As part of its 2020 capital budget deliberations, the City of Madison adopted Alder Grant Foster’s Vision Zero Traffic Safety amendment.
The amendment sets aside $350,000 to fund an analysis of traffic conditions and crash history and implement recommendations that will reduce the severity of specific crashes in west, south, and downtown Madison.
Specifically, it would slow traffic on Mineral Point Road, Park Street, and East Washington Avenue corridors.
Every year, more than 40,000 people die from car crashes, and in Madison, the number of fatalities and serious injuries is about the same as those from homicides and other violent crimes.
We typically call these incidents “accidents,” and assume they’re inevitable — a constant risk of driving. But, Yang Tao, the City of Madison’s Traffic Engineer, says Vision Zero takes a scientific approach to curbing accidents.
“We may not be able to prevent all crashes from happening; however, when they do happen, we want to minimize the consequences,” Tao says. “Ideally, we want to get rid of all traffic-related deaths or serious injuries. So, that’s why this is important. We want to save as many lives as possible.”
While Vision Zero approaches may examine roadway designs and driver behaviors, the City’s Director of Transportation, Tom Lynch, says that Vision Zero measures typically include some speed limit reduction.
“A pedestrian that’s hit at 25 miles per hour has a good chance of surviving, but a pedestrian that’s hit at 35 miles an hour is likely going to die or be injured critically,” Lynch says.
“So, if we can find corridors where we can use low-cost traffic engineering treatments to reduce speed [and] help with compliance, then we can address some of the areas where the highest number of fatalities are occurring and the highest number of critical injuries are occurring .”
Lynch also says it’s not a given that Traffic Engineering will recommend reducing speed limits, but that other cities have seen significant results from using that tactic alone.
Still, a concern remains that drivers simply may not comply with reduced speed limits.
“I was just at a conference and there was a woman from Bogota and they chose just five corridors, and they reduced the speed by five kilometers. These were highway-type corridors, and they saw a reduction in the first year of eighty-five fewer deaths. I followed up and asked, ‘Did you do signing or any geometric improvements associated with this?’ and she said, ‘No, it was based on a public campaign,'” Lynch notes.
“So, I think the concern is valid, and we actually have the concern, too, that you can’t just change the sign and expect people to slow down. There would have to be other treatments, perhaps visually [through] pavement markings, signal timing, [and] signal progression, that could perhaps also help reduce travel speeds.”
Alder Foster, who was the primary sponsor of the amendment, says implementing Vision Zero will eventually lead the City to change its approach to traffic design.
“ We will be working on a resolution early in the year so that we formally join in to the Vision Zero Network, and this will be a multi-year project for us,” Foster shares.
“And, much more than simply finding another couple hundred thousand dollars to invest here and there, but I think really taking a fundamental look at how we design streets to begin with, how we redesign them when they’re already coming up for reconstruction, and we have over thirty million dollars a year that we general spend in capital funds on street reconstruction projects, and we could really start to use some of those existing funds to focus on safety improvements rather than simply looking at pavement condition.”
The City’s Traffic Engineering Department will examine the main causes of crashes in the aforementioned corridors to develop its recommendations, and will hire an outside consultant to help the City apply for federal highway safety improvement grants.
The City’s Transportation Commission will approve the final recommended safety improvements before implementing them.