Dallas has the fifth-highest rates of traffic and pedestrian traffic fatalities in the United States, according to statistics collected in 2017 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Last week, the Dallas City Council heard a presentation about, and spoke in favor of, adopting the nationwide Vision Zero plan, which would formally commit the city to taking steps to bring down fatality rates to zero. The nonprofit National Vision Zero Network offers cities resources and strategies to assist in the process.
“We cannot afford to have another person injured or killed,” said Michael Rogers, director of the Dallas Department of Transportation.
Of the 25 most populous cities in the country, Dallas has more traffic fatalities than all but Jacksonville, Florida; Phoenix; Detroit; and Memphis. Six Texas cities rank in the top 13 for traffic fatalities: Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso, with Dallas at the top of the list.
And according to the City Council briefing packet provided by Rogers, 50% of Dallas' fatalities happen on just 8% of the roads in the city. On average, two people a week died in traffic incidents in Dallas in 2017.
Adopting a Vision Zero plan is critical to improving those statistics.
“It is an internationally recognized strategy that eliminates traffic fatalities and severe injuries relating to automobile users, pedestrians, as well as cyclists,” Rogers told City Council members about the nonprofit and its strategies. “And it's based on the belief that no loss of life is acceptable and that traffic fatalities and severe injuries are all preventable.”
Dallas should create an action plan by December 2021, Rogers told the council. He also recommended that the city create a task force and launch and step up education initiatives that support Vision Zero goals. Dallas should aim to have zero traffic fatalities and a 50% reduction in severe injuries by 2030, Rogers said.
The education component is especially important, he said. Department of Transportation data suggests that many incidents happen when “pedestrians fail to yield,” meaning they are distracted, unaware of the rules of the road or do not use crosswalks.
Beyond education, it's important to build roadways that are safe. Dallas has a number of wide, straight roads that feel like runways and encourage speeding, but they don't all need to be like that. Narrower streets and roads with parking along the sides help discourage drivers from speeding, Rogers said.
He is also interested in design decisions that encourage walking, public transportation, and safe bike and mixed-use lanes for bicyclists and scooter riders. Trails through neighborhoods and wide, impediment-free sidewalks make it easier for residents to walk places. Raised street crossings at intersections allow pedestrians to see and be seen and function as speed bumps for cars.
“You can go through the neighborhood, but you can't fly through the neighborhood,” he said.
Rogers also noted that many accidents happen in intersections. Before the Texas Legislature banned red light cameras, they were a useful deterrent for unsafe behavior in intersections, Rogers said, lamenting that they can no longer use that measure.
“I really want people's behavior to change,” he said.
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At the City Council briefing, deputy Mayor Adam McGough suggested adding youth to the task force, noting that his son has taken on traffic safety issues for a school science project. Since 2000, there has been at least one person killed on Texas roads every day. McGough's son, Cooper McGough, aims to break that streak through an outreach program.
Cooper McGough, 10, has a website and hashtag, #ImWithCoop220 to promote the effort. His goal is to have no traffic fatalities on Texas roads on February 20, 2020.
It's not enough to build infrastructure, Rogers said.
“I think it's just as important to build minds,” he said.