Five years ago Fundación MAPFRE set itself a challenge as ambitious and difficult as it was necessary: achieve the total elimination of serious injuries or fatalities from traffic accidents in Spanish cities by 2030. The challenge, inspired by the Vision Zero movement which emerged in Sweden two decades ago, establishes road safety as one of the fundamental features of our future cities. We analyze what mobility is going to be like in these Zero Cities.
TEXT: RAMÓN OLIVER IMAGES: ISTOCK
The spectacular record accident figure reductions in such places as Bogotá, Boston or the Spanish city of Móstoles show that, with appropriate measures and the engagement of all parties, Goal Zero is not a utopia. “Of course it’s possible!” Jesús Monclús, Accident Prevention and Road Safety manager at Fundación MAPFRE, states categorically. Among other things, he goes on, “because we know the causes of the most serious accidents and the measures we must put in place to prevent them. With a bit more political will and more resources, and by clearly explaining the measures to the public and why they are needed, Goal Zero could be achieved.”
Significant progress has been made in this direction in recent years. The total number of deaths on both urban streets and interurban highways in Spain fell from 3,100 in 2008 to 1,755 in 2019, this representing an annual decrease of some four percent. The same as for the serious injuries figure, which dropped from 16,488 hospitalized victims in 2008 to 8,605 in 2019. These are encouraging data, but, nonetheless, still far from being acceptable. In 2019 in Spain, there were over 104,000 accidents with victims, 66,738 of which took place in urban areas and resulted in 519 deaths (30 percent of the total) and 4,484 people hospitalized.
With a view to erasing those terrible figures from our urban future, Fundación MAPFRE published the study Horizon C3: Near-Zero Cities, a report which analyzes the factors that help a metropolis set the Zero benchmark. Some of the data that emerge from the report are indicative of the circumstances specific to Spain. 82 percent of the fatalities on urban streets in 2019 were pedestrians and two-wheeled riders; this really highlights the particular vulnerability of these groups, as well as the road safety challenges posed by the new sustainable mobility options.
The absence of “large” cities near the top of the Zero league table (the largest population is Elche, with 229,000 inhabitants) and the prevalence of “satellite” cities around major urban centers are other characteristic features of the Spanish reality. In total, 19 of the 25 cities with the lowest mortality rates form part of major metropolitan areas. “In the group of near-zero cities, we are missing any mention of big cities such as Madrid, Barcelona or Valencia,” Jesús Monclús points out. To some extent this is logical if you consider the fact that, the greater the size and number of journeys, the greater the added risk of accidents and serious injuries. However, in general, this expert adds, “the big cities have much more work to do as regards traffic calming measures, paying greater attention to the major thoroughfares, which should not be used for driving at high speed.” Fundación MAPFRE’s Accident Prevention and Road Safety manager also invites reflection on the way people drive in the big cities. Because “stress, long distances and traffic jams are factors that result in reduced attention or caution on the part of some drivers.”
The speed factor
Excessive speed is behind a large percentage of accidents with fatalities. Setting a limit of 30 km/h or less on all the calmed streets in the city, implementing sufficient speed controls, or requiring automatic speed management tools on fleets that are publicly owned or require municipal authorization to operate are just some of the measures mentioned in the report. Road safety education as a lifelong process targeting all population groups and sectors – including children, parents, teachers and the elderly – is also essential in order to avoid fatal incidents.
Goal Zero envisages a new reality for the urban spaces of the future. The fact is that, as Jesús Monclús concludes, “talking about smart cities while, at the same time, admitting that a large number of people die in traffic accidents in them is neither ethical nor smart.” Technology opens up interesting possibilities for achieving the desired objective of zero serious injuries and fatalities. Monclús believes that we will see “smart cities capable of detecting dangerous drivers – given the speed at which they drive or their fatigue symptoms – and remotely reduce the speed of their vehicles. Or that, thanks to artificial intelligence, they will be able to predict where the next accident will happen and, most importantly, prevent it. It sounds like science fiction, but we are just one step away from it.
Three near-zero cities
In the study, conducted in collaboration with the GEAZA consultancy, Fundación MAPFRE considers “near-zero” cities to be those with a fatal accident rate lower than that of the chosen benchmark city, the Swedish city of Stockholm, i.e. 0.7 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. These are the experiences of three of them.
“Ensuring the streets are safe for everyone is the number one priority of the Boston Transportation Department.” This is how Marty Walsh, the city’s mayor, outlines their commitment to Vision Zero. A commitment which the capital of the state of Massachusetts strives to fulfill through measures such as its Neighborhood Slow Streets Program, the construction of protected bike lanes, or the application of the latest technology to the urban traffic signaling system.
Moreover, the city has signed a partnership agreement with Fundación MAPFRE to help promote the objectives of Go Boston 2030. This integral transportation plan, which aims to ensure safe, reliable, equitable access to the streets of Boston for all users, includes 58 projects and policies developed by the Transportation and Public Works Departments in Boston.
With the adoption of Vision Zero as the basis of its 2017- 2026 Road Safety District Plan, Bogotá joined the group of cities around the world that believe it is possible to eradicate fatalities or serious injuries resulting from traffic accidents. This commitment has made it possible for the city to reduce the number of deaths on its streets four years running. “Bogota recognizes that, as human beings, we make mistakes and we are vulnerable; and it is working to build a safer mobility system,” declares Nicolas Estupiñán, secretary of Mobility in Bogotá.
“We have to eliminate the false perception that traffic fatalities are perfectly normal and are the price we pay for being a competitive society,” Estupiñan states. And he adds that, working to achieve the goal of a Bogotá with zero deaths has made it necessary “to rethink the distribution of public space so as to promote safe transit using all mobility modes, especially non-motorized alternatives such as walking or bicycles, which, in addition, have proved to offer a resilient response to the pandemic.”
With an index of 0.10, Móstoles tops the list of Spanish municipalities of 80,000-plus inhabitants with the lowest mortality rate from traffic accidents in its urban center per 100,000 inhabitants over the period 2014-2018. A success which, as Alejandro Martin, Councillor for Security, Coexistence, Culture and Ecological Transition underscores, can only be achieved by engaging the whole city. “Vision Zero cannot simply be an institutional mission; rather, our citizens play a highly important role.”
This Madrid municipality has placed special emphasis on eliminating all the black spots on its urban layout. “Every time an accident occurs, we seek a 360º perspective to analyze all the causes that may be behind it, whether human, physical or the surroundings,” explains the councillor. Intense pedagogical work to achieve citizens truly committed to road safety and specific measures to improve visibility and accessibility – such as lowering sidewalks at pedestrian crossings or speed, alcohol and drug checks – are further measures that are making the road safety miracle possible in Móstoles.