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Where Is San Diego Spending Money On Traffic Safety?

A pedestrian crosses a street in City Heights, June 19, 2017.

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: A pedestrian crosses a street in City Heights, June 19, 2017.

San Diego's Vision Zero goal to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries from city streets by 2025 is ambitious to say the least. So ambitious, in fact, that city officials have dropped hints in public meetings and stated explicitly in interviews with KPBS that they may not see the goal as realistic.

But the philosophy behind the Vision Zero movement, which started in Sweden in the 1990s and has since spread to dozens of cities in the United States, is that all traffic deaths are preventable. Cities only have to use their resources wisely to improve traffic safety in the areas that need it most, and for the travelers who are most vulnerable — pedestrians and bicyclists.

The study that initiated San Diego's Vision Zero program identifies eight corridors that are most prone to collisions involving pedestrians and bicyclists: Broadway, Market Street, Imperial Avenue, Fifth Avenue, University Avenue, El Cajon Boulevard, Euclid Avenue and Garnet Avenue. These are also the streets along which San Diego plans to pack much of its future population growth, meaning traffic safety there is all the more important.

The city's Transportation and Storm Water department provided KPBS with an itemized list of projects in the current fiscal year's Vision Zero budget. The department's share of the budget totals $12.1 million. The city also obtained about $10.3 million in state and federal grants for traffic safety projects.

KPBS created a map highlighting the eight Vision Zero corridors and pinpointing each of the line items in the Vision Zero budget. You can view the map and explore the projects below.

The $12.1 million in city spending includes some projects driven by data. For example, $257,900 is dedicated to improving pedestrian safety at 15 intersections with a high number of crashes.

But the budget also includes $50,000 for a new sidewalk along Coast Boulevard in La Jolla; $155,000 for missing curb ramps and a revamped driveway in Del Mar Heights; and $350,000 for converting medians in Rancho Bernardo from asphalt to concrete. Data from the Statewide Integrated Traffic Record System show none of those locations was highly prone to collisions involving pedestrians or bicyclists in 2016. Many more projects are for installing curb ramps and improved street lights in quiet, residential neighborhoods.

Photo caption:

Photo by Andrew Bowen

The intersection of Caminito del Canto and Del Mar Scenic Parkway in Del Mar Heights is seen here, Aug. 17, 2017. San Diego has budgeted $155,000 to install curb ramps and redo a driveway here as part of its "Vision Zero" budget.

Kathleen Ferrier, policy and communications director for the national Vision Zero Network, said many of the projects in the city's Vision Zero budget may be important to residents. But she said they should not be called Vision Zero projects if they are in neighborhoods that are already relatively safe.

"It has to be more focused, again, to spend money in those areas where they need it the most," she said. "Having that attention to spending money on those corridors is really, really critical to have a successful Vision Zero program."

City transportation officials are currently conducting an analysis of citywide crash data to help them identify the most collision-prone locations in the city. But the study is not expected to be completed until August 2018, and much of the data on crash locations is already easily available for anyone to access.

Ultimately the success of the Vision Zero program will not be measured by how much money is spent on improving traffic safety but by how many lives are saved. Last year saw 61 traffic deaths on city streets — the deadliest year in more than a decade.

A city auditor's report released last year faulted the city's transportation department for failing to use easily accessible crash data to determine what streets and intersections get safety improvements. The mayor's office agreed with all the report's findings and pledged to implement its recommendation to use data to guide its pedestrian safety program.

KPBS sought an interview with the city transportation department to determine how the Vision Zero budget was guided by data. The interview request was referred to the mayor's office, but a mayoral spokesman said no one was available to be interviewed.

San Diego's Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2025 is supposed to be achieved by spending the city's limited dollars improving traffic safety on the most dangerous streets. But an analysis of the city's Vision Zero budget shows the city is spending plenty of money improving streets that are already safe.

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