What You Need to Know About the Vision Zero Action Plan

Vision ZeroThe Inman Square intersection will be redesigned as part of Vision Zero. Photo by Adrianne Mathiowetz.

The city released a detailed plan earlier this month for how it will eliminate traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries, after pledging to adopt Vision Zero in 2016.

Vision Zero got its start in Sweden in the late 20th century, according to the City of Cambridge website, and has since disseminated throughout the world. Cities come up with individualized approaches, but Vision Zero plans typically include “political commitment, multi-disciplinary leadership and cooperation, a transparent, data-driven, systems-based approach, and community engagement,” the Cambridge action plan says.

Cambridge was deemed the most walkable city in the United States, and 24 percent of residents walk to work, according to the action plan. About seven percent bike to work, according to 2013 data, and 28 percent take public transit. This mix of transportation modes means that the city needs to focus on how different types of travelers can safely share the roads.

“Effective communication, collaboration, and public process are critical to successful initiatives, and these will be central themes that will guide our approach for Vision Zero,” City Manager Louis A. DePasquale said in a statement. “By coming together as a community, we will continue making it safe and easy for people of all ages and abilities to travel between work, school, shops, and other destinations, whether they choose to walk, bicycle, drive, or take transit.”

Here are some of the big changes you can expect to see over the next few years as a result of the initiative:

Lower speed limits

Starting on March 1, speed limits in the city’s busiest squares—Porter, Harvard, Inman, Central, and Kendall—will fall to 20 miles per hour.

If a pedestrian is hit by a car driving at 40 miles per hour they have just a 10 percent chance of surviving the crash, according to the action plan, but if the car is traveling at 20 miles per hour the pedestrian’s chance of surviving rises to 90 percent.

“We know that lower speeds help save lives, and that pedestrians and cyclists are much more likely to survive a crash with a motor vehicle when speeds are below 20 MPH,” Joseph Barr, director of traffic, parking, and transportation, said in a statement. “Cambridge’s squares are the heart of our city, and we want to make sure that we support their economic vitality by making them safe for everyone who lives, works, and plays in Cambridge.”

The shift comes after the city lowered the citywide default speed limit to 25 miles per hour in December 2016.

Redesigned intersections

Inman Square’s main intersection, which “is a documented crash ‘hot spot,'” according to the city website, will be largely revamped, including a redesign of Vellucci Plaza. Residents can learn more about the plaza redesign at a March 7 meeting.

The city will turn its sights to Porter Square’s main intersection in FY19 to make improvements including “simplified signal operations, more attractive functioning of the jug handle for cyclists turning left onto Somerville Ave., better pedestrian crossings, and fewer conflicts for all modes.”

Other intersections throughout the city will see more minor changes to improve safety. Options include letting bicyclists or pedestrians get a head start on a green light before drivers, more protected turns for cars, and accessible pedestrian signals that include “locator tones, audible signals, vibrotactile warnings, and confirmation lights.”

More separated bike lanes

The city plans to install three new protected bike lanes in FY18 and another three in FY19, using data to determine where they’re most needed.

Expansions of the protected bike lane network will include creating separated bike lanes during street construction projects and “retrofit projects,” where the city creates a partition through pavement markings, a parking lane, and flexible dividers.

Visit the city’s website to learn more or view the full action plan.