Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

To Zero: “Vision Zero” aims for no auto-related deaths in Harrisburg.

A past accident at Front and Forster streets in Harrisburg.

Car crashes are falling across Pennsylvania, but they’re on a dramatic rise in Harrisburg.

Vehicle-related fatalities have quadrupled in the city in the last four years, according to PennDOT data, rising from two deaths in 2013 to eight deaths in 2017.

City officials say enough is enough. Harrisburg is adopting a new vehicle safety policy, “Vision Zero,” which aims to eliminate vehicle-related deaths within the next decade, city Engineer Wayne Martin said today.

The city is also undertaking a rapid-response study to improve transportation safety on State Street, the site of five pedestrian deaths in the past 17 months.

Martin couldn’t say what’s caused the rash of pedestrian deaths in Harrisburg, but he hopes the Vision Zero plan will help the city find an answer. He cited reporting from PennLive and TheBurg as an impetus for the city’s new scrutiny on its vehicle safety policies.

“We really have to figure out what’s going on,” Martin said. “The stats are really bad for Harrisburg.”

The Vision Zero policy, which has been adopted by such cities as Bethlehem and Philadelphia, represents a data-driven approach to curtailing vehicle accidents and improving pedestrian and cyclist safety. Harrisburg’s plan will consist of a public outreach and data-gathering period to determine hot spots for crashes and potential danger zones.

Martin said that the city has isolated patches of data from traffic studies. This more ambitious data-gathering project will help the city compile a comprehensive profile of its roadways and traffic patterns, he said.

Project leaders will combine data from official sources, such as hospitals and PennDOT, with input from residents. Martin said that the city needs citizens to report areas with reckless driving to help identify potential danger zones.

“Near-misses and reckless driving are things that don’t show up in police reports,” Martin said. “Lots of municipalities have outreach efforts where residents can record risky behavior.”

The data collected over the next four months will lead to official recommendations and, eventually, to changes in city infrastructure and policy, Martin said. He expects public outreach to take place at every step of the way.

“Nothing will be implemented without community input,” said city Communications Director Joyce Davis.” “There will be outreach and meetings, lots of opportunities for people to dialogue and discuss this.”

Those changes could include adjustments to the size of traffic lanes or the addition of bike lanes or transit lanes on busy thoroughfares.

Martin couldn’t comment on potential changes to police enforcement under the Vision Zero plan. He noted that the Police Bureau is perennially short-staffed and that the city could qualify for grants to fund additional police presence on dangerous roadways.

City officials are finalizing a $335,000 contract with McNees Wallace & Nurick to implement the Vision Zero plan and undertake the State Street study. The budget includes a $94,000 public outreach component that will be conducted by Eluminat, a Washington, D.C.-based firm.

The funds for the project will come from the city’s general fund, Martin said.

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