Safe Streets

Rethinking Enforcement in Vision Zero: Takeaways from Vision Zero Network's Recent Panel on Enforcement in Safe Streets

A screenshot of the panelists arranged in four squares.

It’s clear that combating global climate change will mean transforming the cities where we live into places people feel safe choosing to walk, bike, scoot, take transit, or otherwise get around without a car. But the conversations around the issue of safety have too often failed to include the perspectives of Black and Brown communities, especially when it comes to the role that policing and enforcement plays in safe streets and Vision Zero, the movement to reduce traffic-related deaths and major injuries to zero.

That’s why Spin sponsored Vision Zero Network’s recent panel discussion that tackled the vital question of what role, if any, should enforcement, given the racial and social inequalities built into our law enforcement structures, play in work to reduce traffic-related deaths and injuries. This sponsorship is part of Spin’s ongoing support of Vision Zero Network’s work facilitating a cohort of 20 cities re-examining work in light of growing awareness of racial bias in traffic stops. We are proud to support the Network’s commitment to help communities evolve beyond the century-old “E’s” approach to traffic safety -- Education, Engineering, Enforcement -- to a more equitable & effective approach.

Vision Zero Network Program Director Jenn Fox moderated the September 29 panel, which featured Charles T. Brown, CEO & founder, Equitable Cities, Warren Logan, Oakland’s director of Mobility and Interagency Relations, and Ethan Fawley, Minneapolis’ Vision Zero program director.

“Vision Zero work is entwined with deeply problematic systemic issues of racism and we have a responsibility to help change these. We recognize the status quo isn’t working,” Fox acknowledged at the start of the panel, the full hour-long recording of which is available here. There will be another opportunity to dive deeper into this issue with a future panel hosted by Vision Zero Network called “Rethinking Enforcement: A City-to-City Conversation” on October 28. You can read more and register here.

The panelists noted that in the U.S., police are about twice as likely to pull over Black drivers and four times as likely to search Black drivers, then drilled down into some local examples of enforcement also disproportionately harming Brown and Black people on bikes and other modes of sustainable transportation.

Two slides presented at Vision Zero Network's September 29 panel discussion.

“We are here because we, as Vision Zero proponents,… can’t sacrifice some people’s public safety in the name of supposed safe mobility,” Fox said.

So what can be done?

Brown noted he is very interested in identifying and highlighting innovative state, local, and regional plans, policies, and initiatives that are aimed at eliminating discriminatory traffic safety and enforcement efforts, such as redesigning streets to slow traffic and adding speed governors on cars to prevent them from driving at dangerously high speeds.

But Brown also emphasized the need to radically redefine what we mean by enforcement to not only include interactions with police officers.

We focus on policing, but Black and Brown communities are also enforced through policy, planning, and self-deputization of white citizens in this country who act to control the movement of Black and Brown people, whether in physical space, socially, or economically, he said.

The panelists noted that cities are over-reliant on policing for safety in part because it takes a lot of time and resources to make meaningful changes to the street design that would slow car traffic and increase safety without police presence.

Logan cited the success in Oakland with being able to move quickly to improve street safety through design.

“We can do it overnight. We choose not to because we fear change,” he said. Still, in Oakland, the City’s Slow Streets, Essential Places, and Flex Streets programs have successfully slowed vehicle speeds and improved safety with a focus on racial equity, all at low costs to the city, Logan noted.

Another major component of this is land use, Logan said. Lack of affordable housing near jobs has forced people, especially lower-income folks to commute increasingly long distances.

“Why are people driving a million miles an hour across the city to their job?” Logan asked. “They are far away from their jobs.” 

He went on to say that affordable housing near jobs is also a way to slow speeds down and reduce enforcement because it would reduce the need for driving overall, evoking the concept of the 15-minute city, in which people are able to live within a 15-minute walk, bike or scooter ride, or transit trip from their jobs and the services they need for day-to-day life.

The discussion happened in the context that traffic deaths in the U.S. are up and Brown and Black people are disproportionately killed in traffic violence, a point which Brown drove home. He also noted that while there are lots of statistics and demographic breakdowns of the victims of traffic violence, future research needs to focus on demographics and other characteristics of those behind the wheel.

These data could help inform how we approach solutions to the epidemic of traffic violence, Logan said.

Fox said that this discussion was not intended to yield absolute solutions, but to be the beginning of a larger dialogue and opportunity for education. Vision Zero Network published a summary of key takeaways from the September 29 panel that can be read here.

We’re proud to support this work and look forward to the continuing dialogue. Please consider registering and joining us on October 28.

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