Boulder is now one of about three dozen cities in the United States that have formally adopted Vision Zero, an aspirational campaign that aims to eliminate all crashes resulting in death or serious injury.

"This Vision Zero objective challenges the idea that serious injury and fatality crashes are inevitable," said Bill Cowern, the city's principal traffic engineer. "We need to make it not inevitable."

It's a lofty goal, given that right now Boulder isn't anywhere close to zero, and is in fact trending away from that target. According to a recently released city progress report, there were a total of 66 serious-injury and fatality crashes in the city in 2016 — 13 more than in 2009.

The obviously massive challenge is not unique to Boulder, as other Vision Zero cities have a lot of work ahead of them, and in some categories aren't necessarily making progress under the campaign.

Portland, Ore., which approved Vision Zero policies and seeks to eliminate all deadly and seriously-injury crashes by 2025, had its deadliest year since 2003 last year, with 45 deaths on city streets, according to the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

In Los Angeles, which is also on board with Vision Zero, pedestrian deaths have risen more than 80 percent in the last two years, the city's transportation department reported.


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There are many potential crash factors that the city can't influence alone. Local officials were reminded of this in January, when a driver smashed into a pole and died, ensuring that Boulder wouldn't make it even one month in 2018 without a fatal crash.

"I'm a traffic engineer; I'm not a superhero," Cowern said. "So I'm not going to stop that guy from crashing into a pole with anything I do from an engineering standpoint."

For that reason, the city is also working to lobby for state policies that it believes could make streets safer. It supported a bill to increase fines associated with distracted driving and to eliminate the use of mobile devices by drivers.

And over and over it lobbies in favor of red-light cameras.

In both of those cases, the bills failed. But that kind of state-level work will continue under Vision Zero, said Dave Kemp, senior transportation planner.

"The legislation that make it safer when moving oneself around the city is a big part of Vision Zero," he said.

There are other major factors that Boulder won't change on its own, and that the state is even less likely to change. For one, cars have the potential to be deadly, and they're not going anywhere anytime soon.

While single-occupancy vehicle trips in the city are going down and are now fewer than 50 percent among residents, they remain by far the most popular mode of travel for non-residents in transit through Boulder.

"If any community were to adopt the premise that safety was its only goal, the first thing they'd do would be remove motor vehicles from the system," Cowern said. "But we have mobility goals and transportation system we're trying to run at the same time."

That's why Boulder officials believe Vision Zero's value may rest largely in instilling a sense of urgency. Much of the campaign focuses on education of the public.

"It's an ideal. It's something we continually work toward," Kemp said.

In 2017, the City Council allocated $150,000 specifically for Vision Zero implementation. Another $300,000 will be repurposed for Vision Zero from what was called the city "innovations" budget. In total, a city spokeswoman said, Vision Zero investments in Boulder will top $3 million in 2018.

To date, the Vision Zero team has spend on green pavement markings, signage and striping, Cowern said.

Boulder may soon start using that money to experiment with "protected intersections" — a cutting-edge street configuration that increase cars' turning radii and are meant to improve bike safety in the process.

The intersection of Colorado Avenue and Regent Drive is among Boulder's most dangerous. There were 10 motor vehicle collisions involving a cyclist or pedestrian over a recent three-year period, the city reported.

In the process of incrementally improving street safety, city officials are hoping they'll also encourage usage of the streets by people who might be afraid to, say, walk to work or bike to the grocery store, because they don't feel safe doing so.

"We've built out this initial network, the 'all ages and abilities network,'" Kemp said. "Now, how do we take that to the next level and provide facilities and routes and wayfinding that help all ages and abilities really feel welcome?"

Alex Burness: 303-473-1389, burnessa@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/alex_burness