In a city that consistently tops nationwide rankings for traffic-related deaths, the plan requires a rethinking of transportation infrastructure and priorities. With an action plan formally adopted Dec. 16, Mayor Sylvester Turner outlined the city’s strategies for reaching that goal. Among them are redesigning the city’s most dangerous streets, running public awareness campaigns and aiming for 50 miles of sidewalk construction per year.
“We mapped out traffic deaths and serious injuries happening on Houston streets, and what we saw was unacceptable,” Turner said in a press release. “... We need to expand our outlook on mobility to recognize that streets belong to everyone who walks, bikes, drives, uses a wheelchair, and takes public transit.”
Texas’ car-dependent transportation infrastructure means the state had the highest number of traffic fatalities in the country in 2018, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In that same year, Houston saw 197 traffic fatalities, the highest number of any city in the state, TxDOT data shows.
While the goal of zero fatalities is ambitious, a study conducted by the Houston Planning and Development Department while forming the action plan found that just 6% of Houston’s roads are responsible for 60% of its traffic fatalities.
Following a targeted approach will help leaders progress toward the goal more quickly, said Jay Blazek-Crossley, founder of the transportation advocacy group Farm & City, when Houston first joined the Vision Zero network.
“Some of the game is figuring out how to spend money on small interventions that are effective citywide,” he said.
The plan also mentions that securing funding opportunities will be key to its success. Other major cities in Texas have adopted Vision Zero plans with varying degrees of success. In Austin, for example, a city-led audit released in September 2019 found that the city was not on track to reach its Vision Zero goals by 2025 with changing its approach.
In San Antonio however, with robust public funding from an $850 million road bond passed in 2017, after the city joined Vision Zero, helped reduce traffic fatalities by nearly 10% in three years, TxDOT data shows.
Houston’s action plan states the city will need to leverage state and federal transportation funding in addition to local tax dollars or those managed by management districts and tax increment reinvestment zones to fund the city’s priorities. A portion of the $1 billion Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County bond passed in 2019 is also dedicated to safety improvements.
The plan is part of a broader shift in Houston’s transportation planning strategy that puts more focus on forms of transportation other than cars such as improving transit access and walkability. In the past year, the city passed a Walkable Places ordinance incentivizing denser, more pedestrian-friendly development, removed parking minimums beyond downtown into Midtown and hired its first chief transportation officer, David Fields, who has a focus on multimodal transportation.