Phoenix Kills Vision Zero Plan As Pedestrian Deaths Rise

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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The Phoenix City Council has scuttled the city’s plans to prevent road fatalities. The move comes just weeks after the local newspaper published a report highlighting how dangerous Phoenix is for pedestrians.

A deadlocked 4-4 vote on April 23 leaves city staff without the authorization necessary to explore ways in which Phoenix might have implemented the Vision Zero methodologies. Opponents of the measure warned that adopting it would lead to lower speed limits and greater travel times for drivers.

Pedestrians Beware

  • Pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. are on the rise.
  • Arizona has the second most pedestrian fatalities per capita in the country.
  • Phoenix is the most dangerous city in Arizona for pedestrians.
  • The Phoenix City Council refused to give city staff the go-ahead to research Vision Zero.

“Slowly Force People Out Of Their Cars”

In a Facebook post, Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio urged residents to, “Come to the meeting and stand up to the handful of ‘Urbanist’ social engineers pushing this mess.”

“They want to force everyone out of cars,” wrote DiCiccio, who voted against the measure. “They can’t sell their REAL vision to the public, so their goal is to make driving as inefficient and difficult as possible and slowly force people out of their cars.”

Vision Zero is an international organization that got its start in Sweden in the late 1990s. It advocates for governments enacting policies to eliminate traffic fatalities and injuries. Yet its linchpin techniques—reducing speed limits and redesigning streets to better accommodate pedestrians and cyclists—are controversial. When Vision Zero comes to town, conflicts between motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists tend to flare up, especially in congested urban areas like Phoenix.

Fatalities On The Rise

Autonomous Ford Fusion Stops for Kid on Bike

The city is notoriously unfriendly to pedestrians. A recent analysis of state collision data by The Arizona Republic shows that among Arizona cities with populations above 10,000, Phoenix is the most dangerous. Phoenix has seen pedestrian fatalities increase by 125 percent in the past 10 years, “a significantly higher rate than the national average,” according to the city. Arizona had the second highest pedestrian fatality rate in the country in 2018, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA).

Councilwoman Felicita Mondoza told local radio station KJZZ that she voted against Vision Zero because it would form a “blanket policy for everyone” and that she was concerned about other unintended consequences. “I believe that we should take immediate action in focusing on district-specific hotspots,” she said.

These particularly dangerous areas for pedestrians were identified by the city’s Pedestrian Safety Task Force. Created in April 2018, it includes representatives from the City Manager’s Office, the Communications Office, and the Street Transportation and Police Departments. Recommendations made by the group included installing more crosswalks, including those with improved lighting, an education campaign, and “road diet” measures including slowing traffic.

Against The Tide

Fatalities from SUVs have increased more than from cars.
Fatalities from SUVs have increased more than from cars.

In the United States, more than 40 cities have adopted Vision Zero into their transportation planning. This includes the three largest—New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago—and seven out of the top ten. Phoenix (fifth), Houston (fourth), and Dallas (ninth) are the holdouts.

The City of Tempe, which lies immediately to the southeast of Phoenix, officially joined Vision Zero in February, becoming the first city in Arizona to do so. Tempe is infamous for becoming the first city in the United States to have a pedestrian killed by an autonomous vehicle: Elaine Herzberg was struck by an Uber autonomous test vehicle in March 2018.

Pedestrian fatalities in the United States are on the rise. Pedestrian deaths are projected to account for 16 percent of all traffic fatalities in 2018, according to the GHSA. This is up from 12 percent in 2008. Reasons for the rise in pedestrian fatalities are diverse. They include both an increase in the numbers of people walking to work, as well as the greater numbers of sport utility vehicles on the road. In an accident, these larger vehicles tend to cause more severe injuries to pedestrians.

More Controversy

Although Phoenix won’t be signing on to Vision Zero, the city did recently adopt its own Complete Streets Design Guidelines. Complete Streets is an urban design plan for making roadways more accessible to pedestrians, with objectives similar to Vision Zero. This wasn’t without its own controversy, however. A majority of members of the city’s advisory board resigned in protest last summer, accusing the city of dragging its feet. The Phoenix City Council eventually adopted the recommendations of the advisory board in October 2018.


About the Author

  • Jeff Sabatini has written for many publications over his 20 years in automotive journalism, including Car and Driver, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Sports Car Market magazine. His lifetime car churn includes 30 vehicles: eight GM cars, five Ford products, four Toyotas, three BMWs, two Jeeps, two Chrysler minivans, a Miata, a Mercedes, a Porsche, a Saab, a Subaru, and a Volkswagen.

can be reached at jeffsab@gmail.com
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