Tempe engineers present draft of plan to eliminate traffic fatalities

The Vision Zero campaign asserts that no traffic deaths are acceptable

In the pedestrian-filled streets of Tempe, a new initiative has decided how many traffic deaths are acceptable: none. 

City engineers presented the rough draft of the city's Vision Zero action plan at a public meeting in Tempe last night. The plan, which is the result of meetings with engineers, public safety workers and staff from ASU, includes improved street lighting and infrastructure for bicyclists and pedestrians. 

The end-goal of the plan is to totally eliminate traffic fatalities on Tempe streets.

“We’re here to save lives,” said Julian Dresang, a traffic engineer with the city, at the meeting. “That’s not even a question. Traffic deaths and severe injuries are preventable.”

He said safety is everybody’s responsibility, but more of that responsibility should be placed on roadway engineers, designers and policymakers rather than the victims of traffic crashes.

One action called for in the plan is lining residential streets with LED lights, which Dresang said would improve both safety and sustainability. 

Vision Zero, which originated in Sweden in the 1990s, has been adopted by cities including Seattle, New York and Portland.

Other prevention strategies include educating drivers on safety, identifying intersections that could improve bicycle detection and proactively identify locations where visibility is obstructed.

Public support of the initiative is crucial to success, city officials said. To that end, the Tempe city council recently voted to make distracted driving a primary offense — this means that using a phone while driving is grounds for a ticket.

Read more:  Tempe city ordinance makes distracted driving a primary offense

Ron Elcock, a spokesperson for Tempe police, said the new law is a step in the right direction to improve safety in Tempe. 

“Distracted driving has contributed to several major accidents,” Elcock said. “For the police department, our overall goal is to reduce harm, and this assists us in accomplishing that goal.”

He said that in the time it takes to read a text, a driver could travel the distance of a football field. 

TaiAnna Yee, a spokesperson for transportation with the city of Tempe, said Vision Zero was adopted by the city last year, but last night was the first time concrete details about how the plan would be implemented in Tempe came out. 

“Vision Zero basically says that no loss of life is acceptable, and we also need to look internally at how to make our streets as safe as possible,” Yee said. “Distracted driving is just one of the many elements that we’re using.” 

Dresang said that because of the city's college population, Tempe has specific challenges that may differentiate it from others municipalities adopting the initiative.

Whether they're commuters or riding scooters, the new batch of students that comes to Tempe every year means a lot of new people for the city to educate on safe driving. Plus, Dresang said college-aged drivers often take more risks.

“We can’t solve this problem with just the city of Tempe, our hope is that some neighboring communities also start developing these strategies and it grows at a state level,” he said. “As we increase dialogue, it could really snowball larger and save more lives."

Reach the reporter at kreinha3@asu.edu and follow @ReinhartKatelyn on Twitter.

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