WASHINGTON, DC– In the late nineties, Europeans saw a flurry of activity surrounding a new concept referred to as “Vision Zero,” which was intended to achieve a highway system with no (or ‘zero’) fatalities or serious injuries. While the objective behind the concept is certainly admirable, how that has manifested varies from the extreme to the sensible approach. And, with more and more U.S. cities following Europe’s lead by adopting their own versions of “Vision Zero,” the motorcycle community is paying close attention to what the practical effects of this concept could mean for them.
Founded on a Simple Principal
Guided by the principal that nothing (not money, convenience, or some would argue freedom of choice) can be put before health and safety, Sweden was the first country to adopt the concept into their law. Other countries quickly followed suit including the Norway, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. While the concept of ‘zero deaths or serious injuries’ remains the objective, it can be implemented in a number of different ways. Sweden focused on reduced speed limits while the Netherlands attempted to put a greater area of separation between automobiles and pedestrians or cyclists. In addition, an emphasis on the design of roads was central to many of the countries implementing new initiatives under the Vision Zero umbrella.
Not So Simple Impact on Motorcyclists
For motorcyclists in the countries embracing Vision Zero, there were pros and cons to the governments’ execution efforts. In the ‘pro’ column, there was wide consensus that pavement conditions on roadways should be suitable so that bikers could avoid changes in friction including addressing cracks, rough spots, potholes, gravel, etc. The motorcycle community in Europe also voiced opinions over guardrail design and placement and its impact on safety.
However, for all motorcyclists, a very prominent checkmark in the ‘minus’ column related to the sentiment expressed by Cales Tingvall, then Director of the Swedish National Road Administration. Tingvall, one of the original creators of Vision Zero, directly addressed motorcycles as they related to the success of the initiative stating that, “We must prevent the recruiting of new motorcyclists. In long-term thinking, I regret to say that motorcycles must go.” Though he later recanted, he went on to make other statements suggesting that motorcycles and Vision Zero could never find a real consensus. Understandably, sentiments like those voiced by one of the key drivers of Vision Zero resulted in serious concern about the future of motorcycling in cities and countries adopting this initiative.
Further, during the initial concept building phase for Vision Zero, motorcyclists across Europe, represented by the Federation of European Motorcyclists' Associations (FEMA) worked to ensure that motorcyclists were not restricted nor discriminated against. Alongside FEMA were representatives from the Motorcycle Riders Foundation and other motorcycle rights groups and associations including the broader International Motorcyclist Cooperation Group. The parties worked together to ensure anti-motorcyclist rhetoric was minimized as well worked to defeat a recommendation to remove powered two-wheelers from some traffic patterns, as this had been suggested in previous conversations surrounding Vision Zero.
Despite the positive work done on behalf of motorcyclist rights’ groups during the initial Vision Zero planning period, many of the concerns about motorcycle discrimination remain.
Jumping the Pond
It wasn’t long before proponents of Vision Zero began pushing the initiative in the U.S. In 2014 and 2015, twelve U.S. cities announced their own adaptation of Vision Zero using Sweden as the model.
From Los Angeles to New York City and cities in between like Austin and Ft. Lauderdale, initiatives started being announced. While some focused on pedestrian safety and others took a softer approach, other cities, like Seattle for instance, set lofty goals stating that they would achieve Vision Zero by 2030 and take whatever precautions necessary in order to attain the objective.
At the time of this writing, it is unclear what, if any, role motorcyclists have in some of the new initiatives popping up in the U.S. Though draconian statements like those spoken by Cales Tingvall have not been repeated yet, some in the motorcycling community that have been following the issue are starting to express apprehension over the growing number of Vision Zero cities and what that might mean for universal helmet laws, high visibility attire and the future of motorcycling itself.
About Motorcycle Riders Foundation
The Motorcycle Riders Foundation (MRF) provides leadership at the federal level for states’ motorcyclists’ rights organizations as well as motorcycle clubs and individual riders. The MRF is chiefly concerned with issues at the national and international levels that impact the freedom and safety of American street motorcyclists. The MRF is committed to being a national advocate for the advancement of motorcycling and its associated lifestyle and works in conjunction with its partners to help educate elected officials and policymakers in Washington and beyond.