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Vision Zero has 'not been fully implemented', DC Auditor's report finds

A new report from the Office of the DC Auditor found that DC's traffic safety initiative has been unsuccessful in preventing traffic deaths.

WASHINGTON — A new report released Thursday by the Office of the DC Auditor (ODCA) found that the District's traffic safety initiative Vision Zero has not been fully implemented since its initial launch in 2015. The goal of Vision Zero is to eliminate all traffic-related deaths in D.C. by 2024. A goal that will not be met. 

According to data in the report, traffic fatalities have increased every year since Vision Zero's launch except one.

The audit looked at three years of data beginning in 2018. It was launched in 2018 following requests from a group of pedestrians and cyclists who had brought concerns about traffic safety issues to ODCA. In 2018, ODCA received a petition requesting an in-depth audit of the Vision Zero Initiative. One of the petitioners was cyclist David Salovesh, according to the report. Six months after signing the petition, Salovesh was struck and killed in Ward 5 by a driver of a stolen van.

"The District took initial steps to adopt Vision Zero engineering goals but the Initiative has not been fully implemented. DDOT could not document how it leveraged data to identify the most dangerous roadways, meaning it could not show how investments were prioritized by safety and equity. Progress and corrective actions were not consistently reported to stakeholders, and the Mayor and the D.C. Council have not ensured full funding of Vision Zero laws," D.C. Auditor Kathleen Patterson writes in the report.

The report makes several recommendations to improve the Vision Zero initiative, including:

DDOT should create a robust data framework that compiles all proactive study recommendations and other data into a database that is used to develop, update, and publicize a High Injury Network.

"A key reason this data framework was not created, and a High Injury Network for the District was not in place to prioritize traffic safety projects and was not published during our audit scope, was the delay in leadership and funding," the report says.

The audit also addresses equity when it comes to traffic safety improvements. 

"While progress was being made to include equity in the FY 2023 capital project selection, DDOT did not have effective systems in place to provide equity data on completed capital projects. Procedures were not in place to implement the equity goal for medium-size and small traffic safety investigation (TSI) projects."

According to the audit, D.C. did not update its Vision Zero action plan for six years after the initial launch.

Patterson said not updating the plan missed, "a key opportunity to assess the performance of its safety investments, integrate equity strategies, and establish funding expectations to achieve its goal of zero traffic fatalities by 2024."

Another key recommendation from the report was to make sure residents were well-informed about what DDOT was doing to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe.

"While DDOT has taken many actions to implement Vision Zero, failing to issue a progress report between 2016 and 2022 impeded monitoring and left stakeholders in the dark on progress and additional actions needed to make the District’s roadways safer for all users," the audit reads.

In 2018, DDOT announced plans to do away with right turns on red starting with 100 intersections in a pilot project. WUSA9 wanted to analyze whether pedestrian and biker safety improved at those 100 intersections. When we asked DDOT for the crash data, the agency couldn’t provide it, later telling DC Council it opposed banning all right turns on red because it didn’t have the safety data to back banning it. DC Council passed the ban anyway.

"We did look at median projects in general and we found the same, the lack of documentation and maintaining analysis. They didn’t have it," explained senior auditor Imani Boston.

 "I applaud the Mayor for planting the flag and setting a Vision Zero goal. This report reveals that the District has though failed to follow through on that vision with a sustained and coordinated action," said DC Council Transportation Committee chairperson Charles Allen.

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