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'Vision Zero' policy urged

Bike groups ask council for policy to protect pedestrians, bikers



  Two local nonprofits have had it with unnecessary traffic deaths. Rachel Heiligman, executive director of the transportation advocacy nonprofit Ride New Orleans, and Naomi Doerner, executive director of the bicycle advocacy group Bike Easy, went before the New Orleans City Council's Transportation and Airport Committee Sept. 30 to propose a Vision Zero initiative for cyclist and pedestrian deaths for the city of New Orleans.

  According to a study by the Center for Planning Excellence and the Louisiana Public Health Institute, Louisiana has the fifth highest pedestrian death rate in the country. New Orleans takes the lead in the state, with 1,500 pedestrians involved in vehicle crashes between 2008 and 2012.

  This year has seen several bicycle accidents that have resulted in deaths and serious injury, such as Geric Geck, who was killed in an accident with a truck on St. Claude Avenue earlier this summer; Frank Guinn, who was killed on Chef Menteur Highway in April while training for a marathon; and the critical injury of Andrew Powell, Guinn's brother-in-law, who was hit in the same accident.

  "We don't want to see these headlines anymore," Heiligman said.

  Heiligman and Doerner pointed out that New Orleans has made real strides in getting residents to explore the city without a car, but now it needs to make sure its roads are safe enough to support the steadily rising number of walkers and bikers. Their plan calls for educational programs for drivers, bikers and pedestrians, as well as increased enforcement for those who don't obey the laws of the road.

  The Vision Zero initiative started in Sweden in 1997 and has reduced traffic deaths and injuries there by 30 percent. Earlier this year, Houston adopted a Vision Zero policy and built a bicycle master plan, and in New York and San Francisco such policies include education and training for all roadway users and increased fines for traffic law violators.

  Doerner said she hopes the council will consider creating a committee to draft a Vision Zero policy.

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