Langley, Let’s Adopt VISION ZERO for Better Road Safety

No loss of life is acceptable.

During the 2022 local election I brought up Vision Zero a number of times, including asking every candidate if it is something that they supported. I purposely didn’t explain the question or what Vision Zero was since it is a platform already adopted by the province, with grants included, and I did want to know who had either done their research on how to save lives in Langley or who was at least willing to look further into it. Vision Zero isn’t a new concept and we’ve even had local group win a Vision Zero award for their advocacy. If you’re already sold on creating safer streets in the Township of Langley through adopting Vision Zero and don’t need the persuasion, you can scroll to the bottom of this page and sign the petition now! However, if you’re like some of our incoming council-elect and require some persuasion, please keep reading!

A Very Brief History

Source: Swedish Road Administration

Contrary to popular opinion, Vision Zero was NOT invented in Sweden. It was first introduced in the Netherlands in 1992 and quickly spread throughout Europe. However, Sweden was the first country, I believe, to adopt the program in their national parliament in 1997. Since then, traffic deaths per capita in Sweden have fallen by 68%. The nation’s capital, Stockholm, made it through 2013 with only 6 traffic related deaths. Phoenix, with an equivalent population, sadly lost 167 lives that same year (by comparison, the City of Vancouver had well under half the population as both of these two and 16 traffic related fatalities). In 2016, Stockholm did not see a single pedestrian or cyclist death as a result of motor vehicle incidents.

The movement has spread around the world, and was used by the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) as part of their 2016 Road Safety Strategy. In 2015, Edmonton became the first city in Canada to officially adopt a Vision Zero strategy. Since then, many other Canadian cities have adopted the movement, if only in name, as well as the entire province of BC, which offers small grants for cities and advocates furthering the movement.

What Vision Zero Is

Imagine ZERO traffic related deaths. It can happen. This is what Vision Zero. It is a philosophy that is accompanied by tangible street designs and programs created to aim for ZERO fatalities or serious injuries from motor vehicle related crashes. While the goal may be “impossible” to achieve, the path saves lives. The underlying philosophy is that every crash is preventable and that mobility does not need to suffer to accomplish this.

Vision Zero states that

  1. Since system designers are responsible for the design, operation, and use of the road transport system, they are also responsible for the safety of the entire road system.
  2. Road users are responsible for adhering to the rules set forth by system designers when using the road transport system.
  3. If road users fail to follow said rules due to lack of knowledge, approval or ability, or if injuries do occur, then system designers are responsible for taking further action to prevent people from being killed or seriously injured (Tingvall and Haworth 1999).

While under VZ principles, drivers and designers share liability. However, drivers are still responsible for driving safely since they assume significant risk, and drivers need to comply with any traffic regulations to ensure the safety of the road transport system.

Provincial Support

The BC government recently adopted Vision Zero with an indication that they would support municipalities through various grants. So far, these grants have been relatively small, ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.

The Local Leaders…

The City of Vancouver, BC’s largest municipality, adopted a Vision Zero policy in 2016. A few years later, it was one of the first items that the City of Surrey council adopted this last term in its 2019-2023 Vision Zero Surrey Safe Mobility Plan. This was followed up with B.C.’s first-ever Vision Zero Summit in February 2019. Since then, it has been reported that the City of Surrey, BC’s second largest city, has seen a 22% decrease in serious motor vehicle related accidents, despite national and international trends showing the opposite in the same time. Burnaby, the third largest city in the province, adopted its “Connecting Burnaby: Burnaby’s Transportation Plan”, in December 2021, an update of their 30 year old transportation plan, which also adopts the Vision Zero goal. New Westminster, Victoria, Saanich, Kelowna, Kamloops, Delta, and many more have all either adopted Vision Zero or are the process of plans to do so.

Mayor-Elect Nathan Pachal has specifically and supportively written on the subject. While the upcoming draft City of Langley “Transportation 2045: Master Transportation Plan” (updated from 2014) makes reference to Vision Zero as “something to look at” and so far has not yet been officially adopted.

3 years after a Vision Zero awareness walk in Walnut Grove, Township of Langley politicians have been completely silent on the subject. The outdated 2009 Master Transportation Plan is dedicated almost entirely to moving cars faster and makes NO reference to creating safer streets for pedestrians or cyclists. During the election, Township Mayor-Elect Eric Woodward stated that “this is something we will consider further”, but from what I’ve seen in his past plans for Willoughby, would appear to be supportive of such a program. Independent Councillor-Elect Michael Pratt was more overt in his support:

Yes, we should adopt Vision Zero. We should do this to prevent further injuries and fatalities when they could otherwise be avoided, and we can start with a redesign of the most dangerous roads and intersections in the Township. We have the data on where these are, we have the designs that are the most safe, and we just now need the political will to make the decision to make the necessary design changes.

Councillor-Elect Michael Pratt (Independent)

Echoing Pratt’s support was re-elected independent Margaret Kunst, stating:

Vision Zero is an amazing initiative that I would like to see us adopt… I would like to see this considered as a strategic priority that staff and council can work towards adopting so we can do the necessary traffic safety assessments, set goals to increase safety on our streets.

Re-Elected Councillor Margaret Kunst (Independent)

Independent re-elected Councillor Kim Richter was more cautious in her support, but also appeared to start from a favourable position:

I would like to get some clear data on the costs and effectiveness of a “Vision Zero Policy”. This is a brand-new concept that has never come to Township Council in the time I have been on it. To date (over the past 20 years), nothing on this has ever been formally provided to Township Council. There has been no community champion for this, and any posted on-line results seem inconclusive. Intuitively though, it does seem to make some sense.

Re-Elected Councillor Kim Richter (Independent)

Well, I’m hoping to satisfy Councillor Richter’s request for a community champion and I’m happy to bring any conclusion evidence of its success in other jurisdictions to Council.

Langley’s Problem

Our local engineers still operate on speed and flow as the most important priority when building roads. We forgo slow local streets for a dependence on wide arterial roads. Despite our relatively low density, we have a high crash rate with out highway interchanges being among the most dangerous intersections in the region.

Even the most accident-heavy roads east of Langley had fewer than 400 crashes last year. In Langley, the worst roads had double that number. Langley’s 200th Street had 984 collisions last year, most of which happened between Walnut Grove and Langley City. Fraser Highway had 589 incidents, while 264 Street had 466 and 88 Avenue had 347. Other roads with high totals include 56 Avenue (312), 208 Street (247), and Glover Road (225). In 2020, 55 crashes took place on the Golden Ears Bridge.

Grace Kennedy,

Thankfully, the ratio of our deaths to collisions are relatively low. However, the 31 traffic-related deaths between 2016 and 2020 are still unacceptable. Traffic related death disproportionately affect our elderly (over 1/3 of victims are over 75-years-old) and almost half of traffic fatalities occur in just two months: October and December (Source: ICBC).

Why Vision Zero is the Solution

Vision Zero provides an internationally renown framework to build safer streets which is being adopted across Canada. Why is it that a city in Northern Europe with over 10x our population has less traffic fatalities than us? The reality is that we have a choice: speed or safety. We can’t have both as priority. Most North American streets, especially those in the suburbs, are designed in a way to accepts a philosophy that a certain amount of loss of life is acceptance if the speed/flow is optimal. This doesn’t mean that we can’t have greater efficiency or even road capacity. These benchmarks are different than speed/flow.

Vision Zero usurps the priorities of the 1950s-1980s traffic engineers, placing safety as top priority as opposed to speed & flow. While still recognizing the responsibility of individual motorists (as well as cyclists and pedestrians), Vision Zero also recognizes the importance of the underlying conditions of collisions, which elevates the responsibility of automobile manufacturers, government transportation authorities, and other entities.

While there are plenty of guidelines on how to accomplish safer streets, Vision Zero is not intended to provide a step-by-step manual. Instead, it offers a philosophy accompanied by tangible, evidence-based suggestions to city engineers and planners on the various strategies that will slow the cars, increase safety, meanwhile maintaining efficient mobility. Some examples of what these suggestions may be include, but are not limited to:

  1. Median Barriers
  2. Modern Roundabouts
  3. Speed Humps
  4. Pinch-Points/Curb Extensions
  5. Pedestrian Islands
  6. Increased Tech-Based Enforcement
  7. Road Diets

Sign the Petition

By themselves, petitions don’t always mean a whole lot. If you’re up against political opposition, they are too often be criticized and ignored. However, they do provide a symbolic show of local support for our local council to consider. If you agree with me that the Township of Langley should elevate it’s concern for safer streets and adopt Vision Zero, please sign our petition below:

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