Should Dallas become a ‘Vision Zero’ city?

Vision Zero may sound like a robot trying to describe a blind person, but it’s actually a nation wide initiative to reduce traffic deaths in our cities.

Vision Zero is a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries, while increasing safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all. First implemented in Sweden in the 1990s, Vision Zero has proved successful across Europe — and now it’s gaining momentum in major American cities.

Road traffic deaths are the most common cause of death among people ages 15–29.

It’s based on the sound principle that people are going to make mistakes, but our road system should not. In other words, people are idiots so we should design the road network to account for this.

Better design saves lives.

It’s been adopted in 34 cities across the U.S. where 40,000 people die each year in traffic deaths.

But not in Dallas, where most drivers are basically blind when it comes to looking out for pedestrians and bicyclists because our infrastructure is so car friendly. Here are the maps we’re trying to blank out:

pedestrian deaths, pedestrian crashes, bicycle crashes (2011–2015) — Source NCTCOG

Links to interactive versions, here, here and here.

Texas

Texas is a dangerous place because of its reliance on auto traffic:

In 2013, the per capita traffic death rate in Texas was 24 percent higher than the nation as a whole.

San Antonio and Austin have committed to Vision Zero, and Houston is taking steps to reduce traffic deaths (note the absence of Dallas from this article):

DFW is considered the 12th deadliest region for pedestrians, yet we have not started a formal Vision Zero conversation. NYC, Chicago, LA, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, San Diego, Boston have all committed. Phoenix and Houston are the only 2 other cities in the top 10 cities by population that haven’t signed up.

What does it take to become a Vision Zero city?:

Why?

Mainly because it’s not good when people die. But a few more reasons it’s going to be needed here more than ever soon.

Dallas is getting more dense

As we get more dense there are going to have to be other modes of transportation other than cars. Consider this graphic, which shows the amount of surface parking that would be needed if everyone in New York City that took the subway drove. Increased density requires more modes of transportation.

Given we have to make the city more walkable and bikeable to avoid complete carmageddon, we’re also going to have to do more to protect those that are walking and biking (and driving). Otherwise, more walkers, more bikers, more drivers = more deaths.

Bikeshare

We now are the largest bike share city in the country with very little safe infrastructure to support it. I’m scared to wonder the increased percentage of bicycle deaths we’ve had since their arrival.

Grid

Much of our grid is a confusing nightmare for anyone using it— whether driving, biking, walking, rollerblading, jogging, skipping, longboarding or parkouring around town.

If drivers are talking on the phone while trying to look out for pedestrians while google maps is interrupting with directions, that is not safe design.

A woman was killed here in Uptown last year on one of the most confusing grid designs in Dallas, the lower McKinney Avenue area, which has dangerous high speed one way roads combined with a spaghetti network of streets.

This death was near this area (below). As a pedestrian, this is confusing as hell. As a driver, this is confusing as hell. An intersection shouldn’t be a puzzle.

can’t go left, can’t go straight

As a driver, can I go to the immediate left (where the truck is going)? I can go straight, but not in the left lane where traffic is coming toward me. But I can go toward that lane and go left to get on the high speed McKinnon.

There was another death near Happiest Hour where 6 lane, one way Harry Hines shoots into Uptown.

Mockingbird has long been an extremely dangerous area near 75 for pedestrians. The Mockingbird Bridge ‘may’ help, but it’s not designed for a pedestrian crossing there. There have been deaths there in the past few years.

Mindset

Drivers in Texas own the road and the lack of pedestrians and bikers allow them free reign to drive however they want. There’s going to have to be a mindset shift in drivers actually paying attention to things other than other drivers.

shift your mindset (and while you’re at it, your car) source

What can we do?

2-way streets

One way streets that are more than one lane are especially dangerous as people generally see them as high speed race tracks. With more than one lane you can move into the next and zoom past the other driver. They have very high design speed — the speed people actually travel on a road due to its design (for instance, a road without curves has a much higher design speed than one with curves — traffic engineers will often put in ‘fake’ curves to slow drivers down). This is opposed to speed limit, the mandated speed which no one pays attention to on city streets.

We are taking positive steps in this direction. The city has made Houston Street downtown 2-way again and are doing the same for McKinney and Cole in Uptown.

Complete Streets

which looks safer?

The City of Dallas adopted a Complete Streets vision, where all street improvements are considered through the lens of a ‘complete street’.

https://mapfiles.blob.core.windows.net/misc/CompleteStreets.pdf

There are many design decisions that can be made to make streets safer: trees lining the streets slow down traffic, light poles lining the street protect pedestrians, wider sidewalks, cross walks slow drivers as well. Many of these improvements were made on Lower Greenville Avenue:

Here are a few concepts from the Dallas Complete Streets Manual on the Lancaster Corridor and Grand Avenue:

And another from Pearl Street:

And there are other creative ways to make pedestrians more visible and slow drivers down, like the new artistic crosswalks in Uptown:

Protected Bike Lanes

On street network has to be safe for people to use it and can reduce traffic congestion. I wouldn’t regularly ride a bike on a Dallas street, but I went to Toronto and was flying around there like a doped up Lance Armstrong because their infrastructure was actually safe. I felt protected.

We are putting in more:

Victory, Jefferson Bridge

But need to continue to add more (and some are taking it into their own hands):

If the new bikeshare system has taught us anything, it’s that there is a latent demand for biking here. The same was true in Copenhagen, where newly installed bike lanes in their downtown area increased biking by 40% (yes it’s hotter here, but it’s freezing there).

More Trails

We have done better at creating more trails so people on bikes never even have to interact with the streets. The Loop recently received matching funding from the bond package and the NCTCOG has their regional veloweb plan to bring more trails throughout the Metroplex.

who did that beautiful interactive map??

Education and Training

The Dallas Public Library has a bicycle education and resources page and also has classes created and led by Mark Draz:

There are several bike groups in the area pushing for these types of improvements. Dallas Bicycle Coalition, BikeDFW, Bike Friendly Oak Cliff, and several others that host events around bike education and local bike companies like Local Hub in Deep Ellum that promote bike safety. Events like Smart Cycling Traffic Skills 101, Intro to Urban Bicycling, and Bike Commuting 101.

DFW Crash Data


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