For this year’s Infrastructure Week, May 13-20, we are sharing insight from our leaders and employees that examine how the infrastructure choices we make today will shape our future. Follow the conversation on our blog and on social media as we #BuildForTomorrow.

Vehicle crashes consistently rank as one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States, exacting heavy emotional and financial tolls on individuals, communities and society. Preventing these accidents is a top priority for decision makers around the country. We must recognize that our roadways, as they are, reinforce dangerous tendencies for drivers and pedestrians and that our fatal and severe crashes are a critical and preventable public health issue.

This is where future-looking initiatives like Vision Zero come in and change the way the transportation industry, communities and elected officials handle their roadways.

Vision Zero, already adopted by several major U.S. cities including Boston, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Washington DC and throughout Europe, is based on a set of principles which declares that all actions should adhere to the following:

• Traffic deaths and serious injuries are preventable
• No loss of life is acceptable
• Human life and health are prioritized
• Human error is inevitable and transportation systems should be forgiving
• People are vulnerable and speed is a fundamental predictor of crash survival
• Focus on systems-level changes above influencing individual behavior

The Citizens of Philadelphia were introduced to the initiative in December 2015 with the first Vision Zero conference and began to consider how it would be applied to their city. Mayor Jim Kenny hired the first Director of Complete Streets in 2016 and Philadelphia’s Vision Zero Action Plan released an overall goal of zero traffic deaths by 2030. The action plan laid out the following priorities, equitable to all citizens:

• Save lives by reducing the number of traffic-related deaths and severe injuries
• Improve overall performance of streets system and prioritize the safety of those using our streets who are most vulnerable
• Reduce Philadelphians’ risk for developing chronic diseases by promoting active transportation
• Shift trips from motorized to active modes of transportation to reduce congestion, improve air quality and improve health safety

This plan kicked off the current movement to make Philadelphia a safe and truly accessible city. In an effort to build for tomorrow, the data-driven approach has allowed the city to focus on its high injury network of roads. The corridors with the highest rates of fatalities and severe injuries cover 50 percent of all major incidents in just 12 percent of Philadelphia streets.1 Paired with focusing on the most dangerous roadways, instituting protected bike lanes, newly designed curbless intersections and aesthetically-pleasing designs have only increased the ability of Philadelphians to get around in a safe, sustainable manner.

In parallel with the City’s initiative, organized by the Philadelphia Bicycle Coalition, AECOM has been an avid supporter and partner in the Vision Zero conference each year since its inception. In 2018, we were challenged to develop a way to help the different road users to be empathetic to each other’s experiences. We developed a 3D virtual reality experience that invoked emotional reactions from those who tried it. The VR allowed the viewer to experience a busy road as a pedestrian, bicyclist or driver with varying levels of sidewalk and bicycle lanes (protected and unprotected). The immersive experience gave attendees a glimpse into the perspective of other roadway users.

The project’s collaborative nature has allowed all stakeholders to have a say enforcing the notion that we’re all working together for safer streets. Community members from all walks of life are working together and empathizing with one another to better understand how we can transform our current environment and build safer ones in the future – together.

1: Vision Zero Philadelphia Three-Year Action Plan

Originally published 05.17.2019

Author: Orla Pease