DC had a Vision Zero head start on Philadelphia, but Philly’s Hot on our Tail
Philly aims to zero out traffic death over 13 years (2017-2030) and have already made progress. In the first year of Vision Zero, traffic fatalities dropped from 96 to 78—down 18 deaths or 19 percent. That’s a big drop YoY and suggests Vision Zero efforts were a significant inflection point, assuming vehicle miles traveled and miles walked/biked didn’t go down significantly.
Philly started the VZ program with higher fatality numbers, 96 in 2017 versus 26 in 2015 for DC, but Philly’s moving in the right direction and has more time to reduce that number. DC’s streets, as we’ve written, have been more lethal every single year since Vision Zero started. If current trends continue, Philly will have six traffic deaths in 2030 at their goal year, and DC will have 38 in 2024 at our goal year. The future is rarely linear, though.
Philly’s Streets are Dangerous Compared to Most Major Cities
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) releases traffic death data by city, whereas the Census doesn’t. You can do the math by aggregating Census tracts or zip codes, but I’m lazy, and the numbers are more out of date as you drill further down geographically. Anyway, NHTSA offers comparisons for us circa 2016.
Washington, DC averaged four traffic deaths per 100,000 residents compared to 6.4 per 100K in Philly. That puts DC in the middle of the pack of big, transit-rich cities and Philly near the back. NYC crushes it safety-wise with 2.69 deaths per 100K people, but they also have higher fatalities than DC and Philly.
Adjusting the death statistic by population is good, but not superior. A better stat would probably be traffic death for some travel volume metric. Pedestrian fatalities per one mile walked if we could get good walking data. Bike death per one mile cycled. Both would probably have to include a weighting for vehicle miles traveled in cars. The more people travel on any mode, the more opportunities to encounter other commuters and create fatalities.
Philly and DC Both Suck at Protecting Vulnerable Pedestrians and Cyclists
Crashes in both cities seriously injure and kill drivers more. But in both cities, the injury and death rate is disproportionate with the rate of involvement.
In 2017, Philadelphia pedestrians and cyclists made up 19 percent of the people involved in crashes but were 46 percent of the deaths from those accidents. DC’s crashes in the last 12 months involved 79,026 cars, bikes, and pedestrians. Only 1,180 of that total were pedestrians, and 721 bikes were involved. Combined, that’s 2.4 percent. Compare that to DC’s traffic deaths so far in 2018: 45 percent of the 31 killed were walking or biking.
In Philly, “Overall, of the 78 people killed and 244 severely injured in 2017, 144 people were traveling in vehicles, while 87 people were walking and 13 were on bikes.” DC had approximately 31,600 accidents November 2017 through October 2018. 6,773 of those accidents involved injury. Of the 359 major injuries, 201 were drivers, 114 pedestrians were harmed, 44 cyclists. Again, cyclists and pedestrians were 2.4 percent of crash participants, but 44 percent of the serious injuries.
Philadelphia Dreams Way Bigger than DC on Vision Zero
DC has nine years to meet its VZ target and only has 10 miles of protected bike lanes built four years into the effort. Philly started later, adding their first protected bike lane this year, but is dreaming bigger. The City of Brotherly Love struggles with similar bureaucracy on serious street changes, but Philly’s shooting for 40 miles of protected bike lanes by 2025, compared to DC’s 20 by 2024.
DC is a great cycling city with lots of paved trails and lots of unprotected bike lanes. We’ve got more of the good stuff than Philly. Like Philly, we struggle with local government and community opposition forcing delays and compromise designs after plans *finally* get through DDOT. Like Philly, we fail to redesign streets so that we protect its users lacking tons of metal and dozens of miles per hour as protection. But unlike DC, Philly seems to have ambitious goals and data show they’re making progress toward them.