‘Life is a priority’: Madison considers joining project to bring severe traffic injuries to zero

Money budgeted to pave way to 'Vision Zero'

The city of Madison is budgeting money next year to pave the way toward becoming a Vision Zero city, meaning coming up with a plan that aims to completely eliminate traffic deaths and severe injuries.

Vision Zero is a traffic safety project that began in Europe and expanded worldwide, including many cities in the U.S.

“People’s lives are at stake,” District 15 Alder Grant Foster said. He led the charge for the council to unanimously allocate $350,000 in next year’s budget to begin work toward becoming a Vision Zero city and start improving traffic safety in 2020.

The goal is a shift in perspective.

“Instead of prioritizing how quickly we can move cars through an environment, it starts to focus on keeping people safe first and foremost,” Foster said. “We don’t have to sit back and say this is the cost of getting where we have to go. We can make a change.”

Changes could include lower speed limits or increased visibility crosswalks, which will be implemented in some form at chosen roads and intersections in 2020.

“Whether the end goal is realistic or not, I think it’s a really proven strategy,” Foster said.

“It does sound kind of lofty, but if you don’t try, will you get anywhere?” said Tom Lynch, city transportation director.

To officially meet Vision Zero criteria, the city needs to commit to a long-term plan to eliminate severe injury crashes, which is something Lynch said the city will seriously consider next year. The budgeted money helps lay the groundwork.

Lynch said Madison has an average of about eight traffic fatalities and nearly 100 critical injury crashes a year, with more than 400 crashes resulting in deaths or Type A critical injuries in the past five years.

“That’s quite a few,” Lynch said, adding that the focus for coming improvements will center in part on intersections ranked high in injury severity using an algorithm.

‘Life is a priority’: Madison considers joining project to bring severe traffic injuries to zero

North Stoughton Road and East Washington Avenue currently tops that list, followed by U.S. Highway 12/18 and Millpond Road, then U.S. Highway 12/18 and Brandt Road.

Lynch said 4% of the city’s roads make up half of the most severe injury crashes.

“If we can address fatalities and injuries on just 4% of roads in our city, we can eliminate half of all the injuries that are ending lives or critically changing lives forever,” he said. “Why not work on that 4% and say we can do better?”

Lynch said the department will analyze how best to improve intersections and roads and decide which ones to begin with in coming months.

Other cities, including Chicago and Minneapolis, are working toward Vision Zero.

“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Foster said. “We can see what’s worked, and implement it more quickly here.”

For city officials, it’s worth getting the project moving quickly.

“It’s a priority,” Lynch said. “Life is a priority.”

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