Avoid “Zero Vision” – Support Tacoma’s “Vision Zero”!

by Michelle Mood

Almost 80 people are killed or seriously injured in Tacoma in traffic accidents every year, or one every five days. We are twice as likely to be killed or seriously injured if we are walking when that accident occurs. Tacoma’s City Council is helping to change all that, committing to joining the Vision Zero Action Network and abiding to a Vision Zero goal that eliminates traffic fatalities and serious injuries in the City of Tacoma by 2035 (2020 Council  Resolution 40559)! Vision Zero is a global initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries while increasing safe, healthy, and equitable mobility for all — let’s all support VISION ZERO and avoid ending up with ZERO VISION! 

What’s ‘zero vision,’ you may ask? A fatal lack of vision needed to make Vision Zero come to fruition. Let’s take a look at what the city is doing and see what vision they have for Vision Zero.

The most recent news from the Public Works Department on the Vision Zero Action Plan shares the following:

We are exploring multiple opportunities to improve our transportation system for people driving, walking, rolling, biking, or taking transit, including:

  • Designing streets that make safe behavior the default.
  • Making changes to our codes and policies, such as reducing speed limits, adding automated enforcement traffic cameras in key locations, and calming traffic in our neighborhoods, that result in safer roadways for all. 
  • Educating drivers to be safe and respectful of all road users.
  • Creating systems for evaluation as we make ongoing improvements to our shared roadways. 
  • Significantly increasing our investments in active transportation projects (sidewalks, crossings, bikeways) and ensuring that every transportation project is approached as an opportunity to improve safety. 

We know a proactive approach has a big impact on safety and look forward to joining cities around the country (including Bellevue and Seattle in Washington), and many more around the world. (https://cityoftacoma.org/government/city_departments/public_works/vision_zero, emphasis added in the last paragraph only)

I’m glad to see that the city is emphasizing a proactive approach! Proactive is definitely the way to avoid ‘zero vision’ and give Vision Zero a chance!

But surely proactive includes looking at proposed traffic increases new development could create, right? The Tidal Flats Subarea development, and the proposed 2.5 million square foot warehouse in South Tacoma?

Well, no.

I would like to suggest that being proactive requires that the Planning Department’s personnel make sure proposed NEW developments do not further stress our transportation systems. We need to make sure the impact of any proposed traffic increase on Tacoma’s traffic safety is modeled and submitted to the City Council, Public Works, and the Transportation Commission – or our Vision Zero could become Zero Vision!

For the proactive side, let’s add another bullet point:

  • Work with Planning Department to evaluate each proposed development project for its impact on Vision Zero.

Those who have been following my blog posts know that Bridge Industrial’s 2.5 million square foot warehouse proposed for South Tacoma is estimated by EarthJustice to add up to 12,000 new vehicle trips per day. This is based on the description of the buildings, which are high-cube, “just in time,” distribution warehouses, while the project’s Traffic Analysis incorrectly estimated the traffic based NOT on a fulfillment center or distribution center business, but on a traditional storage warehouse, with only an estimated 5,000 new trips per day. 

Bridge Industrial’s own promotional materials tout “last-mile and next-day delivery” as “ideal” for this site due to its “proximity… to so many key transit options, such as the Port of Tacoma and I-5.”

Even 5,000 new vehicle trips per day would be catastrophic for the Vision Zero plan, but 12,000 new vehicles that a “last-mile and next-day delivery” business would generate would be apocalyptic!

All the work towards Vision Zero could be for naught if one business adds 5,000 to 12,000 new vehicle trips in our city per day.  The function of this warehouse will of course clog our major freeway arteries – but not only! Our residential neighborhoods will also be flooded.  The Teamsters pointed out in their comments that this planned business will inundate our city with the most polluting trucks as packages are delivered to customers by gig drivers, putting our residential streets under immense strain and endangering pedestrians, including school children.

All in all, the wonderful work by the city and its aspiration to reduce deaths and severe injuries from one every five days to zero could be dashed to pieces by a single new construction.

We need Vision Zero to zero out the effects of traffic-clogging development, but it has no chance to do so if the different departments in the city aren’t all involved in Vision Zero.

Hoboken, New Jersey is the leader of Vision Zero. It has gone four years with zero fatalities. Some of Tacoma’s proposed Vision Zero replicate Hoboken’s, such as “designing streets to be safe by default.” However, Tacoma’s current details do not include the way that Hoboken has increased visibility at intersections, called ‘daylighting,’ which includes forbidding parking within 25 feet of any crosswalk. As one reporter on Hoboken’s success noted, “Those spots [near crosswalks] are blocked off with bike racks or planters or storm drains or extra sidewalk space for pedestrians or vertical plastic pylons. Stand at a corner, and you can see what is coming toward you, and drivers can see you too, and you don’t have to step out into the road and risk your life to do it.”

Will Tacoma implement daylighting despite no mention of it thus far?

Would daylighting that just used plastic pylons work in our industrial city? Would just-in-time gig drivers under time pressure always honor those plastic pylons if they couldn’t find another parking space?

Would our already deadly streets be able to zero out fatalities with additional traffic from a 2.5 million square foot distribution center?

When I read the Action Memo “How Tacoma Will Achieve Vision Zero,” I am thrilled that “ALL CITY DEPARTMENTS” are listed as the “Key Implementers” for Action T.1 “Implement and maintain the Vision Zero Action Plan and Local Road Safety Plan (LRSP).”

In fact, the city’s Planning and Development Services is specifically listed as a Key Implementer for T.2 “Lower speed limits and implement traffic calming features that achieve desired target speeds on arterials and where fatal and severe injury crashes occur most.”

Yay! Yes! All city departments must be involved! There can be no local road safety plan without coordination and communication among all the offices, and that includes those offices involved in planning and development.

The city Planning and Development Services office must follow this directive and make sure its decisions do not further choke and tangle our deadly traffic behavior. Aggressive action is needed to meet Vision Zero. Hoboken’s success is due to a coordinated approach – “It’s this combination of strong political backing from the mayor on down, and Hoboken’s ability to implement changes quickly so residents immediately see and feel results, that likely accounts for Vision Zero success.”  Can Tacoma do this? We certainly hope so and will continue to cheer on Vision Zero.

If you care, contact your city council members, the mayor, and write comments to cwilhelme@cityoftacoma.org

Read the project information in the City’s Vision Zero document.

Stay tuned for more information about Vision Zero, and be a part of making sure Tacoma doesn’t end up with Zero Vision!