CLEVELAND, Ohio – On average, 37 people are killed each year and six are seriously injured each week on Cleveland streets, but they are not victims of the violent crimes that capture headlines and draw complaints from City Council.
Traffic crashes are to blame for these deaths and traumas, and new data collected by a city task force shows that roughly one-third of all the fatalities and serious injuries occur along just 7% of city streets, several of which pass through impoverished neighborhoods.
The task force found that:
– Most of the high-trauma stretches are on the city’s East Side and run through neighborhoods that are largely poor and a majority of the residents are African American.
– The longest high-trauma stretch is a 4-mile portion of Kinsman Road from East 55th Street east to the Shaker Heights border.
– The two high-trauma stretches closest to downtown are along West 25th Street and East 55th Street.
What is this task force?
City Council created the Vision Zero Task Force in January of 2018 at the urging of Councilman Matt Zone, who learned of the worldwide initiative while serving as president of the National League of Cities.
Zone co-chairs the panel with Darnell Brown, chief operating officer for the City of Cleveland, and includes planners and researchers. The panel’s mission is to eliminate traffic fatalities – hence the name Vision Zero – and to address long-standing racial inequities in transportation planning.
Funding comes from the city, Cuyahoga County, the Cleveland and Gund foundations, along with contributions from the discretionary funds of Zone, Council President Kevin Kelley and Councilman Kerry McCormack.
What has the task force accomplished so far?
Using crash data compiled by city police and the Northeast Ohio Area Coordinating Agency, the task force has created what it calls a “high injury network map” that identifies city streets with high numbers of fatalities or serious crashes and those stretches of city streets that account for 15% of crashes that cause death or serious injury.
Task force researchers have been using the map to analyze what might contribute to some streets being more dangerous than others, and what might be done to remedy the problem.
“We know many of these crashes especially on the East Side occur on our widest and fastest streets in the city of Cleveland so when we are approaching this work we know it is both a safety and an equity issue,” council policy analyst and task force member Anne Tillie said during a joint meeting of the City Council’s Health and Human Services and Transportation committees.
Is the problem getting better or worse?
Calley Mersmann, a city planner and member of the task force, expects the number of serious crashes to increase.
Mersmann, speaking at the joint committee meeting, said it’s likely that reduced traffic due to the coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating the problem because less congested streets prompt some drivers to speed.
“We know that people are driving faster and already the fatalities and serious injuries on Cleveland streets due to traffic crashes are climbing,” she said.
The task force plans to hire a consultant in a couple of weeks to take the crash information and, with the help of others, establish a strategy for creating safer and calmer roadways.
Several organizations, including Cuyahoga County, the Ohio Department of Transportation, the Northeast Ohio Area Coordinating Agency, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority and others, will collaborate with the consultant.
Timing is important because the task force expects a federal infrastructure bill to make money available for street projects in the near future and the city needs to be ready to respond, said Freddy Collier, director of the city Planning Department.
The federal government is partial to shovel-ready projects, Collier said. “That means that when those dollars become available, you have to have a plan, you have to have some detailed designs, and you have to be ready to move.”
What are possible solutions?
Recommendations could include so-called road diets. This could mean taking four-lane roads and making them narrower by adding turn lanes for cars, bike lanes, and curb extensions.
Other possibilities include higher-visibility crosswalks and more traffic lights that have a countdown function to aid pedestrians in crossing the street. The city is already piloting a program that includes adding protective sideguards to garbage trucks.
But Vison Zero could lead to more transformative changes, a complete rethinking of streets that could mean closing some short streets to traffic altogether, Collier said.
“These are not things that we are trying to force into existence because they are cool,” he added. “This is the trajectory of the world.”
He cited the need to accommodate the growing popularity of electric vehicles, including bikes and scooters, and the desire to push dining out into the streets.
“What this means is our streets are going to become more dynamic,” he said.