Many people have placed the blame on Mayor John Tory for lowering the bar on Vision Zero so as to make it bland and mostly meaningless. (Vision Zero started in Sweden where they say: "Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society", which I love). While we rightfully put the political blame on the Mayor, it helps to also understand how this plan reflects the engineering culture of Transportation Services. This is Transpo GM Stephen Buckley's as much as it is Tory's.
I've been talking to people who were part of Transportation Services' process for drafting the "Road Safety Plan" (even the name is bland) and it's pretty clear that the transportation engineers played a big part in the blandness and low expectations. It's shameful to even use the term "Vision Zero" in this document and the transportation engineers share the blame with the politicians.
Instead of setting a goal of zero deaths and serious injuries with a decade, as has New York City or San Francisco, Transportation Services was happy to aim low. They decided to make the vision statement mention zero deaths and serious injuries, but made the goal a measly twenty percent reduction. Buckley defended the goal as realistic (in other words entirely unvisionary). Mayor Tory and Councillor Jaye Robinson presented this plan but then quickly caved when faced with strong criticism from the public and media. They said that they would make the goal zero deaths and injuries in five years (which is laughable in its own right considering the low funding for the plan).
This plan was politically stale even before it landed on the mayor's desk. While Buckley tried so hard to be realistic, he missed the point that this is about life and death, not about percentages. The public doesn't think about this the same way. Twenty percent is not only "realistic", it likely falls within the margin of error. It's possible the City could just twiddle their thumbs and still claim victory. Furthermore Buckley and Robinson forgot how their "partners" would respond to the plan. Even though outside stakeholders were included in the process of drafting the plan, they didn't get a chance to see the final report before it went out. It's galling, then, that the City claimed that it's partners were on board with the plan.
The reaction from stakeholders, the public and media is hardly surprising.
Proposed 1-yr road safety spending, per 100,000 residents NYC: $1.34-million (US) San Fran: $4.07-million (US) Toronto: $0.19-milion (Cdn)
But don't lose sight that there still is a moral victory here for activists. The Mayor has officially recognized that Transportation Services has a new ambitious goal and a timeline. Yes, the goal is now ridiculously unrealistic in five years. But this is a goal nonetheless and one that's now been given much more prominence in our hearts and minds. Where previous goals focused on facilitating the quick and efficient movement of motorized vehicles, this one is about people's lives. And engineers and politicians are going to have a very hard time trying to come up with a calculus where we know how many people's lives are expendable for a certain level of convenience. Transportation engineers will no longer find it easy to just say "We're always attempting to balance the safety piece with the mobility piece". We start inching towards Sweden where there is no exchange between life and convenience.
Transportation Services can no longer claim victory for a half-assed reduction that might have been a random fluctuation because of weather or some other capricious event. We can hold their feet to the fire, year after dismal year from now on:
"How close are we this year, Mr. Mayor? Have you stopped people dying in traffic yet, like you promised? No?"
We certainly will have to hold their feet to the fire once you realize how slim the plan actually is. But I prefer that to claiming false victories ("Yay, only XX people died this year!")