A proposed Sacramento bike program seeks to eliminate road fatalities

Can a comprehensive safety program really take annual deaths to zero?


Between 2010 and 2014, 130 people were killed in traffic crashes in Sacramento, including 48 pedestrians and 13 bicyclists. Now, some activists are aiming to change those statistics with Vision Zero, a safety-oriented program that originated in Sweden in 1997.

Sacramento City Council voted unanimously last month to develop a Vision Zero task force and action plan locally. The program, which holds that traffic crashes are predictable and preventable, seeks to bring traffic fatalities down to zero and follows in the path of a similar south Sacramento effort.

City Councilman Steve Hansen, who first brought Vision Zero to council last year and made the motion to create the task force, called the initiative “a very substantive thing.”

Hansen envisions the task force examining how local development practices affect transportation. He also wants the program to consider ways to promote safety via improved roads, better biking and walking opportunities and education. More than this, Hansen says he'd like to see decades of car-oriented guidelines in Sacramento revisited.

“There are policies that have been put in place and things that have been allowed to happen that de-emphasize walking,” Hansen told SN&R. “We need to change these policies if we're going to actually help people.”

Hansen stressed the importance of Vision Zero.

“I think getting this right will leave a whole generation of Sacramentans better off,” Hansen said at the March 15 meeting.

Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates Executive Director Jim Brown questions, however, if the city can go beyond discussing policy to actually implementing Vision Zero and affecting change.

“That's been my fear all along,” Brown said. “It's tempting to adopt a policy that doesn't have a lot of teeth to it.”

Brown's group and Kirin Kumar of Walk Sacramento, a nonprofit that advocates to make the area more pedestrian friendly, are currently collaborating to bring a Vision Zero program to south Sacramento, The two groups received a planning grant of roughly $25,000 from the California Endowment to develop the program.

Working independently of the city, Brown and Kumar have collected data and talked to south Sacramento residents. Brown said their program is a model for how Vision Zero programs can be implemented via practical measures such as bike lane changes, and they plan to share their research with others. Brown and Kumar say they hope to join the city's task force. “We've already told the city we'd be happy to share all of our findings,” Brown said.

Too often, Brown said, the city doesn't seek enough community input in the early stages of projects. He pointed to a bike lane that was added to Stockton Boulevard several years ago as evidence.

“I doubt anybody asked residents, ‘Do you feel OK riding there?'” he said.

Brown called the city's planning process “top-down,” saying it leads to “no buy-in” from residents.

City traffic engineer Hector Barron disagreed, telling SN&R, “We'd have to have some level of outreach before we come back to council.”

There are plenty of neighborhoods the city can visit as part of this approach. Brown said that bike fatalities in Sacramento occur in an arc that runs through North Highlands, Arden-Arcade, Power Inn Road and south Sacramento. Most victims, he added, tend to be poor, minority men.

Vision Zero already faces one potential challenge, a common one for transit projects and initiatives locally: funding. Barron told SN&R he'd like to bring in a consultant to help with the action plan, but that he needs more money to do this.

Although he's not yet sure what the costs will be, Barron said he will return to city council in May or June during its budget cycle to request additional funds.