Vision Zero in North County

Published 9/30/2019

Executive Summary


The Problem

In 2018, 1,992 people walking and biking were injured and 101 people walking and biking were killed on our roads in San Diego County. Nationally more than 37,000 people were killed during their daily commute in 2018. Generally when tens of thousands of people die each year, it is considered an epidemic and resources are dedicated to protect the community through medicine, vaccines, and policies. It is time for city leaders to shift the mindset of looking at traffic collisions as “accidents,” and begin taking action to save lives.

The Solution

Vision Zero is a data-driven approach to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries on our roadways, within a specific time frame, by increasing safe, healthy, and equitable mobility. Vision Zero started in Sweden in the 1990s and because of its proven track record, has gained popularity internationally and has been adopted by more than 30 cities nationwide, including the cities of San Diego, La Mesa, and Imperial Beach.

Vision Zero strategies focus on:

  • Reducing speed limits and prioritizing safety.
  • Redesigning streets to make them accessible for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Raising awareness of unsafe activities and changing behaviors.
  • Enhancing data-driven traffic enforcement in the areas of greatest concern.

Vision Zero challenges the traditional approach to traffic safety by recognizing that death and severe injury can be prevented.

Circulate San Diego developed this report for policymakers and community advocates interested in saving lives and creating safer streets for all. In this report you will find background information on Vision Zero, data on the most dangerous intersections and corridors for each city in North County, and tried and tested recommendations to start saving lives.

The following are actions communities can take to work towards achieving Vision Zero:

  • Introduce traffic calming measures where crashes occur most frequently.
  • Prioritize safety for Capital Improvement Program funding prioritization.
  • Adopt Complete Streets policies and update street design guidelines.
  • Research data to determine most dangerous behaviors contributing to crashes.

This report focuses on San Diego’s North County cities: Carlsbad, Del Mar, Encinitas, Escondido, Oceanside, Poway, San Marcos, Solana Beach, and Vista.



Coastal North County

Coastal North County includes Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Del Mar, and Solana Beach. These coastal cities are geographically constrained, with many walkable mixed-use neighborhoods. Many people who live elsewhere visit and walk in these cities, which are popular destinations for their beaches and retail.

Every city has room for growth in order to make streets safe, and this report outlines several ways to make substantive improvements. Yet each city in Coastal North County has taken proactive steps in the right direction in line with the recommendations in this report. Coastal North County cities have made investments in the safety of their residents that are commendable, here are some recent examples:


The City of Carlsbad manages Walk + Bike Carlsbad, a joint City of Carlsbad initiative with Circulate and the San Diego County Bicycle
Coalition that provides residents with walking and biking events. A popular program is a periodic walking group that hikes the City’s many trails to encourage community wellness.

Del Mar

Del Mar is beginning to construct improvements to Camino Del Mar through their Downtown Streetscape Plan. Improvements include mid-block pedestrian crosswalks with enhanced concrete, bulb outs, and pedestrian-oriented street lighting.


The City of Encinitas received grant funding to adopt a Pedestrian Safety and Safe Routes to School Plan, and to fund the first phase of a Safe Routes to School traffic calming project near Cardiff Elementary School.


The City of Oceanside has adopted both a Pedestrian Master Plan and Bicycle Master Plan as well as a Complete Streets policy in its Circulation Element.

Solana Beach

Solana Beach successfully applied for SANDAG Active Transportation Grant Program funding for the Stevens/Valley Avenue Corridor-Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvement Project. This capital project will reduce the number of travel lanes and construct new bike lanes, sidewalks, crosswalks, curb ramps, and traffic calming features.

Inland North County

Inland North County includes Poway, Escondido, Vista, and San Marcos. These cities contain a wide geographic area including historic walkable mixed-use neighborhoods that have seen new development occurring near transit. Combined with the suburban communities spanning this area, these cities face
unique challenges and opportunities for eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

Every city in Inland North County has made important and life saving improvements in line with this report’s Vision Zero recommendations. Below are recent examples of how Inland North County cities have made streets safer for all:


The City of Escondido successfully applied for SANDAG’s Active Transportation Grant Program- Capital Projects for the Escondido Creek Trail Signalized Bike/Ped Crossing at El Norte Pkwy Project. This project will include a pedestrian signal and refuge to cross El Norte Pkwy, a conflict zone for people walking and biking.


The City of Poway recently completed the Midland Road Improvements CIP project, a $600,000 investment in Safe Routes to Schools. The improvements will make the street safer around Midland Elementary School and includes sidewalk improvements and street lighting.

San Marcos

SANDAG awarded an Active Transportation Grant to San Marcos in its second cycle for the development of a Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan. The plan identified needed improvements to the existing network along with future routes to improve connectivity.


In 2016, Vista completed a grant-funded year-long analysis of various behaviors that put at risk people who walk, bike, and drive. The City plans to use this information to create a targeted message campaign that addresses the issues raised.

The Problem

For decades, cities have been built for automobiles. This has led to the development of more highways and high-speed roadways that often prioritize speed over safety. As a result, nationwide more than 37,000 people are killed each year while traveling on our roads.[1]

Suburban sprawl led to the development of low-density communities where children are being bussed to school and the use of an automobile is required even for a simple trip to the grocery store. In 1960 nearly 64 percent of the population commuted to work by private vehicle, by 2013 that percentage increased to nearly 86 percent.[2]

This trend is also trickling down and impacting some of our most vulnerable populations, children. In 1969, 41 percent of children lived within one mile of school and 89 percent of them usually walked or biked to school. By 2009, 31 percent of children lived within a mile of school, and only 35 percent of them would walk or bike to school.[3]

During this same time we have seen rates of individuals with obesity increase dramatically. In the 1970s nearly 15 percent of adults and 4 percent of children were obese.[4] By 2014, the percentage of adults impacted by obesity more than doubled (38 percent) and the percentage of children with obesity more than tripled (17 percent).[5] In San Diego County nearly 59 percent of adults and over 30 percent of children are overweight or obese.[6] [7]

Fact sheets on the most dangerous intersections and corridors for each city in North County can be found in Appendix A. These fact sheets include collision data from 2008 to 2018 for bicyclists and pedestrians for intersections and corridors. The fact sheet data includes locations that are each city’s jurisdictions as well as Caltrans jurisdiction. Fatalities and serious injuries that take place on or near state routes or interstates are still important and cities can work with Caltrans to make them safer.

Image Credit: Vision Zero Network

A Solution for Safer Streets

 Vision Zero is a data-driven approach to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries, within a specific time frame, by focusing on safe speed limits, safe street designs, and safe people. Vision Zero started in Sweden in the 1990s and has since spread to more than 30 cities nationwide, including the cities of San Diego, La Mesa, and Imperial Beach.

Vision Zero strategies focus on:

  • Reducing speed limits and prioritizing
  • Redesigning streets to make them accessible for people of all ages and abilities.
  • Raising awareness of unsafe activities and changing behaviors.
  • Enhancing data-driven traffic enforcement in the areas of greatest concern.

Elected Leadership

A key component of a successful Vision Zero program is support from elected leadership. Throughout the country we have seen mayors and city councilmembers rally around Vision Zero and bring together high-level officials from law enforcement, transportation, and public health to institutionalize collaboration and work together to save lives.[8] Many cities start by adopting a Vision Zero resolution and then work across departments to develop a Vision Zero action plan to support implementation. Please see Appendix B for a sample Vision Zero Resolution.

Vision Zero challenges the traditional approach to traffic safety by recognizing that death and severe injury can be prevented by implementing a multipronged approach that focuses on safe speed limits, safe street designs, and safe people.

Safe Speeds

Human error may be unavoidable, but safe speeds can help save lives. If a person walking is struck by a vehicle driving 20 miles per hour, they have a 90 percent survival rate.  The chance of survival drops to 50 percent if the vehicle is driving 30 miles per hour and drops to only 10 percent if the vehicle is driving 40 miles per hour. Cities including Seattle and New York have taken note and have reduced speed limits in residential and arterial streets to a maximum of 25 miles per hour.

Adjusting speed limits alone will not change behavior, speed limits must also be enforced in order to be effective. A partnership with law enforcement to increase ticketing near the most dangerous corridors and intersections is a crucial component to create long-term behavior change.

Image Credit: City of Seattle's 2015 Vision Zero Plan

States such as Colorado, Illinois, Utah, and Washington have been able to pass strong legislation to support automated speed enforcement to protect vulnerable populations in areas such as school zones, residential, and construction zones.[9]

In Seattle, the police department and department of transportation worked together to install speed zone safety cameras at 14 school zones where speeding was an issue. Since the start of the program there has been a 71 percent drop in total collisions during camera activation hours and a 50 percent drop in total collisions during all times of the day. The average number of traffic violations per camera per day decreased by 64 percent since installation and average speeds have decreased by 4 percent.[10]

Image Credit: New York City Department of Transportation

Safe Streets

By design, Vision Zero streets should encourage safe speeds, reduce motor vehicle traffic, and protect the most vulnerable users. Narrow streets tend to slow traffic while wide, arterial streets, tend to invite speeding and a lack of safe crosswalks. Treatments such as protected bike lanes, pedestrian islands, and ADA accessibility improve safety and help encourage all people to walk, bike, and use public transit.[11]

Since 2005, New York  City found a 34 percent decrease in fatalities at locations where the Department of Transportation made major engineering changes that simplify driving, walking, and bicycling, and reduced conflicts.[12] This was twice the rate of improvement compared to other locations where these changes were not made. 

Image Credit: New York City Department of Transportation

Safe people

Often times we find ourselves rushing out the door and we do not think twice about driving over the speed limit, or just making it through a light before it turns red. Changing public perception of unsafe behaviors can be difficult. As a first step, it is important to start by looking at the data  to understand the demographics of drivers involved in the majority of crashes. This way we can ensure any messaging developed as part of a public awareness campaign will resonate with the target audience. Through key informant interviews, New York City learned their target audience does not want to be told what to do, they want to be empowered. As a result, they created a campaign titled, “Your Choices Matter.”[13]

Image Credit: Vision Zero Network

Road Safety and Social Equity

As cities begin directing funding towards infrastructure improvements, it is critical to prioritize safety improvements in the areas of greatest need. Traffic collisions disproportionately impact vulnerable communities, including people of color, individuals with lower income, seniors, children, and people that rely on walking and transit as their primary means of transportation.

While investing in these communities, cities should be cautious to ensure the increased  attention  is  beneficial to the community, through increased engagement and empowerment, and not a detriment that causes a financial burden through increased ticketing and citations.

In Portland representatives wanted to ensure equity was part of their action plan so 10 of the 26 task force members represent organizations focused on advancing equity. As a result the city realized the need to address racial profiling and income disparity as part of their Vision Zero efforts. The task force also decided to elevate street redesign as a high priority in the action plan.[14]

The Business Case

Safe community design not only benefits the community  at large, but it is also good for business. The United States Department of Transportation calculated the economic value of a life in 2016 at $9.6 million, regardless of age, income, mode of travel, or any other factor.[15] The cost of the 238 deaths that occurred in San Diego County in 2018 was approximately $2.28 billion.[16] This cost was borne between governmental agencies, crash victims, and the general public. With an investment of just a fraction of this cost, cities can save taxpayer dollars. More importantly, they can help save lives.

On the other hand, the benefits of safe streets are good for the bottom line. Studies show that an increase of one point in a home’s Walk Score raises its value by $3,000.[17] There are also several economic impact studies that show the benefits of bike infrastructure, including that people who biked to businesses spent more money per month than those who drove.[18]

The Environmental Case

Most cities county-wide have adopted a Climate Action Plan or are in the process of developing one.[19] Strategies for reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs) are intertwined with the need for safe streets for all. State-wide, transportation is the largest contributor of GHGs at 39 percent, followed by industrial emissions (23 percent), and in-state electricity generation (11  percent).[20]  Any  attempt  at  reducing GHGs must include reducing emissions caused by the transportation sector. While electric vehicles will contribute to these efforts, they still create emissions through electricity use. GHG reduction methods such as improving transportation options—making cities more walkable, bikeable, and transit-accessible—are needed to reach GHG reduction goals.

Making substantial progress on Climate Action Plan goals and saving lives can be implemented through overlapping strategies such as traffic calming, enhanced intersection safety, bicycle lanes, and comfortable sidewalks. Safe streets are streets that encourage healthy transportation and taking transit.

Vision Zero Funding Resources

Infrastructure projects big and small can cost a significant amount of money. While every city’s budget is limited, there are several revenue sources that can and should be used to fund important safety transportation projects.

The Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (SB 1)

Otherwise known as the gas tax, SB1 is providing every jurisdiction with a significant influx of new funding for transportation projects. Local streets and roads allocations can be used for safety and complete streets, and may be used to satisfy a match requirement for eligible projects.[21] This funding cannot supplant existing revenue spending on transportation projects but must be used to supplement general fund transportation spending.[22] Allocation estimates are available online.[23]

TransNet Local Street and Road Formula Funds

The TransNet Local Street and Road Formula Funds are administered by the San Diego Association of Governments. Funding can be used to develop a Climate Action Plan and Complete Streets Policy if the city has not yet adopted these documents. At least 70 percent of the funds provided for the local street and road program should fund construction or major rehabilitation and reconstruction of streets, traffic signal coordination, capital improvements that facilitate transit services and facilities, and other improvements.[24] These funds can assist a city in prioritizing safety improvements through major infrastructure projects.

Caltrans Active Transportation Program

This grant can fund infrastructure and non-infrastructure (for example Safe Routes to School education programs) projects and the program’s goals include increasing the safety of non-motorized street users. ATP guidelines are available online.[25]

SANDAG’s Active Transportation Grant Program (ATGP)

This grant can fund capital and non-capital transportation projects county-wide. Non-capital projects include education, encouragement, and awareness projects up to $300,000, which could fund a Safe Routes to School program.[26]

Caltrans Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP)

HSIP provides funding to data-supported projects that achieve a significant reduction in fatalities and serious injuries on public roads. Projects may be used on any local road, bicycle trail, or pedestrian pathway and may be funded up to $10 million. The last cycle recipients were announced in November 2016 and cycles are awarded every one to two years.[27]

Caltrans Sustainable Transportation Planning Grants

This grant funds local and regional planning efforts that further state goals, including Vision Zero Plans.[28]

The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS)

OTS administers traffic safety grant funds that are released annually with applications due in January.[29] The San Diego Police Department regularly receives grant funding from OTS for their education and enforcement efforts.


Support for safer streets from elected leadership has been a key component for Vision Zero’s success in other cities.  In each of these localities, elected officials are announcing their support for Vision Zero and simultaneously releasing a plan for action, in partnership with police and other city departments. Leadership for a data-driven approach to safe streets and roads can save lives, promote a healthy and active lifestyle, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Vision Zero is a win-win-win for everyone.

Vision Zero Policy Recommendations

The following are steps communities can take to achieve Vision Zero:

  1. Introduce traffic calming measures where crashes occur most frequently
    Traffic calming should be deployed on the dangerous corridors and intersections where data shows the most collisions occur. Traffic calming can be as simple as restriping to narrow existing travel lanes in order to reduce speeding or can involve larger capital improvements. Cities such as Chula Vista and San Diego have been successful in soliciting funds from the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) for these types of improvements.
  2. Prioritize safety for Capital Improvement Programs funding prioritization
    Capital Improvement Programs (CIPs) should prioritize infrastructure projects that enhance safety where data show the highest number of crashes occur for both corridors and intersections. CIPs that do not already prioritize existing funding for these projects should be reexamined to make safety a policy priority.
  3. Adopt Complete Streets policies and update street design guidelines
    Cities should adopt Complete Streets policies to ensure that road improvements benefit safety for all users. These policies should be complemented with street design guidelines. Cities can adopt policies, resolutions, manuals, and traffic calming approaches that institutionalize the provision of multi-modal street design. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has numerous resources outlining model street designs.
  4. Research data to determine most dangerous behaviors contributing to crashes
    At the heart of Vision Zero is the coordination of safe street design, education, and enforcement activities to save lives. Jurisdictions should research the most common causes for crashes, and after implementing appropriate traffic calming measures, engage the local police department to implement education and enforcement to encourage safe driving. Cities such as San Diego and El Cajon have been successful in soliciting funds from the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) to conduct education and enforcement activities.
  5. Assess potential for Safe Routes programs to Schools, to Transit, and for Seniors
    Cities should prioritize traffic calming projects on dangerous corridors and intersections, especially when in close proximity to schools, transit, and senior populations. Cities should build partnerships with school districts and apply for Safe Routes to Schools, to Transit, and for Seniors funding for both education and infrastructure projects. Grants from OTS, Caltrans’ Active Transportation Program, and SANDAG’s Active Transportation Grant Program provide funding for these types of activities.


Maya Rosas, Author
Policy Director, Circulate San Diego

Maya Rosas serves as Circulate San Diego’s Director of Policy, where she leads Circulate’s efforts on Vision Zero and other campaigns for safe streets. She has been working in active transportation advocacy, land use planning, and development in both the non-profit and private sectors in San Diego since 2012. She previously worked at Circulate as the Policy Assistant where she played an instrumental role in advocating for the adoption of Vision Zero in the City of San Diego and also advocated for smart growth projects through the Circulate Mobility Certification. Maya most recently worked as a land use consultant for Atlantis Group, where she helped see development projects through all phases of the entitlement process. She has co-authored Circulate San Diego reports on Vision Zero and democratizing Community Planning Groups.

Special Thanks

Thanks to Colin Parent for editing and Dane Thompson for designing the report. Thanks to the Vision Zero Coalition for their valuable feedback on the development of this report, and special thanks to the following individuals for providing extra input and expertise:

Kathleen Ferrier

Kristin Haukom

Hugo Salgado

Special thanks to Nina Ghatan, formerly with the Childhood Obesity Initiative, who led the effort to develop a Vision Zero Toolkit, which formed the basis of this report.

This report is an activity of the County of San Diego Chronic Disease and Health Equity Unit’s CalFresh Healthy Living Program, and supports Live Well San Diego, the County’s vision of a region that is Building Better Health, Living Safely, and Thriving.

The California Department of Public Health is a public health effort working with hundreds of partners and organizations to empower low-income Californians to live healthier lives through good nutrition and physical activity. Funding is from USDA SNAP. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. For important nutrition information, visit

All images belong to Circulate San Diego unless otherwise cited.


1. “US Dot Announces 2017 Roadway Fatalities Down,” US Department of Transportation, October 3, 2018, available at

2.  Brian McKenzie, “Who Drives to Work? Commuting by Automobile in the United States: 2013,” US Census, August 2015, available at

3.  “The Decline of Walking and Bicycling,” Safe Routes to School Guide, January 30, 2018, available at

4.  Susan Babey, “A Patchwork for Progress,” Public Health Advocacy, November, 2011, available at

5.  “Obesity Rates and Trends Overview,” the State of Obesity, January 30, 2018, available at

6.  “Community Profile: County of San Diego, California,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, October 25, 2013, available at  

7.  Susan Babey, “A Patchwork for Progress,” Public Health Advocacy, November, 2011, available at

8. “Moving From Vision to Action,” Vision Zero Network, February 1, 2018, available at

9. “Highway Worker Safety: Automated Speed Enforcement,” California Department of Transportation, August 3, 2011, available at

10. “Vision Zero 2017 Progress Report,” City of Seattle, February 12, 2018, available at

11. “Elements of Vision Zero Streets,” Vision Zero Streets, January 30, 2018, available at

12. “Street Design and Regulation,” New York City Vision Zero, February 12, 2018, available at

13. Communications Strategies for Vision Zero: Lessons From New York City, July 2016, available at

14. “Vision Zero Equity Strategies for Practitioners,” Vision Zero Network, February 13, 2018, available at

15.  Moran, Molly J and Carlos Monje, Guidance on Treatment of the Economic Value of a Statistical Life (VSL) in U.S. Department of Transportation Analyses – 2016 Adjustment, U.S. Department of Transportation, available at

16.  “Medical Examiner, Cases by Manner of Death (Annual Comparison),” County of San Diego Department of the Medical Examiner, available at

17.  Joe Cortright, The Economic Value of Walkability: New Evidence, City Observatory, August 30, 2016, available at

18.  Darrent Flusche, Bicycling Means Business, Advocacy Advance, July 2012, available at

19.  SANDAG, Meeting Notice and Agenda - Active Transportation Working Group (page 16), September 14, 2017, available at

20.  California Air Resources Board, California Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory – 2017 Edition, June 6, 2017, available at

21.  League of Cities, Shared Revenue Estimates: State Revenue Allocations to Cities and Counties (page 9), May 11, 2017, available at

22.  League of Cities, Shared Revenue Estimates: State Revenue Allocations to Cities and Counties (page 10), May 11, 2017, available at

23.  The California Local Government Finance Almanac, Shared Revenue Estimates: State Revenue Allocations to Cities and Counties, January 22, 2019, available at

24.  SANDAG, TransNet Extension and Ordinance (page 7), available at 

25.  California Transportation Commission, Active Transportation Program Guidelines, November 2017, available at

26.  SANDAG, Active Transportation Grant Program Call for Projects for the Fourth Cycle of Funding, December 15, 2017, available at

27.  California Department of Transportation, Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), available at

28.  Caltrans, Sustainable Transportation Planning Grant Program Grant Application Guide, January, 2018, available at

29.  California Office of Traffic Safety, About Us, available at

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