First published in the Jan. 14 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
In light of a recent uptick in vehicle-related deaths, Burbank will consider a Vision Zero street safety policy, which focuses on slowing down traffic and improving transportation infrastructure with the goal of eliminating traffic deaths.
The Burbank City Council on Tuesday provided direction to city staff to investigate Vision Zero policy for their review in the future.
“We have to recognize that, despite the very best of intentions, human error is always going to play out on our roadways, so we have to design our streets safer,” said Vice Mayor Nick Schultz, who originally asked for the report from city staff on Vision Zero.
Vision Zero was first adopted in Sweden in 1997 and cities worldwide have followed suit in drafting and adopting their own plans. In California, 13 other cities have already adopted a Vision Zero plan.
While city officials report that Burbank safety efforts have resulted in declining rates of collisions, injuries and deaths, from 2013 to 2020, Burbank experienced a peak in vehicle-related deaths in 2021, when nine people died from traffic collisions.
Rates for vehicle-related injuries also rose from 2020 to 2021 but were overall lower mid-COVID pandemic than average traffic injuries from 2013 to 2020.
Burbank’s current street safety plan outlines goals and policies that the city can utilize to improve safety but does not specify methods to implement these goals and policies. It was adopted by the Council in 2020 and serves as the city’s planning document, outlining several short and long-term projects like protected bikeways and street reconfigurations.
“Burbank has the means to implement a Vision Zero plan from a policy perspective. Much of the underlying framework is already built into existing plans … but a Vision Zero plan can be the means for more effective traffic safety implementation,” said Christopher Buonomo, associate transportation planner.
At its core, Vision Zero policy is a departure from how most cities plan and think about their roadways. Under Vision Zero, the plan is to slow cars down.
A study by Transportation for America showed that fatality rates for pedestrians struck by vehicles traveling at 20 mph are only 5%, but increase to 85% when the vehicle is moving at 40 mph.
City staff says that there is a tradeoff when making the change to Vision Zero policy. Slower speed limits mean more traffic: “The proposed safety benefits come at the cost of efficient vehicle throughput. Vehicle congestion is deprioritized as roads are narrowed, tightened and restricted,” Buonomo said.
Vision Zero would also expedite short-term “quick fix” street infrastructure improvements while making room for long-term solutions down the line.
Additionally, a Vision Zero program requires an increase in city staffing and funding in order to manage improvements.
“How do you get vehicular traffic through quickly while also maintaining safety?” Schultz asked. “This is our opportunity to send a clear directive to staff. All things being equal, safety will always be the top priority of the Council and of the city.”