A Vision Zero Checklist for Mayor Hancock

Last year, 57 people were killed in traffic on Denver’s streets, and hundreds more suffered life-altering injuries. What is Mayor Michael Hancock’s plan to reduce the death toll?

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Mayor Michael Hancock.

Four months ago, Hancock declared his intention to bring traffic deaths in Denver down to zero, but his Vision Zero plan is still in development and specifics remain in short supply. One thing that’s certain, however, is that Hancock will have to devote resources from the city budget to engineer streets for calmer traffic and safer walking and biking.

Denver’s Vision Zero Coalition, a group of safe streets advocates, has laid out a list of 2017 budget priorities for Hancock and the City Council.

More from WalkDenver, which manages the coalition:

Government budgets are often referred to as moral documents, a reflection of where our priorities and values lie as a community. For many years, government spending on transportation has valued moving vehicles at high speeds over community livability, with deadly consequences — upwards of 38,000 Americans died in traffic crashes in 2015.

Here’s what the coalition wants the 2017 budget to fund:

  • A staff position to prioritize Vision Zero street safety projects, measure progress, and maintain transparency.
  • Increased use of photo red light and photo speed enforcement.
  • Initiatives to train drivers working for commercial fleets.
  • Implementation of neighborhood traffic calming projects, which should be identified through an analysis of neighborhood streets this year.
  • New and upgraded pedestrian crossings on Colfax, where five people were killed while walking last year; north-south bike infrastructure and traffic calming on Perry Street, Lowell Boulevard, Knox Court, and Irving Street.
  • Pedestrian-first street designs around schools, with high-quality sidewalks, narrower car lanes, street lighting, and street trees. The streets and schools most in need of these improvements are: Virginia Avenue at Munroe Elementary; 35th Avenue at Smith Elementary; 47th Avenue, Columbine Street, and Clayton Street at Swansea Elementary; Alameda Avenue and Tejon Street at Valverde Elementary.

In Denver’s strong-mayor form of government, Hancock sets the budget while City Council members tweak it. The budgeting process is long and lasts until next April. Until then, you can support the Vision Zero Coalition’s budget requests by contacting the mayor’s office or by emailing your council member.

  • I can back every effort here EXCEPT the addition of RED LIGHT AND PHOTO SPEED ENFORCEMENT CAMERAS. It has been proven in several studies (https://www.motorists.org/blog/red-light-cameras-increase-accidents-5-studies-that-prove-it/) that red light cameras DO NOT decrease traffic related accidents, but instead INCREASE ACCIDENTS! Please do work hard on safety, but choose methods that *actually* increase our safety, not just add to the city profits.

    • MT

      In some cases, not all, rear end crashes have increased with red-light cameras, but the much more dangerous side impact crashes decrease.
      Even the studies cited there by the super unbiased National Motorists Association show decreases in side impact crashes, and decreases in serious injury and fatal crashes.

      Red light cameras also discourage people from stopping in the crosswalk, which I appreciate every day as I cross the street.

      • AlCummings

        Actually red light cameras encourage people to stop in the crosswalks. By forcing people to stop short to avoid a fine rather than proceeding safely through under a properly timed yellow, physics dictates that a good number of them will end up in the crosswalk because of their poor decision making. As always, the correct response is to properly time the yellow phase.

        • MT

          You are thinking only of the people who are driving too fast to stop where they are supposed to in the first place. Everyone else who is coming to a normal stop is encouraged to stop at the line to avoid getting a ticket for stopping in the crosswalk.
          I cross an intersection with a camera every day, and it has made a huge difference in the number of people stopped in the crosswalk.

          • AlCummings

            Not at all. I am thinking of rthe people who are driving normally but make the mistake of stopping short to avoid a ticket when the law says they should safely continue under yellow. The law of physics says many of them, depending on where they are at the onset of yellow, will end up partly in the crosswalk as a result when they should have continued.

            The cameras have not made a “huge difference” in this because the system keeps spitting out hundreds of needless tickets for it.

          • MT

            If you’ve stopped in the crosswalk, the ticket is not needless. You are blocking the path of people who need the crosswalk and forcing them out into moving traffic to get around you.
            If you can’t manage to stop your vehicle in the proper place, you deserve the ticket. If it’s that difficult you should be driving slower, or not driving at all.

          • AlCummings

            The needless tickets are those being issued to people who are driving safely but are entrapped by improper traffic engineering that is required to make red light cameras profitable.

            It is the job of traffic engineers to set the yellow change interval at the optimum timing for safety. But the camera companies don’t let that happen.

            Try studying physics to understand the concept of red light dilemma zone and how it induces inadvertent red light running. In California, after the state mandated proper yellow timing at camera-enforced signals, nearly every city has since pulled them out of operation because the proper yellow time has eliminated red light running.

          • MT

            I’m well aware of how signals are timed, and the concept of red light dilemma zones. To me, none of that excuses unsafe driving.

            Try studying physics to understand the deadly force a vehicle impacts on a person. Keep that in mind when you approach intersections. Be responsible for your own behavior instead of blaming government conspiracies.

          • AlCummings

            I’m sorry but if you are “well aware” of how signals are timed, you would not be putting up red light cameras and blaming “unsafe driving.” You would be “well aware” that red light running is virtually eliminated by doing the proper job with “how signals are timed.”

            How ironic that you would suggest studying physics. That is precisely my point. The laws of traffic cannot trump the laws of physics. The deadly force of the vehicle hitting a person, or another car, is best avoided by properly setting the yellow change interval. If you PURPOSELY leave an identified problem intersection in place with no change in the yellow, YOU are the one who does not understand physics.

            If I am hit by a car because the yellow time was too short and the driver had to screech to a halt and went into my crosswalk, it is of no consolation to me that the driver “should have” been going slower. He wasn’t, and my bones are still broken. Signal timing must be gauged with the actual traffic conditions, not what we wish they were.

          • MT

            Not really ironic, I was quoting your condescending comment.

            I just don’t agree that we should accommodate people who are driving too fast, we should work on ways to make them drive slower and more carefully. Then is won’t really matter if there is a camera or not, which would be fantastic.

          • AlCummings

            I made no “condescending” comment. I just don’t want to be hit by a car simply because some people think we ought to manage for the traffic speeds we wish we had rather than the traffic speeds we actually have. I think it’s criminally negligent to do that. I don’t walk or bike around in the wish-we-had world, I walk and bike in the real world. I don’t want to tell the mother of a dead child hit by a car that I wish the driver had been going slower. I want to induce lower speeds through how we build our infrastructure. You can’t build a road for 45 mph traffic and then put up signs saying “Speed Limit 25.”

            So I agree with you about working on ways to make them drive more slowly and carefully. But until they do, I beg to differ with your position that we should not accommodate for people who are “driving too fast.” They’re only driving as fast as we stupidly built the roads for. We have to accept that for now and manage for it if we really believe in Vision Zero. Vision Zero is about preventing traffic deaths, and not about tolerating them until we can reconfigure our infrastructure.

          • MT

            I totally agree that better road design is the best solution. It can’t happen fast enough.

            In the meantime, the only means we have to keep people’s driving in check is enforcement. And enforcement really only works if it’s constant, which is why I like cameras.

          • AlCummings

            But cameras don’t work and are dangerous. Enforcing an unrealistic expectation won’t work. We need to engineer for the real world. We simply must, from a moral standpoint, manage for the traffic conditions that actually exist. I don’t want blood on my hands, literally or figuratively.

          • MT

            But cameras do work. Study after study show decreases in side-impact crashes, fatal, and serious injury crashes. Even the ones cited in the first post here that were used as evidence that they don’t work show that if you read them.

            What is the problem with enforcing existing traffic laws?

          • AlCummings

            Cameras do not work. If they worked, they would not continue to issue thousands of tickets every year. What works — what eliminates red light running to the extent possible — is proper setting of the yellow change interval according to the observed speed of traffic. Study after study shows this.

            The problem with enforcing existing traffic laws is that some of them are unenforceable. That is why traffic engineers simply must manage the system from the standpoint of existing conditions — while we work to alter the existing conditions through infrastructure improvements.

            Did you know that when CDOT raised the speed limit on Sixth Avenue Freeway west of Sheridan Boulevard from 55 mph to 65 mph, the measured 85th percentile speed fell from 69 mph to 64 mph, one mph below the speed limit?

          • MT

            Red light camera =fewer people killed= good.

          • AlCummings

            More lives are saved by proper setting of the yellow change. Red light cameras are dangerous because they rely on deliberately leaving an identified unsafe signal timing unchanged.

          • MT

            Plenty of studies show cameras decreasing fatal and serious injury crashes. Only people obsessed with government conspiracy and mad about getting traffic tickets argue against them.
            There’s no reason to excuse unsafe drivers. Give them the damn ticket.

          • AlCummings

            You are very incorrect. Ask traffic engineers. It has to do with what works better — actual appropriate traffic engineering to reduce red light running and accidents, or leaving a known unsafe signal timing in place and putting up a ticket camera instead.

            I’ve never talked about any conspiracy.

          • MT

            These things are not mutually exclusive. If there is an actual problem with timing, that can be addressed. That does not mean that cameras can’t still be used to ticket people who drive too fast and aggressively and run lights.

            If traffic engineers have done a poor job with street design and signal timing they should be held accountable. If drivers drive too fast and run red lights, they should be held accountable. No excuses for anyone.

          • AlCummings

            I can agree with that, as long as we’re in agreement that in too many cases where red light cameras are installed INSTEAD of proper signal timing, the drivers who violate within the first one second of red are neither driving too fast nor driving unsafely. Traffic engineers indeed must be held accountable for failing to manage the traffic network appropriately, and for trapping safe drivers in a hazardous trap. Reducing traffic accidents isn’t accomplished by lowering speed limits that no reasonable driver adheres to, or by installing ticket cameras rather than timing the yellow for the speed of traffic.

          • MT

            Are there really that many cases where traffic signals are so badly timed, or are there just a lot of aggressive drivers who rarely face any consequences for their actions?

          • AlCummings

            The former. The myth that there are just a lot of aggressive drivers out there hellbent on running red lights is belied by the fact that we use the mass body of drivers to set our traffic standards, such as determining the 85th percentile speeds. Most people will drive predictably according to the roadway and traffic management system we put out there for them. People do stop for properly timed signals, you can watch the platoons separate some distance upstream from the intersections when the yellow comes on, with the closest ones continuing through and the farther ones braking.

            A safe, accident-free system simply must recognize that of the traditional three “E”s, engineering and education always come before enforcement. If we value Vision Zero, we must empower the engineers to do their jobs first.

            There is a reason that the same drivers run more red lights in Denver than in Lakewood — the same drivers, mind you. Signal timing. Denver’s policy has been to use the legal minimum of three seconds of yellow change no matter where the signal was. Didn’t matter if the approach speeds were 25 or 55. As I’ve said, the laws of traffic cannot trump the laws of physics. A vehicle going 25 can safely and predictably stop in three seconds. One going 55 will not, or will brake sharply and unsafely. But in Lakewood, traffic engineers set the yellow change according to the approach speed, intersection geometry including vertical as well as horizontal curvature, visibility and so on, as the ITE guidance suggests they do. This allows drivers to instinctively make the right choice — proceed safely under yellow or stop safely before red, depending on how close or far they are. Only in recent years has Denver begun to increase yellow timing in response to demands for safety. They should complete that first, and then see if there’s still a problem. Red light cameras will never save as many lives and prevent as many accidents as proper signal timing.

          • MT

            If yellow times are extended to accommodate higher speeds, I’m even less inclined to let anyone off the hook for running a light, or stopping in the crosswalk.
            I’d rather focus on lowering speeds in the first place. Nobody should be going anywhere near 55 in Denver.

          • AlCummings

            I’m sorry but that made no sense. There are long stretches of road in Denver that are 55, 60 and 65 mph, so yes, many people are going that fast lawfully and safely. I grant you that I can’t think of a 55 mph surface street in Denver that has a signalized intersection; Santa Fe Drive reduces from 55 to 45 right before the signal at Iowa Avenue.

            Anyway, if I read you correctly, you’re agreeing with me that yellow times should be extended to accommodate higher speeds, correct? And what i am saying is that, as actual field results prove, this will in face result in substantially fewer — even zero — red light running events and fewer people stopping in crosswalks, because physics.

          • MT

            I think where you see yellow lights that should be longer to accommodate higher speeds, I see streets where cars need to be slowed down.

          • AlCummings

            You have the problem backward, however. Drivers behave the way the roadway tells them to behave. If you think they’re going too fast, traffic engineers simply say they’re going the speed the roadway tells them. You cannot slow down traffic by putting up a smaller number on a sign, you have to narrow the street somehow. Denver is stuck with streets made for faster traffic, and it is not reasonable to expect people to go 45 on Santa Fe Drive south of Iowa Avenue; very few did, because the road told them this is a 55 mph road, and finally CDOT raised the limit to 55, which is the safe speed for that road.

            In the meantime, as I have been saying, if you are committed to VIsion Zero and the goal of no traffic deaths, and you want to reduce accidents, you can’t simply say “put up a slower speed limit” and expect it to be obeyed and randomly rite tickets to safe drivers who are posing no hazard. No, you have to design the traffic management system to safely accommodate those safe speeds. A three-second yellow on a 40 mph street is simply inadequate due to the laws of physics. If you argue for keeping shorter yellows, you are literally arguing for an unsafe condition.

            I don’t want to have to explain to people who have accidents and injuries or, God forbid, a fatality, that people “should have been going slower,” I want to make sure the traffic management system provides the appropriate environment for what safe drivers do. If the city purposely keeps a known dangerous signal timing in place, then it ought to be held liable for the damages that result.

          • MT

            I never said put up a lower speed limit. I said slow down the cars. I know that is not the same thing.
            Select the speed that is appropriate for the street, design the street to enforce that speed, then time the lights for that speed.

            If you are arguing to keep travel speeds on an urban street at 40 mph, I would say that is an unsafe condition as well.

            We are not stuck with streets made for faster traffic, we are perfectly capable of redesigning them. Just as we are capable of re-timing the lights. I believe slowing the cars is the correct solution.

            I’m not opposed to timing the lights appropriately for the speed of traffic, I’m opposed to the current speed of traffic.

          • AlCummings

            I agree philosophically with all that you have said, just have a few quibbles.

            For instance, 40 mph is not an unsafe speed per se when it is on an urban street that is built for 40 mph speeds. Our problem is that we have some streets that indeed were built for safely driving at 40 mph but on which we post the limit at 30 or even 25, and that is both unenforceable and unreasonable. Traffic engineers will tell you that if you were to set a speed limit lower than that speed which is being driven safely by the prevailing majority of drivers, then you would be creating an unsafe hazardous condition. Speed differential in the flow of traffic is one of the highest risk factors for causing accidents. If a roadway is inducing 85th percentile safe speeds of 40 but you post it at 30, and some drivers decided to obey that sign while most do not, you have created a dangerous situation, on purpose. That is not good public policy.

            So I agree with you that such a road perhaps ought to be redesigned, narrowed and otherwise in order to safely reduce the speed at or below which 85 percent of drivers will drive.

            But we don’t have that situation at the moment. I wish that we had designed our streets more appropriately in the 1930s through the 1970s, when Denver was forced to stop annexing and developers couldn’t continue to add suburban style neighborhoods with wide arterial streets.

            I am not smart enough to come up with an estimate for what it would cost us to not only redesign our existing streets but then to reconstruct them. I suppose that there is well in excess of 1,000 miles of streets in the city limits. We as taxpayers are simply not equipped to complete a redesign of our “fat” streets and put them on the road diet we all want within a short time frame. I suspect the cost to do all of the streets would be in the billions of dollars over time.

            So, given that we agree on the Vision Zero goals of eliminating accidents and fatalities, we have a choice to make. You want to slow the speed of cars, and you seem to agree that you cannot accomplish that just by lowering the posted limit, but you have to redesign and reconstruct the streets. You also agree, or at least “do not oppose,” the policy that we should time signals for the speed of traffic.

            Given that we are not yet able to reconstruct all of our streets to narrow them and slow traffic, would you now agree that in the present circumstances, until we can reconstruct the streets, we simply must for Vision Zero and safety’s sakes mandate that our traffic engineers set appropriate signal times for the speed of traffic?

            We have to manage for the conditions we have at the moment, not for the conditions we wish we had.

          • MT

            Of course there is a cost to redesigning streets, but there is plenty of money if there is political will. Transit lanes, bike lanes, curb extensions, etc. cost pennies compared to what we spend on highway widening and enormous interchange ramps. Narrowing a street can be as easy as allowing on street parking where there was none before. Convert a one-way street back to two-way, it’s instantly half the width!

            I’m still going to disagree that 40 mph is reasonable and safe even if the street was “designed” for that speed. In an urban area there are pedestrians, cyclists, homes, and businesses. None of those are compatible with 40 mph vehicles. Signal timing can be extended to accommodate these speeds, but what happens when someone pulls out of a driveway?

            Redesigning every street in the city would be expensive, but that is not necessary. There are clear areas that are problems, and many that are not. If we have an intersection where it appears the yellow time is too short, maybe we should take that as an indication that the vehicle speed is too fast, and focus on fixing that problem.

          • AlCummings

            But first, you have to lengthen the yellow time until the other is fixed. Knowingly maintaining an unsafe condition is borderline criminal and incompatible with Vision Zero. There is no excuse not to support safe signal timing merely because you wish traffic were going slower at that point. It isn’t, therefore you must deal with it.

            But there is not “plenty of money” to do all these things. If you find it, we should notify the city immediately!

            A 40-mph urban street is not inherently unsafe. Typically these are arterials and not lined with residential parcels. People safely drive on them every day. I was not suggesting a 40 mph speed limit on a residential street, just noting that Denver has urban surface streets that are 40, 45, 50 and 55 on which people safely drive every day.

          • MT

            The majority of fatal crashes occur on those arterial streets. People are hurt on them every single day.

          • AlCummings

            Well, not really. There are plenty of arterial streets in my neck of the woods and no one’s been hurt on them in months.

            Statistically speaking, one would expect more accidents on arterials because there are exponentially more vehicles. So that’s not an interesting point.

            Would you be willing to have a study as to the cause of most accidents on arterials? I suspect a substantial number are due to speed differentials.

          • MT

            But arterials are more dangerous than freeways, which have even more vehicles.
            The speeds on arterials are too high for the complexity of the environment.

            Of course there are speed differentials. There are intersections, driveways, pedestrians, bikes, cars making turns and stopping and accelerating, and people that think an 11 foot lane means drive 65 regardless of anything else around you. The speeds have to be brought down, then the differentials get smaller, and crashes are less severe and less common. That is the only way these streets get safer.

          • AlCummings

            I agree. Please concede that appropriate signal timing is a necessity in all of this.

            By the way, very very few drivers go 65 on Denver’s arterials.

      • Scott Sanderson

        There is an easy fix for cars blocking the crosswalk/bike lane that I noticed when visiting Europe. Instead of locating traffic signals on both the near and far sides of an intersection, the signals could be located only on the near side. Then if a driver pulls forward enough to block the crosswalk, he will no longer be able to see the signal. This arrangement is self-enforcing and no one needs to write tickets. I have never seen this type of signal placement in the United States–it seems we always do both near and far side. Can’t figure out why.

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