Public safety is my first priority as an elected official. Traffic fatalities and serious injuries take an enormous toll on society and families, but they are not inevitable. San Antonio families deserve safe streets, and they deserve streets that respect and protect all road users. People who walk and ride bikes should have the same level of protection as those who drive.

Vision Zero is a traffic safety approach that ensures traffic crashes do not result in deaths or serious injuries. It recognizes that driving is inherently dangerous. Therefore, the traffic system should take human error into account and design systems that prevent fatalities and serious injuries when people make mistakes. Driver behavior is important, vehicle safety is important, but design of the built environment is also important.

I established making San Antonio a Vision Zero city a priority during this term in my 2015 State of District 5 speech. I initiated a Council Consideration Request (CCR) to develop a Vision Zero action plan. That CCR was signed by council members Ray Lopez (D6), Rey Saldaña (D4), Ron Nirenberg (D8), and Roberto Treviño (D1). The first step to eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries in San Antonio has been taken.

Historically, traffic safety emphasis has focused on improving driver behavior, vehicle safety, and road design with a goal of reducing risk while prioritizing mobility. As a result, we have built traffic systems that often compromise safety in the interest of mobility.

Pedestrians cross the intersection of Audubon Drive and San Pedro Avenue. Photo by Scott Ball.
Pedestrians cross the intersection of Audubon Drive and San Pedro Avenue. Photo by Scott Ball.

Vision Zero demands a new approach. Prioritizing safety over all other interests.

Traffic fatality rates vary widely by city and state. In 2014, the safest U.S. cities had traffic fatality rates as low as 3.2 per 100,000 population. San Antonio’s 2014 traffic fatality rate was 10.57 per 100,000. That’s an improvement from previous years, but still 326% greater than New York City. Traffic fatality rates in Texas compare negatively to the nation as a whole. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported the national average for 2009-2013 as 11.05 fatalities per 100,000 population. During the same period, Texas had a traffic fatality rate of 12.52 per 100,000 population, while the best performing state had a fatality rate of 4.90 per 100,000 population.

Functionally classified roads, including collectors, arterials, and highways, account for the overwhelming majority of traffic fatalities in San Antonio. All Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) managed roads in San Antonio are functionally classified. To achieve Vision Zero, TxDOT must change the way they design and build roads in San Antonio. Therefore, TxDOT must be a partner in developing and implementing San Antonio’s Vision Zero action plan.

The Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (AAMPO) has a leading role in transportation planning. The AAMPO Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) identifies major federally funded capital improvement projects throughout the San Antonio region. Congestion management is the most heavily weighted criteria for evaluating and selecting added capacity and road improvement projects for the TIP. Safety is second, and the criteria for safety is crashes per vehicle miles traveled, not fatalities or serious injuries. As a result, AAMPO is funding projects that are not consistent with Vision Zero. AAMPO must change their transportation planning processes and evaluation criteria, and should be a partner in developing and implementing San Antonio’s Vision Zero action plan.

Other key stakeholders include Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI), The Office of Sustainability, Planning, and Development Services from the City of San Antonio, VIA Metropolitan Transit, and the independent school districts. TCI designs and builds city streets, but the purpose of those streets is to provide access between destinations within the city. Community planning, development patterns and land use define the transportation system that connects these destinations. Vision Zero requires a new way of not only viewing traffic safety, but also the network of streets and the built environment that those streets serve. Achieving Vision Zero will also likely require or create a more compact and connected city, where transit and active transportation play greater roles. Agencies that lead in the areas of transportation, planning, zoning, land use, and community development must all be fully engaged in developing and implementing the Vision Zero action plan.

Passengers board a VIA bus in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Passengers board a VIA bus in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Iris Dimmick. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

Emergency responders have an important role in street design. Research shows road design guidelines that require high design speeds with long line of sight, wide lanes, and wide rights of way increase risk of fatal crashes in urban areas. Solutions will have to be developed that ensure emergency responders have sufficient access while reducing the design speed of urban streets. The San Antonio Police and Fire Departments must be partners in developing solutions that ensure their ability to respond to emergencies while reducing the design speed of streets throughout the city.

Vision Zero is achievable. It will take time and commitment. That commitment must come from every sector of San Antonio, but the rewards will be far reaching. Those rewards will include not only safer streets, but I believe the city will become more walkable and bicycling friendly, our air will be cleaner, and San Antonio will be more prosperous. In short, achieving Vision Zero will be transformative, and San Antonio will be a better place. San Antonio residents and visitors will not only be safer, but they will enjoy a greater quality of life.

I encourage you to contact your Councilmember and tell them you support Vision Zero.

Featured top image: Cyclists ride on South Alamo Street near downtown San Antonio.  Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Shirley Gonzales is the Councilwoman for San Antonio District 5.