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Columbia adopts "Vision Zero" policy to eliminate traffic deaths

Columbia adopts "Vision Zero" policy to end traffic deaths

COLUMBIA, Mo. - As traffic deaths rise to their highest total in six years, Columbia leaders get on a new track to end them.

The Columbia City Council adopted a "Vision Zero" policy Monday night, affirming a policy "to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030," according to the exhibit attached to the council's agenda.

The unanimous vote tasked City Manager Mike Matthes to develop the plan to implement the policy by April 30. Suggestions, which the Mayor's Task Force on Pedestrian Safety spent a year crafting, include new funding sources for traffic safety and the use of "data-driven" methods to develop transportation projects.

Traffic deaths have risen to a six-year high in 2016, up to at least 12 this year. 

Columbia became the 22nd city in the country to adopt such a policy, first popularized in Sweden in 1997, according to proponents who researched it for Columbia. New York City and Ann Arbor, Mich. saw decreases in their traffic deaths after adopting it. While Missouri highway administrators are vying for a similar goal, Columbia is the first municipality in the state to formally adopt the Vision Zero mindset, which councilman Ian Thomas involves several different aspects of city governance.

"Communities have made that resolution, and then designed strategies to accomplish it, strategies in the areas of education, and enforcement and engineering, they have been remarkably successful," Thomas said.

The resolution calls for a "dashboard" to track statistics like traffic deaths, property damage and serious injuries caused by crashes. The task force recommended a "one percent" funding strategy, similar to what the city currently does with public art projects. For all capital street projects costing $500,000 or more, at least one percent of the project's budget should go towards the Vision Zero Implementation Plan.

Some council members raised questions on the extent that the task force's suggestions applied to reducing traffic deaths. One recommendation included bringing back red-light cameras, which stirred created controversy in both the city and state last year.

Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said the city will need to balance its "critical" budgetary need for public safety in moving forward with Vision Zero. While the recommendations call for a part-time employee to help manage the policy and its progress, Skala was skeptical of making anymore hires, for fear of further waning sales tax coming into the city.

"But I think we need to take a very close look at will work here, and what will not work here," Skala said.

The Columbia Police Department disbanded its Traffic Unit at the start of 2016 to staff its Community Outreach Unit. The task force called for a new dedicated funding source for a traffic unit, but did not specify where that would come from.


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