Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner officially announced the plan today at a press conference, though Houstonians have expected it since last year. Turner signed his Vision Zero Executive Order on August 13, 2019, and the Harris County Commissioners Court launched the same initiative last August.
Vision Zero, an initiative begun by Swedish activists, reimagines city planning to discourage the use of automobiles and tilt travelers towards walking, cycling, and public transportation.
“Like all great cities, Houston is evolving… We are committed to prioritizing people over cars and integrating a variety of transportation modes instead of focusing solely on vehicles,” Turner said.
“We cannot expect to change our mobility paradigm if our streets aren’t safe for all of us. And we cannot encourage people to use other modes of transportation if our streets don’t accommodate everyone.”
Flanked by a number of city officials, notably Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Public Works Director Carol Haddock, Turner said the project aims to reduce traffic deaths. Priority actions of the project include laying at least 50 miles of sidewalks and 25 miles of high-comfort bikeways each year, as well as “determining speeds that are safest for all people” and ”designing the street to support that speed.”
Haddock said that work to “rehabilitate roadways” has already begun.
“Houston Public Works is already implementing part of our Zero Action Plan. We evaluate each roadway during construction… to evaluate the safety needs of all users,” Haddock said.
“The goals of Vision Zero are straightforward: to create a safe, equitable, and accessible network of streets… It’s an important part for everybody to behave and follow the rules and things as they’re going through this.”
Haddock also said Houstonians can expect new color-coded crosswalks, curb ramps, and sidewalks.
Gabriel Cazares, director of the Mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities, praised the plan with hopes of reduced injury and death for the disabled and greater equity for the poor.
“This will benefit everyone… [and] build a more equitable and accessible Houston for everybody.”
As Acevedo noted at the press conference, the Vision Zero plan steps away from traditional methods of crash prevention that largely depend on personal responsibility, with typical police prevention limited to the encouragement of safe driving.
“Like the mayor says, these are not accidents… Rarely is a crash the result of a mechanical failure. 99 times out of 100, driver. Driver decision, driver lack of judgment,” Acevedo said.
“Vision Zero is really about raising the ante and taking a closer look at what we as a city… can do to make our community safer.”
Acevedo went on to voice support for reduced speed limits, a cornerstone of the pedestrian-centered Vision Zero project.
“I will be honest with you all. You all know that I’m a Texan now. But we still have in this state speed zones in neighborhoods that are 30 miles per hour, 35 miles per hour, when in a lot of other states it’s 25 miles per hour,” Acevedo said.
According to Turner’s summary of public input on Houston’s traffic, speeding ranked high on the list of citizen’s top safety concerns. Turner pointed out that nearly 60 percent of crashes in Houston take place on six percent of the streets.
Houston’s Vision Zero Plan identifies 13 priority actions to be implemented first among the 50 total actions. Next to adjusting the timing of traffic signals to favor pedestrians and laying 50 miles of sidewalk per year, concrete actions include using “design as a tool to support and enforce pedestrian right-of-way at intersections and crosswalks.”
Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City number among some other Vision Zero cities in America. The Texas Department of Transportation has committed to a similar goal to end traffic deaths by 2050.