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Oklahoma City moves forward with planning to prevent traffic fatalities

Vision Zero takes a new approach to making streets safer for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.
City of Oklahoma City
Vision Zero takes a new approach to making streets safer for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

Oklahoma City received an $800,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop a Vision Zero plan to reduce traffic deaths earlier this year. Now, the city is moving forward in the planning process.

The Oklahoma City Council voted to approve the grant agreement on Tuesday. That allowed the Planning Department to submit a request for proposal from a consultant and started the clock on the City’s 18-month project timeline.

Justin Henry is Oklahoma City’s Transportation Program Planner. He said that Vision Zero — an international, systemic strategy - takes a new approach to making streets safer for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.

“In the traffic world, some amount of fatalities has just kind of been viewed as inevitable based on traffic conditions and having roads,” Henry said. “Vision Zero really tries to take the approach that we should do everything in our power to reduce that number and build a system that is a little bit more forgiving for when people inevitably make errors, that they're not putting their lives at risk.”

Traffic deaths have been on the rise in OKC, even though collisions and related injuries have declined overall. From 2018 to 2021, fatalities resulting from roadway collisions increased by 34% for drivers and 73% for pedestrians, according to data from the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office.

Growing numbers of traffic deaths, especially for pedestrians, came around the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fewer people drove on the roads, causing lighter traffic and allowing drivers to travel at faster speeds. At the same time, more people were out walking. So, when collisions occurred, they were more likely to be fatal.

“We're still seeing our streets a little bit emptier, and that's making people drive a little bit too fast,” Henry said.

Potential recommendations that Oklahoma City could produce for the Vision Zero plan could include building sidewalks where there are none or reducing the speed on certain roads.

There are thousands of miles of streets in OKC. Vision Zero seeks to primarily address “high injury networks,” the most dangerous parts of roads and intersections.

“We're really going to concentrate on where the fatalities have been happening,” Henry said.

More than 45 of the largest cities in the U.S. have Vision Zero Action Plans that aim to eliminate roadway deaths. OKC is the second-biggest city that does not have one.

After the city completes its Vision Zero plan, it will be eligible to apply for an implementation grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to enact recommendations. Henry also said that he hopes the city will be able to present road safety needs in OKC’s next general obligation bond vote in 2025.

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Isabel Nissley was an intern at KOSU during the summer of 2023 through the Scripps Howard Fund nonprofit newsroom program.
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