The resolution presented by Commissioner Rodney Ellis (D-Pct. 1) excluded specific policy proposals, but affirmed that Vision Zero principles “will be an integrated part of future transportation plans and projects.”
Ellis explained that a workgroup committee approved by commissioners in October of last year had been meeting and working to analyze traffic-related deaths and to create “high injury network maps” for the county.
Now with the official launch of the initiative, the resolution states that the county engineering department will hold virtual public engagement meetings beginning on September 2, and seek to educate the public and solicit input via a new “Harris County Vision Zero” website.
Developed in the 1990s by Swedish activists, “Vision Zero” refers to efforts to craft transportation policies based on the socio-political ethic: “Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society.”
Since then, Vision Zero concepts have been adopted by the United Nations (UN) and are promoted under the organization’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and a special resolution to improve global road safety.
As with the Harris County resolution, the UN documents call for collection and analysis of traffic fatality data.
The UN also urges member nations to increase use of public transportation, promote pedestrian walkways and bicycle lanes, establish “safe speed limits” and implement “speed restricting mechanisms.”
More specific language published by Vision Zero Texas advocates for structural changes to transportation planning at the state and local level, and links to the End Traffic Violence organization to push for legislative action at the federal level.
At the national level, the group says that since motor vehicles contribute to carbon emissions and associated health issues, all future funding increases to the transportation budget should “be allocated for transit, walking and micro-mobility in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals.” They also call for increased use of enforcement technology, and implementation of a gasoline tax to produce more transportation funds and discourage reliance on automobile travel.
The Vision Zero Network further ties traffic planning to “Acting for Racial Justice and Justice Mobility,” and Ellis’ resolution for Harris County specifically mentions a strategy of ensuring “safe, healthy, equitable mobility for all residents.”
Vision Zero transportation plans have been gaining traction across the nation and have been adopted by other cities including Chicago, Seattle, and New York City.
The New York plan has come under fire by both Vision Zero advocates and detractors, especially after a Manhattan Institute analysis documented rising numbers of pedestrian traffic fatalities.
In Texas, Austin, Houston, Fort Worth, and other cities have also adopted Vision Zero plans, and Ellis said the county would be collaborating with the City of Houston in seeking to eliminate traffic-related fatalities.
Earlier this year, the Austin City Council announced plans for a public transit plan with a $5.4 billion price tag and a possible 25 percent tax hike.
Potential additional costs associated with adopting a Vision Zero plan were not included in the discussion at the Harris County’s Commissioners Court on Tuesday.
During the meeting, Commissioner Steve Radack (R-Pct. 3) asked how the plan would address fatalities related to DWI offenses.
County Engineer John Blount said Vision Zero planning would examine a multitude of factors that contribute to traffic-related fatalities.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Jack Cagle (R-Pct. 4) said while he agreed with the idea of reducing fatalities, he had not received Ellis’ resolution until late Monday and had not had the opportunity to analyze the entire document.
Cagle was the only commissioner to vote against the Vision Zero resolution.
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Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.