In 2018, as the City of Philadelphia was implementing its first Vision Zero Action Plan, we offered the following research-based reflection on how the engineering, education, and enforcement strategies contained within should be carried out equitably. Editor’s Note: as of June 2020, we announced that we will no longer be advocating for any sort of armed police enforcement as part of Philadelphia’s Vision Zero policy; instead, we will be actively advocating against it. You can read our full statement about this overdue change here.


In an effort to better understand how Vision Zero intersects with race and poverty, the Bicycle Coalition undertook some geospatial analyses, digging deeper into the fact that 50 percent of traffic deaths and severe injuries occur on just 12 percent of city streets.

First, we identified Census Tracts where the percentage of residents living in poverty was greater than the overall percentage of Philadelphians living in poverty (25.9%). Next, we determined which of these Census Tracts have a higher percentage of nonwhite residents than Philadelphia as a whole (58.7%).

Though rudimentary, these indicators allow us to look at what, if any, connection there is between poverty, people of color, and the High Injury Network. Additional analysis that further breaks down race into specific categories could further illuminate those who are most impacted by traffic violence. The City of Austin conducted such an analysis in their action plan.

Our work revealed that while roughly 35% of Philadelphia’s street miles are located in these census tracts, this same geography accounts for almost 46% of the High Injury Network.

So, almost half (46%) of the High-Injury Network lies in impoverished communities of color.

A map of Philadelphia census tracts where the concentration of non-white residents and people living in poverty is higher than Philadelphia's average, overlaid with the High Injury network streets that run through those tracts.

Map designed by Kyle Hearing, 2018.

We encourage the City to conduct further analysis of the High Injury Network as it relates to indicators of disadvantage, especially race, which is not addressed in the action plan at all; our analysis of race and the High Injury Network is narrow in scope and we know additional analyses are possible.

Looking to other large cities also highlights additional possibilities for cross sectional analyses with High Injury Networks. Los Angeles used a Community Health and Equity Index; Chicago used an economic hardship index and is working to analyze other social indicators including vacancy rates and gun violence; the City of Austin’s Vision Zero Action Plan has a whole section dedicated to exploring who is affected by traffic deaths and injuries, looking at mode share, racial groups and poverty.


Equity has taken center stage in US Vision Zero Cities. While Vision Zero programs can generate positive impacts in high poverty neighborhoods and communities of color, the risk of unintended consequences cannot be ignored.

American cities have and continue to face racial disparities in terms of poverty, unemployment, education, and health outcomes.

Transportation is a subject where many of these issues meet.

  • Nationally, low-income people are twice as likely to be killed while walking (Governing, 2014);
  • Black children are two times as likely to be killed while walking than white children (Dangerous by Design, 2011).

Philadelphia is no exception. Our Vision Zero Action Plan acknowledges income disparities in traffic crashes, stating, “more traffic deaths and severe injuries occur in neighborhoods where most residents live below the poverty line.” (pg. 12).

An example that highlights these inequities clearly is the number of children struck by vehicles in Philadelphia while walking.

In 2016, Plan Philly reported that from 2010-2015,

  • 47 Philadelphia Elementary Schools had 15 or more children struck by drivers within a quarter mile of campus.
  • Of those schools, 32 of them are located in census tracts where both the poverty rate and percent of nonwhite residents is greater than Philadelphia’s averages.

Note: the Vision Zero Action Plan calls to expand the City’s Safe Routes to School program, Safe Routes Philly, begin crash analysis at focus schools, and implement improvement projects at six schools.


Philadelphia’s Vision Zero Taskforce writes in their letter at the beginning of the Action Plan:

“Equity must always be a guiding principle in Vision Zero, as well as in the implementation of any traffic safety measures. The City and the Vision Zero Task Force recognize that children, the elderly, people living with physical disabilities, and those who live below the poverty line are disproportionately impacted by traffic-related fatalities and severe injuries. This is unacceptable. We believe that all people—regardless of age, physical ability, or income—should be able to travel safely on our city streets, regardless of how they choose.”

While there is a commitment to equity throughout Philadelphia’s plan, we hope that moving forward the City will be transparent and specific about how equity is defined, how the benchmarks (pg. 42) will include equity, and how equity will shape the plan’s implementation.

Furthermore, we think it is imperative that the Vision Zero Task Force closely examine the impacts of police enforcement, looking at the issue from multiple angles. A key concern is the use of enforcement in communities of color.

  • Portland’s action plan (2016) addresses concerns of policing and racial discrimination head on, stating in the guiding principles  “The plan will not result in racial profiling” and also “The enforcement actions in this plan are limited in order to reduce the possibility of racial profiling and disparate economic impacts.”
  • In Chicago, Equiticity, an organization dedicated to racial equity, especially as it relates to mobility and livable communities, has a campaign calling for the removal of all police traffic enforcement strategies from the Vision Zero Action Plan.
  • When Tamika Butler was Executive Director of the LA Bicycle Coalition, she was on a mission to ensure that efforts to end traffic violence would not in turn exacerbate other forms of violence against vulnerable communities. As Streets Blog reported, “Her active dedication to valuing and advancing the safety and well-being of all lifted the profile of the LACBC and gave the organization a platform from which to shape national conversations on the topic.”

While we recognize that community and police relations differ by city and by neighborhood, we believe that it is crucial for Philadelphia’s Vision Zero Task Force, along with the Philadelphia Police Department, to embrace this opportunity to be more explicit about their commitments to:

  1. Uphold racial justice by outlining a plan that actively prevents racial profiling in traffic enforcement and,
  2. Always employing engineering, education, and community engagement prior to any consideration of enforcement tactics, especially in low-income communities and communities of color.


The first principle in the Untokening’s Principles of Mobility Justice is: Seek to Repair Harm, Not Erase History.

The first step in having a truly equitable Vision Zero program is to realize that, “the concentration of traffic safety problems are not accidental, but rather the result of patterns of disinvestment and under-investment in certain communities, particularly historically black, brown, and immigrant communities.” (Vision Zero Network, Equity Strategies for Practitioners, pg 2).

Moreover, the issues Vision Zero seeks to solve do not exist in a vacuum. Communities are facing a myriad of challenges that stem from the historic disinvestment and structural racism. City agencies and advocacy organizations alike need to find ways to work outside of our single issue area, and create coalitions that can respond to a variety of needs – street lights, bus fares and service, affordable housing, food and green space access, and more. These all play a part in Vision Zero’s success.

We hope that Philadelphia will become a leader in elevating equity in Vision Zero. We will continue do our part through expanding the Vision Zero Alliance to include more grassroots organizations and community voices across racial and socioeconomic groups. We endeavor to create a truly inclusive alliance, which will work first from a place of listening and learning.

Interested in the topics of Equity, Vision Zero, and Mobility Justice? Check out these additional resources:

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