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Drivers two times more likely to die on Columbia roads than in New York City

Data based on 100,000 people

Impact: vision zero

COLUMBIA, Mo. - January 22, 2015 started out as a normal day for then-University of Missouri student Amy Wasowicz. It was just after 9 a.m. on a Thursday when Wasowicz, an 18-year-old political science major, was legally crossing College Avenue at Rollins Street with friends. Wasowicz remembers turning around to speak to her friend before being hit by a vehicle. Wasowicz was taken to the hospital but not seriously hurt, Police gave the driver a ticket for causing the accident. 

"When she ended up hitting me it shut down the intersection and I ended up going to the emergency room," Wasowicz. 

Later that same day, two other pedestrians were hit by cars. One of the crashes killed 24-year-old international student Kui Zou after she got off a bus at Nifong Boulevard near Providence Road. 

By May 2015, Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid wanted action. He appointed Wasowicz and 14 other Columbia residents to analyze the problem of pedestrian crashes and develop a list of recommendations. 

Task force members eventually agreed on adopting the Vision Zero policy and presented their recommendations to the Columbia City Council, which adopted the policy in 2016. 

The Vision Zero philosophy originated in Sweden and was implemented in U.S. cities such as Austin, Texas, Denver, and New York. 

The goal of Vision Zero is to have zero deaths and serious injuries by 2030. 

The Problem

The problem of auto-pedestrian crashes got worse before it got better. 

In the last five years in Columbia, the average traffic fatality rate has been 6.8 deaths per 100,000 people per year. That's higher than New York City, Seattle and Philadelphia. According to Columbia's Vision Zero data, in the last 10 years an average of seven people were killed annually in traffic crashes.

Lawrence Simonson, assistant director of the PedNet Coalition, said the coalition started looking into Vision Zero for several years but never thought it was needed as badly in Columbia, until Simonson said the coalition started looking at the data. 

"People just don't know how dangerous our road system is," Simonson said. "We were kind of shocked because we always thought we lived here in the sweet Midwest and that we were focusing on these things but you noticed looking at the data that it's not the case."

The Solution

Vision Zero is split up into three different teams. There are the engineering, education and enforcement teams which meet monthly to discuss each team's critical action goals. 

Engineering: 

  • Form a program and protocol for road safety audits and road safety assessments.
  • Create a crash analysis team.
  • Identify engineering design parameters that improve safety for all road users.
  • Reduce legal, posted speed limits.

Richard Stone, Columbia's engineering & operations manager, said the team hasn't looked at what areas it will start to focus on quite yet. That will be discussed in December once the crash analysis team is formed. 

"If we knew what area was a problem, we likely would have addressed that by now," Stone said. 

Education: 

  • Develop a comprehensive safety and education communication campaign.
  • Work with other organizations to develop education campaigns and policies.
  • Promote traffic safety innovations and improvements.

Simonson said Vision Zero isn't trying to eliminate traffic crashes but when the "crashes happen people aren't dying and having their life altered after the fact."

Enforcement: 

  • Increase funding for police traffic safety enforcement.
  • Prohibit cell phone use and texting while driving.
  • Improve and reform enforcement of speed limits and prosecution.
  • Provide routine bicycle and pedestrian safety training for law enforcement. 

Deputy Chief John Gordon said in an email the department got the idea of possibly considering "reconstituting the traffic unit," from the world cafe-style meetings the city held with leaders and residents. You might recall, it was the fall of 2015 when ABC 17 News discovered the department was eliminating its traffic unit to put officers on the patrol division. 

Gordon said the enforcement team will be looking at ways to fund the traffic unit if it's brought back which could mean it could go on the ballot to be decided by voters.

December goals:

  • Engineering: Form a crash data team.
  • Education: Develop outreach campaign for road users, host town hall meetings, data analysis team forming.
  • Enforcement: Introduce ordinance to ban texting.

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