Monday, July 22, 2024

Toledo Aims to Eliminate Traffic-Related Deaths and Serious Injuries by 2031 Through Vision Zero

In 2022, as a part of its Vision Zero Initiative, the City of Toledo has put plans in motion to reduce overall avoidable, traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2031. The initiative will focus on four areas of improvement: equity, culture changes, safety and slower speeds, and data. To better facilitate this goal, the city hired professional engineer Stephanie Bartlett on June 3 as Vision Zero Coordinator. 

SAFETY/SLOWER SPEEDS & DATA 

According to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, pedestrians are more likely to survive a crash with a vehicle traveling at slower speeds. If a vehicle is traveling at 40 mph, there is a 73 percent likelihood that the crash will kill or seriously injure the person walking. 

“Bringing more awareness to the issues that [speed] creates and the problems that it causes, is the first step,” Bartlett said. 

According to the city’s statistics, between 2017 and 2021, 160 people were killed in traffic accidents in Toledo and nearly 800 were seriously injured. 

Nevada Street, Whitechapel Road, and Middlesex Drive have all been a part of a pilot program to test different methods of slowing traffic. Nevada Street has seen the installation of bump outs, Whitechapel Road has had chicanes, and Middlesex Drive has had other road narrowing devices to test the effectiveness as a traffic calming device. The chicanes have been removed from Whitechapel due to negative feedback from residents and instead, the neighborhood saw the installation of sidewalks to narrow the street and keep pedestrians safe. According to Deputy Mayor Abby Arnold, since the construction of the sidewalks, the city felt it unnecessary to replace the chicanes with other traffic-slowing devices. 

Although the implementation of slower speeds via road narrowing upset some Toledoians, the Whitechapel data showed a favorable result (the average speed dropped 5.7 mph with the installation of chicanes over eight months), Arnold says that the city could have communicated better, by telling residents what to expect and what the goals were. 

“Our data certainly suggests that it slowed down traffic…based on the feedback from the residents, we took note that we need to redesign our communication strategy around these types of pilot projects and we’re working to get that right before we do another one so that we don’t run into some of those same kinds of challenges,” Arnold said. “I care a lot about this work personally, as a mother and as a [Toledo] resident…I’ve had a lot of times where I was the yelling mother at someone speeding by my kid on a bike.” 

Arnold notes that the city is currently reviewing both of their processes on how residents request traffic-calming measures through their neighborhood and how the decision would be made for permanent solutions. The city has a petition process for speed bumps through residential streets, but Arnold says the revised process would give neighborhoods more options for traffic-calming measures.


RELATED: Toledo City Council approves the return of traffic cameras


CULTURE CHANGES & EQUITY 

“Building more education pieces, going into the schools and working with children because those children are going to be future drivers and getting to them early [is key], getting to people about seat belt safety — all these things impact the fatality rate and the serious injury rate and are important in changing culture,” Bartlett said. 

Although Toledo has been applying for grants to make safety improvements in intersections and has programs dedicated to making routes safer, Arnold says that Vision Zero doesn’t change that, but it works on changing how the planners think about the roadways. 

”There’s a lot of things that we’ve been doing as a city that have been to design our roads in a more safe manner– Vision Zero just takes all that to the next level; it doesn’t necessarily change that. Vision Zero is just a fundamental shift on how we view our roadways…by putting the priority on the most vulnerable user first,” Arnold said. 

The deputy mayor adds that a lot of the culture change will have to come from the outside, but there’s also culture change that needs to happen on an internal basis. Bartlett will be tasked with helping the city see the roads and safety in a different way. 

Justice40 communities are areas that the federal government has deemed disadvantaged communities that are underserved and overburdened. These areas are often where lower-income residents and people of color live. In Toledo, Justice40 areas represent 14 percent of the city’s land area, but 26 percent of all serious and deadly crashes take place. 

“We’re starting to see that a lot of our high injury network is in these [disadvantaged] areas. Making the investment back into those neighborhoods is the biggest piece of the equity part of Vision Zero,” Bartlett said. 

Before her new position as Vision Zero Coordinator, Bartlett was involved in Vision Zero in her previous role as a professional engineer for the City of Toledo. She has worked in roadway design for 14 years for the city and has also held a position in the traffic management department. ”[Roadway safety/design] has been a lot of my passions for the past 12 years,” Bartlett said. 

Vision Zero is a worldwide movement to eliminate traffic-related deaths and serious injuries. It started in Sweden in the late 1990s and has been adopted in over 50 communities in the U.S. 

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