Tuesday marked the official launch of San Antonio’s Vision Zero, a multi-national awareness and educational initiative that calls for zero traffic fatalities. It’s a lofty goal, but proponents of the plan say these deaths, especially those of pedestrians, are preventable accidents that can be systematically addressed with infrastructure and safety education.
Last year 54 pedestrians were killed while walking in San Antonio, an average of one death per week. To pay tribute to those individuals, 54 people stood on the steps of City Hall as Mayor Ivy Taylor, Council members, and City staff launched the initiative.
“We suffer human losses because of culture and public policy decisions that have resulted in the built environment we have today,” said Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5), who has long advocated for more City investment in complete street, or multimodal, infrastructure and led the Council’s backing of Vision Zero.
According to the ethos of Vision Zero, individuals and roadway design should share the burden of ensuring safe passage. Priority is often given to vehicles, leaving pedestrians and cyclists to fend for themselves in an environment built for tires and steel.
“We have a high number of traffic fatality rates because we have a fundamentally dangerous environment,” Gonzales said.
Aside from infrastructure like better sidewalks and safer street crossings, the City is looking into reducing speed limits to create a safer environment for those walking and bicycling.
“We’ve made and continue to make policy decisions and direct City staff to construct projects that keep everyone and every mode of transportation in mind,” Mayor Taylor said.
The fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget, passed on Sept. 10, includes maintenance and improvements for sidewalks, school zones, and streets. Compared to last year’s budget, the City increased sidewalk improvements by $10 million and increased street maintenance by $20 million, bringing the total to $65 million. The FY 2016 budget also includes $1 million for safety enhancements around schools including new school zone signs, flashing beacons, and pavement marking improvements.
San Antonio has 4,000 miles of sidewalks in place, and the increase in funding will focus on improving and building the paths from neighborhoods to schools. To make crossing the street safer and more comfortable, the City will create islands in the middle of the street as a “safe haven” for pedestrians.
San Antonio’s population is expected to increase by 1 million by 2040, and with more people comes more cars. As congestion increases, alternative modes of transportation like walking and cycling will become more attractive, which could lead to a decrease in traffic fatalities. That is, if the infrastructure is in place to support foot and bike traffic.
“To be able to accommodate (the one million people) we can’t build enough roads for all of their cars so we are going to need to offer alternative modes of transportation,” said City Manager Sheryl Sculley.
SA Tomorrow, the City’s comprehensive plan to accommodate the influx of people, is divided into three segments, one of which addresses transportation. The Multimodal Transportation Plan, includes all modes of transportation – including walking.
The SA Tomorrow planning process is the future of San Antonio’s built environment.
“The work being done through SA Tomorrow is critical,” she said. “We can achieve Vision Zero only if the built environment is consistent with safe street design.”
In addition to Vision Zero, Mayor Taylor accepted U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s “Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets.” The effort includes utilizing a “complete streets” approach, to street design, a policy that San Antonio adopted in 2011.
“I was pleased to see that many of the components include actions that the city has already been working on to enhance our safety,” Mayor Taylor said.
Taylor recognized the effort Gonzales has put into the Vision Zero initiative.
“She’s become an ambassador for pedestrian and bicyclists safety,” Mayor Taylor said.
Of the 54 pedestrians that died in San Antonio, 94% were 18 and older, one in three were 40-60 years old, and 74% of the fatalities happened between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
“These fatalities are preventable, they are not inevitable,” Gonzales said, adding there are U.S. cities with one-third the traffic fatality rates of San Antonio. Tokyo, she said, has a fatality rate one-tenth that of San Antonio.
*Top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor leads a Vision Zero safety pledge on the steps of City Hall. Photo by Joan Vinson.