2018 Vision Zero Advocate Conference in Toronto

By Isabel Cupryn, Solutions Coordinator, Parachute and Valerie Smith, Director of Solutions, Parachute

We attended the 2018 Vision Zero Advocate Conference in Toronto February 28 – March 2. Congratulations to the organizers, the Vision Zero Advocacy Institute, on a highly informative event, where Canadian and international experts - from government and major corporations, to grassroots advocates - came together to share their experiences and discuss “What’s next for Vision Zero?” Here, we share our main learnings from the many interesting presentations and dialogues. 

The vision is about human lives, first and foremost 

Conference presenters and delegates in attendance were from many walks of life, coming from different industries and with various reasons why Vision Zero matters to them. However, a thread throughout the conference was the reminder that the human face of Vision Zero must remain at the forefront. Many speakers told us that numbers and statistics are key to planning, but it is the human stories which make communities understand the true value of the Vision Zero approach. Two impassioned speakers shared their personal stories, which brought this message home.

Advocates who lost loved ones are the voice of change

Erika Lefevre shared the heart-wrenching story of when her 30-year-old son, Mathieu, was killed by a truck driver while cycling, and how her investigation into his death led to her becoming a passionate traffic safety advocate. Erika’s tenacity and advocacy were key in leading New York City to adopt Vision Zero. Her story reminded us that anyone with the motivation can be a Vision Zero leader.

David Stark told us about how his wife Erica was killed, walking on a sidewalk, by a 33-year-old driver. Stark shared the devastation he and his three sons underwent, and the frustrations of the legal process. The driver was sentenced to no more than a $1000 fine, and courts denied police access to text message records which could have shown if distraction was a factor. Stark also addressed the issue of victim blaming, stating his wife was blamed for “failing to get out of the way”. With a commitment to prevent others from experiencing similar loss, Stark co-founded Friends and Families for Safe Streets.

Collaboration and information sharing is key

Pamela Fuselli, Parachute’s Vice President of Knowledge Transfer and Stakeholder Relations, shared information about the Parachute Vision Zero Network, its purpose and achievements, and what the future may hold… Including more grassroots organisations joining in the Canadian movement. She also described her inclusive vision of the future of transportation: “We don’t want a carless streetscape. We want a vibrant streetscape, inclusive of cars, pedestrians and cyclists.”   

Data tells us what is working and what’s not

A panel discussion by four experts delved into the importance of data collection and how it has helped shape intervention prioritisation and evaluation. The key take-away? “Data collection is money well spent,” as put by Charles Chung, CEO of Brisk Synergies. Jamie Stuckless, Executive Director of Share the Road, described how data collected through the Bicycle Friendly Communities (BFC) program can be leveraged for Vision Zero, and what are the unique needs and challenges of Vision Zero implementation in smaller communities. Pro tip: A key to success is obtaining and reviewing continuous feedback. 

Technology can help enforcement 

Citing the cognitive distraction of Bluetooth conversations as an example, David Stark posited that all distraction while driving should be considered criminal offense. His story leaves us wondering: what would the case against the woman who hit his wife look like, if police had access to proof of distracting text messages sent or received just before the crash? Other commenters echoed Stark’s belief that police should have access to driver cell phone records – not only of phone calls, but also the SMS/text records – after a collision occurs. 

Four expert panellists examined technology’s potential and importance as part of Vision Zero frameworks, from better promotion and utilisation of existing tools like red light cameras, to the future possibilities of video monitoring and automated speed enforcement. Discussions generated a wealth of ideas, such as insurance companies offering discounts to drivers who agree to disclosure of their text message records – this could potentially act as a deterrent to distracted driving, or at least assist in post-crash analysis and prosecution.  

Automated and assisted driving: how will cars “see” the signs?

Driver-assisted and driverless cars are a near-certainty of the future. Ken Smith, Corporate Scientist at 3M, spoke to us about an aspect we may not have thought of: how will autonomous and partially-autonomous vehicles “read” the visual cues humans take for granted? 3M is creating and testing signage, lane markers and other materials which can be read by cameras as well as the human eye. Examples included the use of infrared-legible barcodes, high contrast and fluorescents to fight visual clutter.  

Vision Zero for Youth

Nancy-Pullen Seufert, Director at the National Centre for Safe Routes to School, shared a case study of an improved intersection near a New York middle school, which reduced injuries by 54%. According to a recent study, she said political will and community support are key anchors in a city’s adoption of Vision Zero and in children’s safety. She pointed out that Vision Zero adoption often came in the wake of a catalyzing event: a tragic loss of life which got media attention, a national organization ranking a community as unsafe, or a politician had an interaction with an impacted family. Ideally, Vision Zero would be in the forefront of people’s minds before such tragedies can occur, so how else can we get that political and community engagement? Walk to School Day and Bike to School Day events have proven successful in engaging youth to become their own Vision Zero advocates and proactively seek out political and public buy-in. 

Customized approaches in Canadian cities

Liliana Quintero, Transportation Engineer at the City of Vancouver, described how Vision Zero was implemented within a Provincial-Municipal structure and with a unique approach. Humour and positive messaging were key elements in obtaining the public’s buy-in, with brochures emphasizing a help-each-other attitude and sense of community. 

Daphne Dethier, Transportation Engineer of WSP, shared insights on Montreal’s adoption of a Vision Zero mandate: “The police department and the City of Montreal were already working closely with road safety organisations, which has helped a lot. Also, transportation agencies, public health department, the communications department and other areas of the city have helped us.” She added: “It has also been an internationally collaborative experience, with bringing in our Swedish experts right from the beginning, to make sure we understand exactly what Vision Zero is all about, and that we are not just doing traditional road safety under the Vision Zero banner.”   

Vision Zero internationally

Leah Shahum, founder and Executive Director of the Vision Zero Network in the U.S. presented on the top-down and bottom-up efforts which have made Vision Zero a reality in 40 American cities, citing grassroots and non-profit organisations as key partners for success. Shahum expressed that a corporation could be a Vision Zero leader by changing the culture, without waiting for legislation: “Industry could take a lead… and get a lot of support for that.”  

Chelsea Richer, Senior Transportation Planner at Fehr & Peers, shared how fatality rates dropped to zero at several high-incident intersections in L.A. after the implementation of scramble crosswalks. 

Sweden’s Karin Hassner, Road Safety Expert at WSP, explained how small, proactive changes can play a big role in Vision Zero. Seat belt use can be made mandatory in buses. Employers of commercial drivers can install alco-lock, improve schedules, educate drivers on safety in poor weather conditions, and replace commercial vehicles every five years with the safest models available.      

Holding the media accountable for their words

Throughout the conference, presenters and attendees expressed the need for change in the media’s language, such as replacing the word “accident” with “collision” or “crash”. Conference emcee and former news anchor Carrie Doll took the opportunity to encourage all present: “The media is not holier than thou”. She told a story of how one phone call from a concerned nurse changed the language used in a story she reported on. “Each person has the power to call up a reporter,” she said, “and a responsible reporter will listen.” Other comments included the hope that if the public push the media for such changes, the media’s official style guides could eventually be updated accordingly.   

Time well spent

Many agreed that “data analysis is money well spent”. Likewise, hearing the latest on Vision Zero is time well spent. We continue to be invigorated and inspired by experts, advocates and survivors working toward safer roads in Canada and around the world.