Vision Zero: Is Atlanta Ready to Get Serious About Reducing Traffic Deaths?

New York City is embracing an ambitious plan called Vision Zero to eliminate traffic fatalities within a decade. Similar traffic safety campaigns under the Vision Zero name have happened in Boston and San Francisco. Here in Atlanta, where pedestrian deaths are on the rise, could such a renewed focus on traffic safety make a difference?

Swedish beginnings for Vision Zero

Vision Zero’s origins are in Sweden, where traffic fatalities have dropped 30% since its inception in 1997. The goal is to have zero accident fatalities and serious injuries by 2020. The goal of no traffic fatalities is a lofty goal, but one the country is making strides towards.

New York City’s Vision Zero campaign has received much publicity, as the administration of Mayor Bill deBlasio pursues significant changes across NYC to slow down drivers and keep people safer. The essential message of Vision Zero is that traffic deaths and injuries are not inevitable and the status quo is unacceptable. We wholeheartedly support the notion that traffic accidents are preventable and more steps can be taken to prevent serious traffic accidents.

NYC’s version of Vision Zero

According to New York City’s homepage for the Vision Zero campaign, some of the changes taking place now or slated for future projects include:

  • Lowering city-wide speed limits
  • Widening streets where accidents are common
  • Creating “slow zones” in high-risk areas
  • Installing more speed and red light cameras
  • Enhancing street lighting throughout the city
  • Installing speed bumps through neighborhoods
  • Partnering with schools in safety curriculum
  • Partnering with senior centers for increased communication with city elders
  • Implementing safety engineering changes
  • Holding workshops and public-input sessions

Vision Zero is a multi-faceted approach to pedestrian and motorist safety—involving city government, advocacy groups, private sector participants, and the public as well. From city hall to traffic enforcement officers and schools—everyone has a role to play in keeping the streets safe.

The program is taking multiple agencies, significant effort, and a good amount of cash. Can the same vision be fostered in Atlanta?

Atlanta traffic makes accidents common

Traffic deaths across Georgia dropped slightly in 2013 after increasing in 2012. But pedestrian deaths continued to march upward. As the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported last month, more Georgia pedestrians died in auto accidents in 2013 than in any previous year since 1997. This marked the second straight year of increasing pedestrian deaths. Several counties in metro Atlanta including Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett counties consistently rank among the Georgia counties with the highest number of traffic deaths and injuries.

2012 Traffic Injuries and Deaths in Atlanta Area

Crash injuries Total traffic deaths Pedestrian deaths Speeding deaths Motorcycle deaths
Clayton 3,678 20 7 3 1
Cobb 7,821 47 10 12 6
DeKalb 10,078 76 19 12 15
Forsyth 1,156 22 4 4 2
Fulton 15,673 77 16 17 12
Gwinnett 9,800 45 6 3 6


Source: Georgia Traffic Safety Facts, 2012

A recent study from Smart Growth America cited our city as being the eighth most dangerous large metro area for pedestrians. From 2003 to 2012, 839 pedestrians died in the Atlanta-Metro area.

Unlike other cities–think NYC– where pedestrian traffic is extremely common and densely populated centers cater to pedestrian traffic, Atlanta is far more spread out. That often leaves pedestrians without crosswalks or even sidewalks for foot travel.

Efforts by the Georgia Department of Transportation to provide more pedestrian accommodations, introduce roundabout intersections and pursue the long-term Complete Streets initiative to make streets more accommodating to bicyclists and pedestrians as well as motorists show innovation in the service of safety. Does still more need to be done to make Atlanta streets safer and reverse the increase in pedestrian deaths? Absolutely. Harris Blackwood, director of the Georgia Office of Highway Safety, had it right when he said in a recent GDOT news release that every reduction in traffic deaths represents a family that is spared the horror of being told that a loved one has been killed in a crash.

For Vision Zero or a similar policy by another name to make a difference, Atlanta city officials need to reject the status quo that so many traffic deaths per year are unavoidable, take pedestrian and motorist safety seriously, put their money where their mouth is and invest in considerable changes to make the city safe for everyone.