A New Vision Zero for St. Paul: Part 1 – Introduction

The time has come for St. Paul to become, officially, a Vision Zero city.

According to the Vision Zero city map, St. Paul is among the cities “considering”, though it is under consideration in the city’s draft 2040 Transportation Plan, which is open to comments at this time. Incidentally, the fact that any city in Florida (the home of “FloridaMan” and ridiculously aggressive drivers), Texas (need I say more?) or Snow Texas (otherwise known officially as “Alaska”) has beat St. Paul to this means we are WAY behind on this.

So, to the end of promoting Vision Zero for the City of St. Paul, a broad outline of Vision Zero will be presented in multiple parts, accompanied by several specific policy recommendations and policy-making guidelines for the City of St. Paul.

Where do we start? The beginnings are easy: In order to become a Vision Zero city, the following minimum criteria must be met:

1) The city must set a clear goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and injuries.

2) The Mayor must publicly and officially commit to Vision Zero.

3) A Vision Zero strategy must be in place, or the Mayor’s office must commit to implementation within a clear timeframe.

4) City public safety departments must be engaged.

It’s that simple, at least to make the initial commitment. Obviously, the path from the basic commitment to the implementation of the idea is more complex. The first two items, while they appear to be the easiest, constitute a challenging ethical commitment that will be outlined. The third and fourth items are where ethical vision is translated into action, and where policy recommendations are needed.

As of July 2017, St. Paul is on pace to exceed its abysmally landmark performance in 2016 for pedestrian and cyclist traffic mishaps, including two fatalities. 2016 was a year in which the State of Minnesota reached a 25 year high for pedestrian deaths. While most of the carnage is in the suburbs, well-intentioned campaigns within St. Paul like “Stop For Me” and other police enforcement actions have done very little to move the metrics by a statistically significant degree. A new approach should be considered.

Right now, nothing else is in the offering, save for more “Stop For Me” events and Minnesota “Toward Zero Deaths”: a program which, in my opinion, is a sop to placate Vision Zero advocates. It is also a nationwide initiative of the Federal Highway Administration, with highway-oriented goals and an event calendar full of law-enforcement luncheon. The new approach might as well be Vision Zero. In New York City’s first year as a Vision Zero city, traffic fatalities and injuries reached the lowest level since 1910 – the year data collection began. And it’s getting better. 

NYC pedestrian fatalities from 2000-2014. Trend has been downward for some time, but year one of Vision Zero was a big jump.

St. Paul has some of the groundwork available to be a Vision Zero city already in place. Vision Zero requires a multi-disciplinary approach to evaluation and planning, something that happens at the District Council level, and at the office of the Mayor, which employs a pedestrian advocate, and a bicycle planner. These are excellent foundations to build on.

The next step is the ethical commitment. Vision Zero departs from the historic norm for American cities in that it posits that traffic deaths and severe injuries are preventable, and they can be eliminated within a clear timeframe through a combination of infrastructure and human factors engineering, and a slow campaign of cultural change…much like the decades-long yet successful campaigns against drunk driving, smoking, or the initiatives to increase recycling.

As a Vision Zero city St. Paul must pledge to the ethical commitment that all transportation planning and policy will treat motor-vehicle convenience as subordinate to the safety of non-vehicular travel, and that cost-benefit calculations against any expected loss of life will never be an acceptable planning point for policy.

After the ethical commitment, Vision Zero implementation starts with five other “E’s”, which will be discussed individually in their own subsequent installments in this series. Those Five “E’s” are: Evaluation, Engineering, Enforcement, Education, and Encouragement. In the next post in this series, I will briefly discuss Evaluation.

Michael Daigh

About Michael Daigh

You might have seen Michael Daigh riding his bike around the Twin Cities metro. He resides in St. Paul, but only since 2015, so his opinions don't count. Michael holds an MA in History, and is the author of the book: "John Brown in Memory and Myth". He is also a decorated fighter pilot.