Vision Zero should be bold, not bureaucratic

Today, March 20, 2019, City Council’s Community and Public Services Committee is considering the future of Vision Zero, as well as what to do about neighbourhood speed limits. This issue will be debated next week by the whole City Council. What follows is our presentation to the committee this morning.

My name is Steve Finkelman. My wife, Jane Cardillo, and I spoke at this committee four-and-a half years ago in support of Vision Zero.

Our son, David Finkelman, was run down and killed while crossing White Avenue on a green light by a distracted driver in January 2014. David’s promising life was cut way too short. Our lives, as we knew them, were forever shattered.

We saw Vision Zero as a new and innovative approach to calming the chaos on Edmonton’s streets, making sure everyone else’s loved ones made it home safely.

We offered to work with the Office of Traffic Safety. To tell our story as a way to humanize the devastating loss suffered when someone dies or is injured on the roads. We thought the city would need voices like ours to help convince drivers their actions on the road have real consequences. With more than a million dollars a year for advocacy and education, we expected an innovative and creative campaign, one that would put Vision Zero into the forefront of public awareness.

But it quickly became clear that was not going to happen.

Vision Zero had no plans to involve people like ourselves, groups like Paths for People, or dozens of other road safety advocates who have been pushing for slower speeds, more bike lanes and safer streets for vulnerable road users.

And it certainly had no plans to engage in the kind of high profile media campaigns we have seen from Vision Zero in New York and Toronto. The money was there, the will to be bold was not. Instead of trying to change people’s actions by telling them the raw, unvarnished truth of what roadway violence looks like, they city opted for bus boards with hard hitting messages like “beware the glare.” Vision Zero’s motto seems to be “avoid controversey, don’t rock the boat. And don’t do anything to anger the motorists/voters who pay their salaries.”

We feel Vision Zero is working, but only in the most anemic way.

Our son died because a young driver never learned that taking control of a one tonne hunk of steel is a huge responsibility. That they need to be alert, careful and be ready to stop at any time for an unseen hazard or pedestrian. That is a quantum shift in the current thinking. More than 300 thousand photo radar tickets were issued last year to people who were speeding by at least 11 k/hr over the posted speed limit. Yet we know speed kills and maims. Simple motherhood messages will not change that.

Now the streets have indeed become safer in the past few years. On the engineering side, improved turn lanes, digital readouts signs, scramble crosswalks,improved pedestrian crossings and lower playground speed zones are all positive developments. Collisions and deaths are down. Photo radar numbers show speeds are deceasing.

But let’s not forget that every day of the year in Edmonton one person is seriously injured or killed on our roads.

That message seems to be lost on the Vision Zero team, at least if you look at their Twitter feed.

Last week social media was full of concern after two teenage girls were run down by a school bus. One of them has been left with devastating injuries. Edmontonians are asking why we can’t keep our kids safe around our schools.

Vision Zero has not been part of this conversation. There is no mention of that on their Twitter feed. They have lost the opportunity to hammer home what is supposed to be their message that inattention, particularly by motorists, has devastating consequences.

So to sum up, we feel Vision Zero is working, but only in the most anemic way.

It needs to take its role as an advocate seriously and use each and every opportunity to drive its message home. It needs to consult and be willing to listen to people in the community who are passionate about reducing road violence. It needs to be bold, not bureaucratic.

Three years ago Edmonton’s Office of Traffic Safety was quoted in a city publication as saying Vision Zero would be more than just a “superficial billboard campaign.”

Vision Zero has yet to live up to that promise.