In 2017, Canadian cities began to implement Vision Zero, a five-year plan aimed to reduce traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries. It’s modelled on a Swedish initiative, developed in the late 1990s, that had four pillars: ethics, responsibility, a philosophy of safety, and creating mechanisms for change.
Toronto, Edmonton, Hamilton and Vancouver each have their own version. The goal is to have zero traffic deaths by 2021. But while New York City has reduced pedestrian injuries by 45 per cent since it introduced Vision Zero in 2014, Canadian traffic deaths keep rising. In fact, since Vision Zero was announced by Toronto Mayor John Tory, 93 pedestrians and cyclists have died. It’s not just those groups who have been hurt. Drivers die, too. In 2017, the Ontario Provincial Police reported that 341 people were killed in traffic accidents, an 11 per cent increase from the previous year.
I think we have a branding problem.
The whole Vision Zero thing isn’t working. Not even in Sweden, where, last year, pedestrian deaths were up 35.5 per cent, according to statistics from the International Road Traffic Data and Analysis Group.
As my old high school biology teacher used to say, “If you don’t have the answer, you change the question.”
The question here, if you ask me, is the name. We need a new one that more accurately describes our politicians’ commitment to protecting vulnerable road users. Vision Zero just doesn’t do it justice.
Here are a few options:
This one is almost too obvious. It sums up the way most motorists drive and it captures perfectly our politicians’ determination to do whatever it takes to get re-elected. Do the leaves in the trees have a plan? No, they just tremble whichever way the wind blows. It’s the same thing with politicians. Zero Vision also exemplifies the spirit of see-no-evil. You can almost hear some mayor saying, “Since we have implemented Zero Vision, I have neither seen nor heard about anyone on a bicycle getting even a scraped knee. Best of all, anyone can do it – simply stop reading or looking at social media and wear ear plugs.”
Let’s face it, death happens – especially when you have the temerity to walk along the street or use a crosswalk. Experience has shown that it is impossible to use laws and government initiatives to reduce fatalities. This is where a politician’s heartfelt thoughts and prayers come in. We can’t reduce traffic fatalities, but we can tweet about them when they happen. #NeverAgain #UntilNextTime
Despondent over our situation? Why not use Copenhagen, the largest city (at 1.99 million) in a country of 5.7 million people, as a hammer to pound away at our collective suffering. Copenhagen is renowned for its bike friendliness, clean air and latent racism. Unlike Toronto, it has political clout nationally. If almost half of all Canadians lived in Toronto, then a lot more would be spent on public transport and infrastructure, but they don’t – they are, at best, ambivalent about Toronto. So, kiss adequate funding for transport “hej hej” (bye-bye, as they say in Danish). Sure, comparing Toronto to Copenhagen is like comparing Moscow to Miami, but if it helps you feel sanctimonious, why not? The next time you read about a senseless traffic fatality, log on to your laptop and start typing “Copenhagen” over and over again until your fingers bleed.
Given we’re seeing more, not fewer, fatalities, zero traffic deaths by 2021 seems improbable. Vision 2089 solves this by boldly vowing that there will be no more than 2,089 traffic deaths in Toronto in the year 2089.
This is the most practical option. Just keep telling yourself there’s nothing we can do, that bikes and cars are incompatible. Hey, they built the Pyramids without electricity, and planned D-Day without the aid of a laptop or iPhone, but we can’t make our cities safer. The human species is only capable of so much achievement. Keep telling yourself it can’t happen to you. It can’t happen to your spouse or kids. When you send them out the door every morning, tell yourself they’re sure to come back. That chance has no memory. They’ll be one of the lucky ones. Because right now, that’s all we have on offer. Cross your fingers, Canada! Cross your fingers – and happy trails!
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