds lower. The planning portion of this project is complete and the city is seeking funding to complete the final design and, once complete, construction.
Another North Central project is the Mountain View Road improvement program, taking place from Mountain View Road to Peoria Avenue; 15th Avenue to 7th Avenue. The project, federally funded through the Safe Routes to School program, will enhance safety and accessibility for school children and other pedestrians near Mountain View Elementary School. A public meeting was held in February, with design anticipated to be completed at the end of April. Construction should begin this fall.
Knudson encourages residents to get involved in the RSAP/VZ and make their voices heard, “1.7 million residents who are out there experiencing and using our roadways each and every day, they see where the safety issues are. We want to hear from them.”
Follow the progress of the RSAP/VZ or provide input at www.phoenix.gov/roadsafety. For additional information, call the Street Transportation Department’s main number: 602-262-6284.