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Vision Zero: No one should lose a friend to a traffic crash

Every time I read about a traffic fatality in the District, I breathe a sigh of relief when I don’t recognize the name. On Friday April 19, 2019, that all changed. That morning, I saw on twitter that a cyclist had been struck and killed. I said a silent prayer, raged a little on the inside, and then moved on with my day. Later that evening, I open twitter and I saw a name I recognize, Dave Salovesh. In the middle of the movie theater, I burst into tears.Bicycle locked to a light post. The bike is painted white as a symbol of a ghost bike.

There’s not much I can more say about Dave that hasn’t already been said here, here, here, here, and countless other places. Dave and I had known each other for nearly a decade. He and I rode the Fort Circle Trail in Ward 7 a few times, including the one time he, Brian McEntee, and I wiped out on the hill between Branch Avenue and Naylor Road SE. When I would get discouraged about the challenges I faced in my projects, Dave was always there to support and encourage me. My friend is no longer here because he was struck and killed by someone driving 70mph on Florida Avenue NE. The most upsetting part of Dave’s passing is that it was preventable, as are most other traffic-related deaths.

Last year, over 40,000 people died in a traffic-related incident. While not a significant percentage of the total U.S. population, each person, like Dave, left behind family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and other loved ones. Not to mention the residual trauma experienced by bystanders who witness the crash and emergency responders. In addition to the social loss, there is the cost of each death via lost wages for the family, property damage, city resources, and others. For example, the CDC estimates the cost of crash-related deaths for the District of Columbia was $34 Million in 2013.

Nspiregreen developed the Vision Zero Action Plans for the District of Columbia and the City of Alexandria. As Chanceé Lundy mentioned in our last blog post about Vision Zero: “Without swift action and accountability, DC Vision Zero is just a plan with pretty graphics. We developed it with policies and enforcement mechanisms that should be implemented. It is a tool to address what has become all too common behavior in the District. There should be less talk about Vision Zero and its possibilities and more actions that prioritize the District’s most vulnerable users.”

To the political leaders, fellow planners and engineers, advocates, and residents: Vision Zero requires more of us than platitudes, dreams deferred, and delay by unnecessary studies. It requires us to take immediate actions to prevent people from dying on our roadways. It requires us to be okay with removing parking, reducing the number of vehicle travel lanes and lane widths, removing highway infrastructure to reconnect the street grid, and changing the signal timing to ensure safety, as well as reallocating the public right-of-way for public transportation, bicycle facilities, and sidewalks. As a region (and frankly as a nation) a paradigm shift needs to occur. We have to begin prioritizing safety over urgency, traffic flow, or speed. If we are willing to accept a few minutes delay in our drives, we can guarantee that all will reach our destinations safely.

The DC region has the tools, knowledge, and plans to make our streets safer. All we need now is bold, brave, and steadfast leadership to make the tough (but right) decisions to advance those plans from paper to reality. No one else should lose a friend to a preventable traffic crash.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

Thailand Crash

Thailand’s Deadly Roads and the Global Pandemic of Traffic Crashes

A total of 463 people died in 3,791 traffic crashes in Thailand between December 27, 2018 and January 2 of 2019. Yes, you read correctly. In the span of seven days, 463 people lost their lives during the country’s “seven dangerous days” over the New Year holiday when Thais were traveling to visit friends and family for the one week festival. This was an increase to 2017’s 423 deaths during the “seven dangerous days”.

Thailand’s roads are the deadliest roads in Southeast Asia. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 22,941 people die each year in traffic crashes in Thailand. That’s an average of 62 deaths per day. 73% of those deaths are people riding motorcycles, which have become the most popular form of transportation for many households. Thailand is also ranked 2nd in the world for most lethal roads after Libya by the World Health Organization. Their road collision-related death rate is 32.7 out of every 100,000 people. In Libya, in 2015 their reported rate was 73.4 deaths out of every 100,000 people. In United States an estimated 40,100 people were killed in 2017 with a current death rate of 12.4 out of every 100,000 people. But understand that even though United States has a higher total of traffic crashes per year than Thailand it has a lesser rate because United States has an overall population of 325.7 million whereas Thailand has a population of 69.04 million.

Why is Thailand’s traffic fatality rate so high? One of the noted obstacles to safer roads is lack of enforcement of traffic rules. Drunk driving and speeding are the most reported causes of crashes. In addition to drunk driving and speeding, the failure to wear helmets and seatbelts and the lack of restraints for children are among the biggest risks for road safety that is embedded in the culture. Cultural habits can be difficult to change. The number of police traffic stops have increased in certain areas and there have been more signs mandating motorcyclists to wear helmets, but are those the only factors when it comes to tackling this problem, especially if they have proven to not be efficient enough?

Road safety is a worldwide issue that is not addressed enough. Road crashes have been labeled a global pandemic by the Pulitzer Center and are the eighth leading cause of death for people of all ages, with 1.35 million people dying on the road in 2016. These crashes and untimely deaths are preventable.  Globally, there are proper measures to approach this great issue that requires a collaboration of disciplines:

  • Policies and enforcement in regards to proper speed limits, alcohol impairment, seat-belt use, child restraints, and safety helmets.
  • Adequate road design and transportation facilities (bicycle, pedestrian, motorcycles, and transit). When possible separate motor vehicles from more vulnerable modes such as people walking and biking. Promoting safer and more efficient travel for all users: motorists, bicyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians. Placing traffic calming and proper signage.
  • Encouraging and implementing the use of safe and flexible modes of public transportation.
  • Powerful public awareness campaigns
  • Making vehicles more protective and visible for occupants, pedestrians, and cyclists. Using high-mounted brake lights and reflective materials on cycles, carts, rickshaws and other non-motorized forms of transport.

For something so preventable, traffic crashes in Thailand and around the world really need a bigger outcry.

Jazmin Kimble is an Urban Planner and Urban Designer  from Long Island, NY. She has a passion for empowering and planning adequate, equitable communities through the lens of Geodesign, Urban Design, Community Development, Architectural Design, Sustainability, Environmental Solutions, and Community Engagement. Jazmin believes the culture and the history of a community is what makes it unique. This approach allows her to design with communities from a holistic viewpoint.

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Vision Zero: Less Talk More Action

Crossing the street in the nation’s capital shouldn’t be a death sentence. Unfortunately, for far too many, it has become just that.

How many more people will be injured?

How many people will have to lose their life before we see real change?

When Nspiregreen led the development of the District’s Vision Zero Plan, I was excited about the opportunity to prioritize vulnerable users such asvzpedestrians, cyclists, and disabled individuals in transportation planning and engineering. What surprised me as I talked to hundreds of residents in all eight wards of the District was the number of people who had either been hit themselves or knew someone who had been hit by a car while crossing the street. I have definitely encountered my share of reckless and impatient drivers but listening to the experiences of others was both eye-opening and humbling. What I didn’t know then, is that I would witness an accident just as tragic.

By 9:00 am, I am usually in my office downtown; but, as the universe would have it on this bright and sunny morning, I was taking my son on a long walk to daycare from his morning Doctor’s appointment. We were crossing eastbound on the southside of 15th St. and H St. NW paying attention to the heavy traffic around us and people who like me just wanted to get to their destination. As soon as we crossed the street, I looked immediately to my left and saw a man jumping out of his truck. He was distressed and yelling something. My eyes went from him to the road in front of him and that’s where I saw the body of someone laying in the road. I immediately dialed 911. I wasn’t on that side of the street, but I knew it was bad because the person wasn’t moving. As the operator asked me what seemed like a million questions, I made my way across the street to see a woman lying there – Starbucks cups laying on the ground – with no movement. Things were happening so fast. There were some men assisting her and someone checked and discovered that she did have a pulse. There was blood and she wasn’t conscious. I couldn’t believe the scene unfolding before me. We were crossing the street at the same time (with the walk signal) but someone made a left turn and hit her. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Where in the hell are the police? The ambulance? My mind was racing. I was anxious. But mostly my thoughts were on her.

I stood around a while hoping that I would get some signal that she would be okay. By the time the paramedics arrived, I decided to get my son to daycare and come back. I was moving but I was so unsettled. Throughout the workday, my thoughts were with her. The next day I found out the unfortunate news that Mrs. Carol Tomason a wife, mother, grandmother and lifelong educator didn’t survive the hit. I can only imagine what was on Mrs. Tomason’s mind that morning – enjoying her vacation spending precious time with her children and grandchildren. Like many of us in the District she was looking forward to enjoying her coffee drink and getting on with her day. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t get to live out this day. Her family is now left to mourn her death caused by an accident that should have never happened.

This is only one of the regrettable stories of tragedy that have become all too common on DC streets. In her obituary, Mrs. Tomason’s family asked people to support DC Vision Zero. Without swift action and accountability, DC Vision Zero is just a plan with pretty graphics. We developed it with policies and enforcement mechanisms that should be implemented. It is a tool to address what has become all too common behavior in the District. There should be less talk about Vision Zero and its possibilities and more actions that prioritize the District’s most vulnerable users. While getting to zero may seem ambitious if everyone does their part it is attainable.

Update: As I write this blog, I was sent a link to Mayor Bowser’s new Vision Zero announcement. I won’t go into the details of the announcement here; but, I will say that I hope these new changes significantly reduce the number of tragedies that we have seen in the District.

 Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC a community, multimodal, and environmental planning firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.

 





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