Vision Zero Durham

Tonight’s Guest Speaker at Code for Durham:

Charles Menefee, Intern

Transportation Department, City of Durham

This evening at Code for Durham, we learned about Vision Zero, which is an initiative started in Sweden in 1997 that aims to completely eliminate fatalities from traffic accidents. According to Vision Zero Durham’s website, “Vision Zero is an approach that recognizes no traffic fatalities or serious injuries are acceptable. It is based on the fact that we are human and make mistakes, and while the road system needs to keep us moving, it must also be designed to protect us when we err.”

The Durham City Council adopted the Vision Zero Durham Resolution on September 18, 2017, making Durham one of the first cities in North Carolina to officially adopt a Vision Zero program. In addition, the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization passed a resolution in support of Vision Zero Durham around the same time.

At the meeting, Charles presented his analysis of traffic accident fatalities and incapacitating injuries from 2012 to 2016. Over that time, 376 fatalities and incapacitating injuries occurred on Durham roadways, including 54 accidents that involved pedestrians and 6 that involved bikes. For the pedestrian accidents, 70-80% occurred on roads that lack a continuous sidewalk.

Despite many warnings about a need for increased caution during inclement weather and at night, most of the accidents happened during bright, clear conditions:

  • 78% of the crashes occurred in clear weather.
  • 53% of the crashes occurred during the day.
  • 23% of the crashes occurred at night on a lighted roadway.
  • 20% of the crashes occurred at night on a road without lights.

These statistics emphasize that traffic accidents can occur even in conditions that are generally considered the safest. In addition, accidents were shown to happen with the highest frequencies on roads with speed limits of 35 mph and 45 mph and not on highways.

The Vision Zero framework consists of the “5 E Strategy” to help governments achieve zero traffic fatalities and severe injuries:

  • education,
  • encouragement,
  • enforcement,
  • engineering, and
  • evaluation.

In addition to these foundational principles of the Vision Zero strategy, Durham has decided to add a sixth aspect:

  • equality.

According to their website, “Vision Zero Durham will emphasize educational outreach in order to educate the community’s most vulnerable roadway users: low-income people, people of color, children and the elderly.”

To help the government and community focus on equality in Vision Zero, Charles and his team created the idea of Transportation Disadvantaged Communities. These communities are defined as meeting 2 out of the 5 parameters below:

  • Communities of color (4th quartile)
  • People living below the poverty line (4th quartile)
  • Median household income (1st quartile, which represents the lowest income level)
  • Households with limited English proficiency (4th quartile)
  • People who walk, bike, or take public transit to work (4th quartile)

Charles presented a map showing these Transportation Disadvantaged Communities in Durham overlaid with the traffic accident fatalities and incapacitating injuries to show the areas of high vulnerability to traffic-related incidents. These areas should be given particular attention as the city moves toward creating the procedures and projects that determine how Durham implements its Vision Zero policy.