City Cast

Vision Zero, Explained

Hayley Sperling
Hayley Sperling
Posted on September 25
Visioin Zero tree on state street

The city decorated a Christmas tree on State Street with Vision Zero ornaments to help spread awareness for the campaign in 2022. (Hayley Sperling / City Cast Madison)

If you’ve paid any attention to local news in recent years — and since you’re reading this newsletter, I’d say those odds are pretty high — you’ve likely encountered the term “Vision Zero” on several occasions.

The initiative is a data-informed strategy with the lofty goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities and severe injuries that occur on city streets by 2035. Vision Zero was first implemented in Sweden in the 1990s and quickly proved successful across Europe. These days, there are more than 40 cities in the U.S. with their own Vision Zero projects, including Minneapolis, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles. Madison is the only city in Wisconsin to participate.

Vision Zero Madison launched in 2020 and has been the driving force behind many transportation-related changes like speed limit reductions and street re-designs. Have you noticed the speed limits dropping to 25 mph on a number of Madison streets? That’s because the city believes that lowering the speed limit will save lives. The project is led by a steering team whose members come from the mayor’s office, Madison Police Department, Public Health, Metro Transit, and other city departments.

Some Vision Zero construction-related projects around town include the Atwood Ave. redesign, West Towne Path project, and Davies Street reconstruction.

More than just traffic adjustments, Vision Zero relies on community engagement for success. The city has hosted dozens of events since the project’s launch, with more to come.

The Numbers

Vision Zero relies heavily on data for its success — so, what do the numbers say?

We’re still a ways from meeting Vision Zero’s ambitious but admiral goal. So far, its results have yielded a mixed bag. In its first year, total crashes decreased significantly but since then have plateaued.

According to the city, 44 people died in crashes on Madison streets between 2015 and 2019, and hundreds more were injured. In 2020, there were 15 fatalities from crashes, 17 in 2021, and 14 in 2022. The estimated economic loss to the city from crashes totaled more than $103 million in 2021.

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