Sacramento ‘zeros’ in on dangerous streets, hopes to reduce injuries

Pedestrians wait to cross the intersection at Stockton Boulevard and Fruitridge Road in Sacramento on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. A new program, Vision Zero, will target safety improvements on city streets.
Pedestrians wait to cross the intersection at Stockton Boulevard and Fruitridge Road in Sacramento on Wednesday, March 16, 2016. A new program, Vision Zero, will target safety improvements on city streets.

Sacramento city leaders are joining with bicycle and pedestrian advocates for a community-based effort to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries on city streets.

The program, called Vision Zero, also will try to do away with, or at least not use, the word “accident” to describe the crashes.

“Traffic crashes aren’t accidents; they are preventable and can be systematically eliminated,” said city traffic chief Hector Barron.

Vision Zero is an international movement, popping up recently in American cities, that emphasizes cooperative efforts between government, advocacy groups, residents and others to make streets safer for all users, notably pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

Barron acknowledged the “zero” fatalities idea would seem to be unrealistic, but it serves the purpose of setting a high bar. “It is important to have a goal so that we can strive to make improvements. It helps in terms of long-term visioning.”

Sacramento officials say 130 people died in crashes on city streets in a five-year period between 2010 and 2014, including 48 pedestrians and 13 cyclists. Another 450 crashes caused severe injuries.

Barron said the city will set up a Vision Zero task force, including police and fire representatives as well as others in the community, to determine where the worst trouble spots are. The group will take a multipronged approach to reducing injuries, including traffic enforcement, public education and street redesigns.

At this point, the project does not involve special funding. The task force’s analysis could, though, lead to safety grant requests and reprioritizing of existing and future street, traffic and law enforcement funding toward Vision Zero projects.

Cycling and pedestrian advocates have already begun pushing the Vision Zero concept in their work. Their research shows the most dangerous streets and intersections in the city are the wide, high-speed streets that run through the city’s neighborhoods, such as Del Paso Road in Natomas, Stockton Boulevard, Fruitridge Road, 65th Street and 47th Avenue.

Jim Brown, director of the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates group, said the intersection of Stockton Boulevard and Fruitridge Road is an example of a problematic intersection for all users. It is busy, wide, with numerous turn lanes, and is hard for pedestrians and cyclists to negotiate without crossing paths with numerous cars.

Brown called Vision Zero “an opportunity to shine a light on who is most at risk. Disproportionately, it’s low income people in the (city’s) suburbs. We’ll be focusing on solutions that benefit areas that have traditionally been underserved when it comes to accommodations for cycling.”

Kirin Kumar, project manager for WalkSacramento, said his group is interested in getting community residents involved in deciding what safety priorities their areas need. WalkSacramento did a “walk audit” recently on Broadway with Tahoe Park residents, he said, compiling a list of safety changes that could be made as money becomes available.

Sacramento police officials say they will participate. The department eliminated its traffic unit during the recession but has recently begun reassembling it. It now has four motorcycle officers, not enough to cover the city, Lt. Justin Risley said. The Vision Zero program could help police leverage their resources. “Vision Zero is about collaboration and finding multiple solutions,” he said.

City officials said the Vision Zero concept is a formalized extension of work already being done or planned. The city in recent years has been reducing some street widths and reducing lanes to slow traffic, adding bike lanes, separating sidewalks from traffic, and building pedestrian islands to increase safety. Recently, the city has added flashing beacons at some crosswalks and installed some pedestrian-only traffic signals.

The Citrus Heights Police Department recently announced that it is deploying extra officers to areas where traffic violations are highest, including locations most prone to collisions. The department has mapped areas for two years where pedestrian and bike collisions have occurred.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak