LA’s Vision Zero Initiative Lacks the Funding It Needs, Official Says

After receiving only $27 million of the requested $80 million during last year’s budgeting process, one councilmember is saying the traffic safety initiative is suffering as a result.

by Elizabeth Chou, Daily News / March 2, 2018

(TNS) — Vision Zero, an ambitious initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities in Los Angeles by 2025, did not get a fair shot at accomplishing its goals during its initial year due to the city’s unwillingness to fund traffic safety projects, city leaders said this week.

The initiative was the subject of a contentious budget debate last year, and ultimately received $27 million, much less funding than the $80 million that had been recommended by the transportation department.

“I think we’re just not serious about funding Vision Zero,” San Fernando-Valley area councilwoman Nury Martinez said.

“The biggest battle … that we have is, we like to talk about these big plans and all these initiatives, but I don’t think we’ve ever really gotten serious about funding this,” Martinez said.

“That for me is what’s fundamentally wrong with this, and why I feel so guilty,” Martinez said.

Her comments and those of others during a Transportation Committee Wednesday came in response to media headlines focused on the lack of progress the city made in meeting the basic aims of Vision Zero, which is to reduce traffic-related deaths.

Pedestrian deaths have shot up by 82 percent over the last two years, according to data provided in a Vision Zero action plan and progress report presented to the committee.

There were 74 pedestrians killed in traffic-related crashes in 2015, with that number rising to 135 in 2017, the report said.

Earlier this year, it was reported that Vision Zero did not meet its self-imposed goal of reducing fatalities by 20 percent in 2017. The number of deaths dropped by only 6 percent, compared with the previous year.

The new action plan, and progress report, was released this week detailing the types of projects and goals expected to be rolled out in the coming year, some of which may be even costlier than the measures taken last year.

In the initial year, transportation officials made a number of less costly changes, such as high-visibility crosswalks, speed feedback signs and intersection re-configurations.

But officials hope to move on to more substantial changes that involve new traffic signals, and those that require constructing concrete structures, such as pedestrian refuge islands.

Discussions around how much to fund Vision Zero projects is expected to be taken up when the City Council begins budget deliberations in April for the upcoming 2018-2019 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

In addition to funding woes, city leaders said Vision Zero’s first year was marred by uproar over projects that involved so-called “road diets,” which take out vehicle traffic lanes to induce slower driving speeds. Some residents complain that such effort only increased traffic congestion, while doubting if they improved safety.

One road diet project in the Playa del Ray area led to a group launching a now stalled recall effort against the councilman for the area, Mike Bonin.

Meanwhile, city transportation officials have insisted that the very goal of the road diets is to reduce speeds, saying that how fast cars are traveling is a key factor in whether a crash proves fatal.

Nat Gale, who leads the city’s Vision Zero program, told the committee that reducing driving speeds is the “guiding principal” of the initiative.

“We know speed kills,” he said.

Bonin said he has learned from the “scars of the past year,” especially when it comes to getting the public to accept the changes called for under Vision Zero.

“It’s very hard to solve a problem and get public buy-in for solving a problem when you haven’t convinced people that the problem exists and how big it is,” he said.

Bonin said he was not satisfied with the public engagement plan laid out in the latest action plan, and told transportation department officials that “I think we need to do more.”

One approach that seems to make an impression is to compare how the city approaches traffic fatalities to efforts to reduce gang violence, he said.

The city was able to tackle and successfully drive down a “horrible, horrible gang homicide problem” by focusing attention and resources into it, Bonin said.

“I think most people in Los Angeles, when I speak to a community group, are shocked when they find out that there are more traffic fatalities than gang homicides,” Bonin said.

“And I think they are shocked to find out how much we invest in reducing gang homicides and how little we invest in (reducing) traffic fatalities,” he said.

Bonin said the stumbles last year does not mean that Vision Zero is headed toward failure.

It just means “we need to be doing more,” he said.

An understaffed Vision Zero office last year was able to get a sizable number of small, “cost-effective” improvements installed in the last year, but those types of projects will not cut it, he said.

“We haven’t done a lot of big, life-saving changes yet,” he said.

©2018 the Daily News (Los Angeles) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.