“Vision Zero” Plan Recommended for Reducing Traffic Injuries, Fatalities

Chicago, Ill., March 19, 2015 — Saying that the victims of traffic crashes are being forgotten in the debate over traffic safety and red light cameras, transportation advocates today called on Chicago’s elected leaders and candidates for elected office to support a comprehensive “Vision Zero” strategy to consistently reduce traffic injuries and eventually eliminate traffic fatalities.

In addition, they recommended creating an independent taskforce to assess progress toward the Vision Zero goal and examine which safety strategies work best to reduce traffic injuries and deaths, including evaluating the safety impact of individual red light camera locations.

“The real victims in this debate are being forgotten,” said Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance. “The real victims are the nearly 21,000 people significantly injured or killed in traffic crashes each year in Chicago.”

One of those victims was 24-year-old Amanda “Mandy” Annis, who was killed in a traffic crash in Logan Square in 2008. Annis was riding her bicycle west on Armitage Avenue when she was hit and killed by a motorist who ran a red light. 

Her boyfriend James Bausch, 27 at the time, was riding a bike to visit Annis and rode past the police activity before returning to the scene to learn his girlfriend was the victim. The same hour she was killed, he was picking up an engagement ring and had plans to propose to Annis. Annis was a teacher at Humboldt Community Christian School.

“Nobody should have to go through what Mandy’s family and I went through in losing someone we loved to a preventable traffic crash,” said Bausch. “We need to be doing more to enforce traffic laws and hold violators accountable to prevent tragedies like this from happening on our streets.”

Vision Zero is an international traffic safety movement guided by the principle that no loss of life on our streets is acceptable. Traffic crashes are not mere “accidents,” but preventable incidents that can be reduced and eliminated with systemic changes. Photo enforcement is one tool that’s been used internationally and across the U.S. to advance Vision Zero goals, along with public awareness and education programs, policy changes, and improvements to traffic engineering and street design. 

The findings of Chicago’s Vision Zero task force could serve as the foundation for a detailed action plan on how Chicago will achieve progress towards Vision Zero over the next two years. In the past year, the cities of New York, San Francisco and Seattle have all committed to Vision Zero and published detailed action plans that aim to reduce and ultimately eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries, and several other cities are already working on similar plans. The Chicago Department of Transportation has adopted a goal of reaching zero traffic fatalities by 2022. In pursuit of that goal, CDOT has been implementing various strategies that would contribute to a comprehensive plan.

“Vision Zero is the right thing to do for kids and all of Chicago’s pedestrians,” said Dr. Kyran Quinlan, who specializes in pediatrics at Rush University Medical Center. “It is far easier and wiser to protect child pedestrians by making our streets safer. Once kids are hit and severely injured, the best medicine may not be enough to save their lives or make them whole again.”

According to IDOT data, in 2012 there were more than 77,000 reported traffic crashes in Chicago that caused significant injuries for nearly 21,000 people and killed 145 people. Because crashes and injuries are often unreported or misreported, the actual numbers are likely higher.

People riding bikes accounted for seven percent of traffic fatalities, people walking 34 percent, and people in cars 59 percent. For non-fatal injuries, about 80 percent were people in cars with the remaining 20 percent that were people biking and people walking. Many more people suffer minor injuries and life disruption.

Chicago advocates said they are worried the debate about red light cameras could lead to the loss of an important traffic safety tool. They said dangerous driving is rampant, and there aren’t enough police officers to combat the problem and enforce traffic safety laws. Photo enforcement can bridge the gap, effectively multiplying the power of the police to enforce the law.

“Some of the criticism is justified and some is off base, but enforcing traffic laws, whether with cameras or police officers, prevents injuries and save lives when done properly,” said Burke. “Rather than throw the baby out with the bath water, the city should convene an independent group to determine how to improve the program and which cameras should stay or go.”

The Federal Highway Administration and other traffic safety experts support the use of red light cameras. 

“Red light violations may seem trivial to violators, but the safety consequences are real,” said traffic safety expert Richard Rettting, who has led studies at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) that documented reductions in red light running that ranged from 40 to 96 percent after adding red light cameras. “The research is conclusive: red light cameras are effective at reducing crashes that result in serious injuries and fatalities.”

“As a pediatric emergency medical physician, I’ve seen the devastating impact that traffic crashes have on children and their families,” said Dr. Karen Sheehan, who serves as medical director of the Lurie Children’s Injury Prevention and Research Center. “Research has shown that red light cameras decrease the more serious right angle crashes.”

In 2013, more than 1,100 crashes caused by red light violations killed six people and caused significant injuries for more than 700 people. 

Another one of those victims was James Longfield, who was riding his bike north on Elston Avenue in Chicago when he was struck by a cab driver running a red light. The driver approached the intersection from the east on Courtland, turning right on red without stopping and hit Longfield. Longfield suffered injuries and ultimately settled with the cab company to cover his medical expenses and bike damages, as well as additional compensation.

“We need increased enforcement of traffic laws on our streets to save lives and prevent serious injuries like mine, and traffic safety cameras are a big part of that,” said Longfield. 

Active Trans supports better enforcement of all traffic laws for all modes of travel. Whether driving, biking, or walking, everyone needs to be safe and respectful. Dangerous behaviors are unlikely to change without a comprehensive strategy that includes ticketing, public awareness and education programs, policy changes, and improvements to street design. 

Active Trans is asking people to sign a petition in support of moving forward with Vision Zero goals throughout the region. 

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The Active Transportation Alliance is a non-profit, member-based advocacy organization that works to make bicycling, walking and public transit so safe, convenient and fun that we will achieve a significant shift from environmentally harmful, sedentary travel to clean, active travel. The organization builds a movement around active transportation, encourages physical activity, increases safety and builds a world-class transportation network. Formerly the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation, the Active Transportation Alliance is supported by more than 7,000 members and 1,000 volunteers. For more information about the Active Transportation Alliance, visit www.activetrans.org or call 312.427.3325.

Advocates call for independent task force to assess photo enforcement and other safety strategies