Five years since adopting Vision Zero, total crashes are down but fatalities and severe injuries remain steady

A driver was seriously injured in a crash in Old Town that shut down N. Washington Street between Montgomery and First Streets. (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Daniel Pearson from the Philadelphia Inquirer recently took his city to task for high traffic fatalities despite a Vision Zero pledge — a commitment by localities to get their pedestrian deaths down to zero. But Philadelphia isn’t alone: many cities vocally promoting Vision Zero plans, many of those cities are faced with continually increasing traffic fatalities.

So, with 2022 in the rearview mirror: how do Alexandria’s crash statistics measure up against the “vision zero” goals?

The good news is that data from the city’s Vision Zero Crash Dashboard shows crashes have mostly been trending downward over the last decade.

There are a few important notes to weigh down that optimistic reading of the data, however.

Crash data from the Alexandria Police department: the black bar represents property-only damage, the yellow bar represents non-severe injuries, the orange represents serious injuries, and red represents fatalities (image via City of Alexandria)

For one: in the two years after the city adopted a Vision Zero action plan in 2017, the total number of accidents was higher than they were in 2017. What’s more: crashes had already been trending downward in the years prior to 2017.

The number of total traffic crashes only dropped dramatically in 2020, which leads to the second major footnote: Covid had a significant impact on traffic patterns.

According to a staff report from last March:

This reporting period includes the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. No formal study has been conducted regarding the Alexandria-specific travel impacts of COVID-19. However, regional studies have shown that travel patterns changed drastically due to public health lockdown measures in 2020 which resulted in lower overall traffic volumes and public transit ridership, and higher rates of walking and biking. The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic (lockdowns, work from home mandates etc.) should be considered when evaluating crash trends and insights associated with 2020.

The Vision Zero dashboard data also does not include numbers from December so far, so the overall figures for 2022 are likely to be higher than those in the graph above.

While overall crashes have declined, the data also shows that the number of deaths and serious injuries has remained fairly consistent. In 2017 — the year Alexandria adopted its Vision Zero plan — there were 27 serious injuries from crashes and four fatalities. In 2021, there were 24 serious injuries from crashes and four fatalities.

While the 2022 data still does not include December, the numbers for last year are still promising overall. Between January and November of last year, there were seven serious injuries from crashes and two fatalities.

The dashboard also shows that, from the last ten years of crash data, around 60% of crashes took place at intersections. To that end, the city has been working on redesigning some crash-prone intersections and eliminating right turns on red lights at a few Patrick and Henry street intersections.

The city’s goal is ultimately to reach zero deaths and serious injuries by 2028.

“Alexandrians should be able to use our streets safely,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said in a newsletter in December. “We will have to take ourselves out of our comfort zone to make that happen. Ultimately, these efforts will not only provide mobility options for our residents, help achieve climate initiatives, but also save lives.”