This is a great interview with an extraordinary bike activist, who headed the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition for 12 years, and is now leaving for a fellowship to study Vision Zero in Europe, a commitment by public entities to eliminate bicycle and pedestrian deaths altogether.
Melissa Balmer, Director of Women on Bikes California/ PedalLove.org, talks with Leah Shahum, who after 12 years is stepping down as Executive Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition.
Melissa Balmer: After 12 very successful years as the Executive Director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition you are stepping down to go on an exciting new adventure on a German Marshall Fund Fellowship to research the effects of Vision Zero. Please share with us what the Vision Zero concept is and why you wanted to participate in this fellowship.
Leah Shahum: Vision Zero is a simple yet profound concept that we can prevent traffic fatalities and serious injuries if we change our mindset to no longer accept these tragedies as inevitable. If our communities truly prioritize safety – that means elevating safety in every decision made by City officials regarding how we design our streets, how police enforce, and how policies and funding decisions are made – we could eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries. Communities in Europe have made that choice and are seeing tremendous success. For example, Sweden, the birthplace of Vision Zero, has seen a 30 percent decrease in traffic fatalities since 1997, when it committed to Vision Zero.
I’m proud that our advocacy at the SF Bicycle Coalition, along with partners including Walk SF and neighborhood groups, moved Vision Zero onto the forefront of San Francisco’s political forefront in the past year, with commitments from the Mayor, Police Chief, and other city leaders. But now we need to figure out how to actually implement this bold, yet achievable, vision of eliminating traffic deaths on SF’s streets by 2024. And I believe San Francisco, along with New York City, can succeed and serve as models for other US cities.
This Fellowship will give me the chance to visit cities that are successfully implementing Vision Zero for safer streets and increased biking and walking – including Stockholm, Rotterdam, and Berlin – and find out how these communities have made the tough choices and moved their communities from ones that considered traffic violence inevitable to stoppable. I believe Vision Zero is the next major strategy for American cities to move the needle toward safe, healthy, accessible transportation systems that will keep our communities thriving.