Pursuing Roadway Safety South of the Border – Vision Zero in Mexico City

This blog post was written by Ribeka Toda, a Student Professional Worker in the Vision Zero LA office and a Master’s student in Urban and Regional Planning at UCLA.

Vision Zero is an international effort. Since it was first introduced in Sweden in 1997, the Vision Zero initiative has been adopted by cities and countries across the world. While the programs vary in their processes, policies, and plans in order to reflect the local context and needs, the objective is the same – to eliminate fatalities on roadways.

As a graduate student in urban and regional planning at UCLA, roadway safety has been a personal and professional interest of mine. I’ve had the opportunity to work on roadway safety projects outside of school as a Student Professional Worker with the LADOT Vision Zero team. For this summer, I wanted to gain some perspective on international approaches to roadway safety so I decided to go to Mexico City to work on pedestrian safety projects. I am currently interning for Laboratorio para la Ciudad, a creative department within the Mexico City government focused on innovative planning projects, specifically working on their Vision Zero program called Programa Integral de Seguridad Vial (PISVI).


Pedestrians and cars in Mexico City


With a population of 8.8 million people in 573 square miles, Mexico City is the largest city in Mexico and has over twice the population of the City of Los Angeles (the entire Mexico City metropolitan area has more than 20 million residents). While Mexico City is significantly more densely populated than LA, I have found these two megacities to be rather similar in their size, urban design, and culture. Like LA, Mexico City strives to be multimodal in its transportation planning and offers various forms of transit such as subway, trolleys, bus rapid transit, and microbuses, as well as pedestrian and bicycle facilities and even a bike share program called Ecobici. Though most people are pedestrians, the walking experience can make one feel vulnerable when confronted with aggressive cars that drive as though they own the street and rarely grant right-of-way to crossing pedestrians.

PISVI was published in May 2017 and is still in its initial stages. It is the result of two years of collaboration between various departments of the city government, NGOs, and members of the public. Now the real work of saving lives begins, and the Laboratorio has their work cut out for them. Of the 10 priority actions that were identified in the PISVI, the third is the development of an information system and the monitoring of roadway safety. This is the current area of focus for the PISVI team, as the largest and most immediate problem facing the program is the availability of data, or lack thereof.

When I came to work for the Laboratorio, I thought that I would be analyzing safety data, something that I have enjoyed and am comfortable doing after years of working as a transportation engineering consultant. However, I have suddenly found myself in the middle of a political battle for open data, as I attend meetings and review reports strategizing how to obtain the data we need in order to plan for a safer city. The problem with roadway safety data in Mexico City is twofold: first, when a crash happens, police may not arrive, and if they do, they may document little to no information regarding the crash; second, this imperfect information is included in a database that is tightly guarded by the government entities that have access to it and are hesitant to share with the PISVI team. In addition, there are other sources that have data – academics, insurance companies, hospitals, and others – but those databases are equally inaccessible, despite the fact that Laboratorio is part of a public agency. We even joke that the media may have a better database of roadway safety than we do, given the almost daily coverage of crashes across the city, often accompanied by gruesome photos that would not be published by the media in the US. The fact is, we have incomplete data from various sources that provide inconsistent information, with the annual number of roadway fatalities ranging from 200 as cited by one source to over 1,000 from another source.

Mexico City Vision Zero Team with VZLA swag!


I have to admit that while the data that we work with in LA may not be perfect, I have taken for granted the fact that we have easy access to such a plethora of information from various sources, from geocoded information regarding crashes to public health data, transit data, socio-economic data, and so much more. It has never occurred to me that Vision Zero could be attempted without data, because how would we know where we have problems if we don’t have data?

I am looking forward to seeing the progress that we achieve here at Laboratorio over the course of this summer. I have presented information from Los Angeles as an example of what can be achieved with access to good data. After all, the high-injury network would not have been developed if we had not discovered that 64 percent of the fatal and serious injury crashes in LA occurred on just 6 percent of city streets. Data is such a powerful tool, as it provides insight into the what, where, when, and even how of crashes, which can then help us identify countermeasures that are specific and effective. I am heartened by the amazing people that I have met working on the PISVI in Mexico City. Despite the political challenges facing this initiative, the people working on the PISVI are incredibly passionate, bright, and determined to create a safer city for chilangos (residents of Mexico City), just like the wonderful team at LA Vision Zero. The past few weeks in Mexico City have been an invaluable learning experience for me and I’m excited for all the learning ahead and to return to Los Angeles with more knowledge and experiences as we continue toward a safer city, and ultimately, a safer world.  

Announcing Ballona Creek Bike Path improvements

Starting on Monday June 26, for a period of about 3 weeks, the Ballona Creek Bike Path in West LA will undergo important repair work. All repairs will take place Mon-Fri, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

What are the plans?

LADOT, the General Services Department of the City of LA, and Culver City are working together to make scheduled repairs on the Ballona Creek Bike Path. Asphalt and concrete removals, root trimming and removal, and restriping will take place at 23 locations along the bike path, from Sepulveda Blvd. to Lincoln Blvd.

Repairs will take place from Sepulveda Blvd. (#5) to Lincoln Blvd. (#11).

Will the bike path be shut down entirely?

No, the bike path is scheduled to remain open. Repairs will take place starting at Sepulveda Blvd. and going westbound, but only on one side of the path at a time. This will allow cyclists to continue using the route, and flaggers and advanced warning signs will be placed at strategic locations to guide riders towards space they can use.

In the unlikely event that a full shutdown of the path becomes necessary, a detour plan will be provided.

How long will this take?

We hope to complete the project in about 3 weeks (from June 26 to about July 17). If that changes, we will provide ample notice.

Thanks for your understanding as we improve this crucial piece of bike infrastructure on the Westside.

If you have questions throughout this process, please contact Abbass Vajar at abbass.vajar@lacity.org or 213.972.4965.

Bringing Improvements to West Adams Blvd.


Between Saturday, May 6 and Friday, May 12, LADOT partner organizations LA-Mas and PESA (Parent Educators, Teachers & Students in Action) produced “X-ing on Adams,” a Vision Zero traffic safety education campaign and creative installation on West Adams Boulevard between Fairfax and Rimpau.

At the sites of collisions involving people walking or biking, LA-Mas wrapped nearby light or utility poles in red and indicated the number of crashes with a triangular marker. For example,a “7” marker would indicate that 7 car crashes that injured pedestrians or bicyclists had occurred at that location since 2013, including 1 fatality. Crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists were also marked with a red “X” on the pavement, with informational text printed in temporary chalk paint in both English and Spanish. Throughout the corridor, light poles were also wrapped in yellow and black to simulate “Caution” tape, encouraging drivers to slow down and be careful. Check out this great video from the point of view of a driver heading down West Adams through the installation:

Throughout the week, PESA connected with Dorsey High School and John Adams Middle School, local nonprofit organizations, neighborhood councils, and faith-based organizations to deliver presentations and host discussions on Vision Zero. Student volunteers from Dorsey and John Adams served as ambassadors for the design installations along the boulevard throughout the week, explaining the purpose behind them and conducting surveys related to the community’s experiences of traffic safety.

On Friday, May 12, LA-Mas and PESA hosted a culminating event at West Adams’ Cafe Fais Do Do, where community members came together to share their experiences of traffic collisions, serious injuries, fatalities, and how important street safety is to the community. LADOT was on site to share proposed traffic-safety improvements for the street and solicit community feedback. Attendees ranging from young children in strollers to senior citizens enjoyed homemade chili and cornbread and music spun by a local DJ.

Funding for this program was provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS), through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Introducing Video Analytics Towards Vision Zero: A new way to prevent collisions before they happen

When the Vision Zero LA team comes to work every day, we know the statistics about traffic collisions. In addition to the national numbers (40,000 deaths and 4.6 million injuries), we think locally: Every year more than 200 people die on the streets of Los Angeles, half of whom are pedestrians or cyclists. Traffic collisions are the leading cause of death for children between the ages of 2 and 14.

Crowdsourced technology has already changed the way many of us get around (Lyft, Uber, Waze, and so on). What if we could also use technology to predict where vehicle collisions involving pedestrians and bicyclists will occur, and then take steps to prevent them? Thanks to a new online platform and partnership called Video Analytics Towards Vision Zero, everyday citizens can play a role in teaching computers how to recognize and prevent potential traffic collisions before they happen.

By using footage from traffic cameras across North America, VAVZ will “teach” computers how to recognize near-miss collisions. Data from these machine learning systems will allow transportation engineers to predict where crashes will occur and take proactive measures to prevent them.

To help this platform reach its potential, volunteers are needed starting June 1.! Here’s how it works: You will view a short clip of a pre-recorded traffic scene, then label and track the movement of each person or vehicle within the screen. By doing so, the computer can begin to distinguish a person walking, biking, or using a wheelchair; a bus or car; then recognize patterns of near misses. Until you get accustomed to using the labeling tools, it may take you several minutes to complete the task – plan on at least five minutes or longer per task at the start — but once you master the image tracking tools, your speed will increase. You can submit just one task, or complete as many as you’d like.

If you’d like more information, you can visit the VAVZ website and see more of their research (including an article in ITE Journal).

For additional information on this partnership please contact Franz Loewenherz, project manager of the Video Analytics Towards Vision Zero Partnership, at +1-425-452-4077 or floewenherz@bellevuewa.gov.

Introducing Our New Student Professional Worker – Lily Brown

This internship combines many of my passions in the planning field: bicycle and pedestrian planning, public space, and transportation equity.  Long before joining the LADOT Vision Zero team, Vision Zero was already a part of my studies at UCLA. For one of my courses, I wrote a research paper on equity and enforcement related to Vision Zero. In another class, I conducted a spatial analysis of tree cover density and collisions along the High Injury Network, which are corridors in the City that have a higher incidence of severe and fatal collisions. I wanted to see if there was a possible correlation between increased tree cover and decreases in collisions, as many of the corridors in the High Injury Network lack tree cover when compared to other streets in Los Angeles.  My analysis found that where there is less tree cover there are also more collisions   

In my first week at the LADOT, as a Student Professional Worker, I have gotten to see firsthand the dedication the Vision Zero team has to incorporating all stakeholders into the goal of zero traffic deaths. When Mayor Eric Garcetti signed Executive Directive 10, in August 2015, enacting the Vision Zero initiative, it brought many of the City’s departments together to work towards a common goal. This broad structure of the Vision Zero team is complicated but necessary in order to have everyone play a role and have their voice heard.

The LADOT team is in constant communication with other city departments, community advocacy groups, and cities around the country also working towards Vision Zero. I recently attended a Core Team meeting that brings LADOT together with the Police Department, Bureau of Engineers, Department of Public Health, and the Vision Zero Alliance, made up of community advocacy organizations. This bi-weekly meeting creates space for stakeholders, with different lenses and expertise, to share their ideas and challenges and collaborate towards realizing Vision Zero. The topic of this meeting was how the LAPD is updating their software and methodology of how they collect data on collisions, traffic stops and interactions with the public. Once the update is complete, their data will be more robust and easier to share. This will help us know the exact spot where collisions happen and provide more detailed characteristics of the individuals involved in interactions with police.

I also participated in a Vision Zero Network (link) webinar on Vision Zero and equity. Vision Zero cities across the country shared stories on how to make sure health and social equity are front and center in pursuing zero traffic deaths. The conversation took on issues such as historical discriminatory police practices and disinvestment in communities with the highest rates of collisions. Participants talked about the need to create a more open dialogue with communities, strengthen communities’ relationship with law enforcement, and present easily digestible data. My busy week of meetings also included a roundtable discussion about advancing health equity through Vision Zero, hosted by the Prevention Institute, a public health non-profit that helped the Vision Zero Los Angeles team create the Vision Zero Action Plan. The discussion built upon our conversation with the Vision Zero network but focused on how we can improve equity outcomes of Vision Zero in Los Angeles

It’s a work in progress emphasizing equity across Engineering, Education, Enforcement, and Evaluation of Vision Zero, but this team is genuinely putting in the work, and I’m excited to be a part of it.


Introducing our New Student Professional Worker – Jordan Fraade

It’s been two weeks since I joined the Vision Zero team as a Student Professional Worker, and as with any new job, there’s a lot to process: acronyms, names, workflows, strategic plans, and so on. I’m studying how decisions are made inside local government and in consultation with communities, reading up on what parts of the city are most at risk for traffic fatalities, thinking about how Los Angeles can link its Vision Zero program up with those in other cities — in short, there are a lot of moving parts and we have a lot of work to do in the year ahead. I’m excited to be a part of it.

Around the office I frequently hear my new colleagues use the phrase “culture change” to describe what we’re trying to do. In other words, Vision Zero isn’t just about redesigning streets and painting stripes on pavement (though that’s certainly part of it) — it’s about changing the way Angelenos view streets, shifting our worldview away from “roads are for cars only” and towards “roads are public spaces for everybody.” At a meeting last week I had the opportunity to see this culture change happening in real time. For a couple hours, transit planners and LADOT engineers gathered to discuss how to improve safety on one of the City’s 40 Priority Corridors (identified in the Vision Zero Action Plan as streets with the greatest need for safety improvements). The proposed street safety improvements were laid out on huge sheets of paper, and marked up with notes and symbols that I hope I’ll be able to instantly recognize sometime soon. Engineers and planners explained the changes they thought might make each street safer, debating among themselves and swapping ideas back and forth. And that’s only one step of the process: Once the technical studies are done, we’ll be working with community organizations and City Council offices to gather input and ensure our plans meet the needs of Angelenos who use these streets everyday.

Watching the discussion unfold over each crosswalk or protected left turn, I marveled at the combination of technical and policy expertise that got us to this point. Projects like a Leading Pedestrian Interval at one intersection and a scramble crosswalk at another may seem small in isolation. Taken together, though, they reflect an important truth about our work: Transportation isn’t just about moving vehicles, it’s about moving people.  So I’m excited to be a part of a team that’s dedicated to this vision and helping Los Angeles become a safer, more sustainable city.


Introducing Our New Student Professional Worker – Lauren Ballard

After only my first five minutes as a Student Professional Worker (SPW) in LADOT’s Active Transportation Division, it was clear that 2017 is Vision Zero LA’s year of action. Mayor Garcetti declared Los Angeles a Vision Zero city in August 2015, and, since then, the department has assembled a Vision Zero team that has meticulously studied, planned, and prepared for this moment, releasing in January the Vision Zero Action Plan, announcing partnerships for community-based education campaigns in February, and presently designing projects to put into the ground later this year.

As an SPW, my primary role will be supporting the Vision Zero outreach and education campaigns. My first week here has been spent diving into a Coro Fellows Report on best practices Vision Zero literature and getting acquainted with campaigns carried out by other Vision Zero cities. Among the many not-so-fun facts I learned: males aged 18-54 are over five times more likely than females to be the at-fault party in collisions causing death or serious injury (“KSI” collisions); unsafe speed and inattention are two of the top factors in KSI collisions; KSI collisions are concentrated in Central Los Angeles, including DTLA, South LA, Westlake, and Pico Union; and these areas of concentration also score high on the Community Health and Equity Index. Utilizing this data, best practices literature, and interviews with local stakeholders, the report develops three core messages specific to Vision Zero LA: 1) public streets are community space; 2) you are responsible for others’ safety; and 3) transportation is about moving people (not just cars).

With that in mind, I shifted my focus to the community-based outreach and education campaigns currently in development. After reading through creative and diverse draft outreach plans, I’m really excited to work with these community groups to fine tune their outreach plans, get the word out about Vision Zero, start changing  behaviors and perceptions surrounding traffic safety, and work together toward the goal of zero traffic deaths by 2025.

P.S.  If you are interested in how other cities around the world promote Vision Zero,  I found a sample of clever, effective ads addressing dangerous driving behavior including an anti-drinking and driving ad out of New Zealand and an Australian ad addressing reckless driving and posturing called “the pinkie campaign.” I highly recommend giving both a watch.