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CityLab
Transportation

What Happens When a City Tries to End Traffic Deaths

Several years into a ten-year “Vision Zero” target, some cities that took on a radical safety challenge are seeing traffic fatalities go up.
A pedestrian walks on Michigan avenue during the cold weather day in Chicago.
A pedestrian walks on Michigan avenue during the cold weather day in Chicago.Nam Y. Huh/AP

In 2012, Chicago ventured where no other big U.S. city had. Under then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the city set a mission of eliminating traffic fatalities and injuries in 10 years. The city didn’t mention “Vision Zero” by name, but its ambitious goal took inspiration from that road safety policy platform enacted 15 years prior in Sweden, leading to one of the lowest national traffic mortality rates in the world.

The basic logic of Vision Zero is that any traffic collision that results in death or serious injury—whether for a pedestrian, cyclist, motorist, or any other road user—isn’t an unavoidable “accident,” but a tragedy that could be prevented through smarter engineering, education, and enforcement.