Annual Pedestrian and Bicycle Crash Report Questions Effectiveness of Cleveland's Vision Zero Program

Fatal crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists haven't changed much since the initiative started in 2022. Local leaders say more needs to be done to match "national standards for street design"

click to enlarge A buffered bike lane on Detroit Avenue. - Bike Cleveland
Bike Cleveland
A buffered bike lane on Detroit Avenue.
There was 75-year-old Mike hit while walking a crosswalk on West 14th St. There was 15-year-old Sariya hit near East 105th by a driver with a suspended license.

And there was the driver in a stolen Jeep trying to escape police on Lee Road, one who crashed into the front of the Keratin Barber College. Four people were injured.

"Oh, the car went through the entire front door," Tracy, a Keratin employee, said, recounting that day last March to Scene. "I watched the whole thing. The car came right down the street and right into our business."

Last year, 550 Clevelanders were hit by cars while cycling or walking around the city, Bike Cleveland found, according to a report released Tuesday. Nine of those involved in accidents died, a relative unchanged statistic since Vision Zero, Cleveland's attempt to eliminate fatal pedestrian and biking accidents by 2032, was implemented two years ago. (In 2023, there were 10 deaths.)

The report, which Bike Cleveland compiled using 911 calls and data culled from the Ohio Department of Public Safety, details a city still reaching for safe infrastructure.

The numbers are likely obvious to routine navigators of Cleveland's hardscape. Most of 2023's accidents occurred in dense areas with wide streets, where drivers have ample room to change lanes and flout speed limits. About a third of all accidents occurred downtown, or on the city's inner West or East sides. (Seventy-nine of these involved children.)

At least as far as we know.

Jenna Thomas, the data analyst at Bike Cleveland who helped produce the bulk of the report, said that many accidents with pedestrians and cyclists often go unreported, either due to hit-and-runs or police skepticism. That, and the city of Cleveland, she said, submits actual crash reports, called OH-1s, about "45 to 60 days after crashes occur."
Other Ohio cities like Cincinnati, Columbus and Toledo, she said, send those reports "within one to five days on average."

"And Vision Zero relies on those reports," Thomas said in a phone call. "I mean, we don't really have good data. Like, in 2023, about half of all crashes, I think, don't ever get reported."

Like 40 other U.S. cities, Cleveland dove into Vision Zero, a safer-streets initiative first adopted in Sweden in 1997, as a focused way to best spend dollars on buffered bike lanes, speed bumps and other traffic calming and safety efforts.

And, save for ten speed tables, roundabouts and some walker-friendly signals, most of Vision Zero's progress since 2022 has been policy-oriented, with Cleveland's Complete & Green Streets law last summer doing most of the guiding. As did $3 million in American Rescue Plan Act money put aside for street reshaping: into narrowing roads, building better walk signaling.

"All this takes time," Thomas said. "But we're certainly anxious to see more things installed."

In 2020, eight years after installing its own Vision Zero policy, Chicago’s traffic fatality rates pretty much matched those in 2012.  From 2015, when Los Angeles implemented its own, to 2018, pedestrian fatalities increased by 75 percent. The only major applause heard might be in San Francisco, where crashes “decreased significantly” in 2019 and 2020, after two years of policy changes. (Mind you, in a city where 40 percent of its commuters use public transit.)

“Claiming that no price can be placed on human life is a noble approach," Jay Derr, a transportation policy advisor at the Reason Foundation, wrote, "but one that is unrealistic in a world where policymakers have limited resources to solve problems.”

But don't tell that to Ward 3 Councilman Kerry McCormack. The writer of the Complete & Green Streets legislation in 2022, McCormack believes that Cleveland will see a decline in such accidents soon after construction is cleared—like the $30 million Lorain Midway, or the supposed four to five buffered bike lanes, he said, that could pop up downtown this summer.

"And you don't even have to have the data," he said. "People are out of control in their cars, they're out of control. Your signs can be great. Marks on the road. But we still need real road infrastructure to force drivers to pay attention."

As for that  infrastructure, McCormack and Thomas turn to the suggestions from Vision Zero: to new pedestrian wait islands, to raising crosswalks and adding curb extensions to high risk blocks. Or, as the report says, matching "evolving national standards for street design."
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Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
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