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The ‘Vision Zero’ philosophy of traffic engineering puts safety above all else

Bike Portland published an interesting Q&A with Peter Jacobsen, a public health researcher who pushes a philosophy of traffic engineering that focuses on reducing traffic deaths first. This concept, “Vision Zero,” should not be a revolutionary idea, but it is in our culture. Basically, he looks at the rampant death on American roadways and asks why we allow this to continue:

15-20 years ago, traffic-calming was a funny sounding term and not many people knew what it meant. I think Vision Zero is at that same point. The Swedes look at is as, how many people should die?

Look at how we react to people dying in plane crashes. Look at those miners in Chile. Mining used to be dangerous, but now people are concerned about it. There’s outrage that people are dying at work and we don’t accept that… In all these other facets of life we don’t accept death, yet with traffic we do. […]


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My job is to say it out loud. Why do we allow these deaths to occur?

You may recognize Jacobsen as the researcher behind the concept of “safety in numbers” for bicyclists. If we make safety the main goal of ALL roads decisions, we will reduce anxiety among potential cyclists who are scared to start riding, thus making us all safer due to the increase in the number of bikers, etc.

On the flip side, not putting safety as the main goal of a roads project is insane and unacceptable. Examples of safe roads exists all around the world and within our own city. We know traffic calming works. We know slower speeds on residential streets dramatically decrease the risk of death. We know roundabouts at major intersections reduce the most dangerous kinds of collisions. It’s now a matter of putting this knowledge into practice on our streets.


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