Image from Transportation Alternatives via Streetsblog.

Both Muriel Bowser and David Catania say they support the idea of “Vision Zero” and the end of traffic deaths and injuries in the District of Columbia. It’s an admirable position, but will either be willing to make the unpopular decisions to see it through?

On Monday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law a new, slower 25 mph speed limit. Nick Paumgarten bemoaned the new limit in The New Yorker, saying it “demonize[s] speed” and suggesting that it contradicts the true, fast-paced nature that is essential to life in New York and to the livelihoods of working New Yorkers, who have to drive through the city for their jobs.

Paumgarten concluded with a quotation from a crane rigger who said, “I’d say it’s time to give the city back to the cars.” On the other hand, Paumgarten also acknowledged the safety issue here, saying, “Fourteen children were killed by drivers last year. You won’t find a citizen who didn’t wish that this number were zero.”



In response, Brooklyn Spoke’s Doug Gordon wrote, “Of course not. But what you will find are a lot of people who don’t want to do anything that could make that wish come true.”

I believe that both Bowser and Catania support safer streets. Endorsing Vision Zero is a good first step. But safer streets won’t come from slogans alone. They require dedicated effort in the face of sustained opposition and an entrenched status quo.

Vision Zero will require spending political capital (in addition to real capital and public money) and could mean lowering speed limits, removing parking spaces, or reducing of travel lanes. Any of these could alienate supporters and anger allies.

Vision Zero, like all other major policy initiatives, won’t just happen because we say we want it to happen. A long-term, genuine commitment to Vision Zero could require some unpopular choices. Will either be willing to make them?