Despite a decrease in driving during the pandemic, there was a dramatic increase in crashes in 2020, resulting in tens of thousands of lost lives on our nation’s roads. The crisis is also worsening. Early estimates from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed the largest six-month increase in traffic fatalities ever recorded in its reporting system for the first half of 2021, up 18.4% over 2020. Here in Madison, our community has suffered terrible traffic crashes, affecting young and old, and taking the lives of too many treasured members of our community.

The City is tackling these issues head on using multiple strategies and the most modern methods under our “Vision Zero” program. Vision Zero is an initiative focused on placing the long-term goal of safety for all roadway users at the forefront of all policy and design decisions. This can only be achieved through stronger speed and safety enforcement, community education and engagement, and a focused commitment to improve infrastructure.

In 2021, the Madison Police Department set out to directly address hazardous driving in Madison. Targeted enforcement and general police presence was used in multiple locations, including the East Washington corridor, to remind drivers to slow down, pay attention and drive sober.

Vision Zero’s speed management component is based on solid data and the latest best practices. Data from places such as Seattle, Portland, Brazil and Europe has shown significant safety benefits from lowering speed limits. In fact, data from early Vision Zero applications on E Washington Ave in Madison has shown that speeding over 40 mph was reduced by 30-90% depending on location and time of the day.

The older, more traditional way of setting speed limits cited by a recent Wisconsin State Journal editorial hasn’t worked well on many urban streets. That’s why the National Transportation Safety Board recently recommended to overhaul the way speed limits are set, and the National Association of City Transportation Officials responded with a newer context-sensitive method for urban streets, including setting default speed limits of 25 mph on major streets and 20 mph on minor streets.

August 2021 saw the City kick off a program called 20 is Plenty in response to this data. This new program aims to increase the safety of all road users on neighborhood streets in Madison by reducing the speed limit from 25 mph to 20 mph. The program was already implemented in two areas in the City totaling over 11 miles of roadways, covering parts of the Greentree, Meadowwood, Orchard Ridge and Tenney-Lapham neighborhoods. Phase 2 of the program begins in 2022 and will include further implementation on neighborhood streets throughout the city.

Let’s Talk Streets, an education and outreach effort, organized several surveys and engagement sessions in 2021 that solicited feedback from members of the local community. The main purpose is to increase the City’s understanding of what the current concerns are, and more importantly, what may be missing when it comes to safety of roadway users. These discussions have prompted several campaigns including Be Bright At Night and several Metro bus advertisements, sparked interest in increasing education efforts to a number of groups throughout Madison, and developed a deeper commitment and understanding between Vision Zero and the city’s stakeholders and community partners. From a recent survey, 78% of Madisonians tell the City to prioritize safety over speed. This also confirms that speed management, along with other engineering, enforcement and education strategies, should be the building blocks of our comprehensive plan to improve transportation safety.

This spring, the Vision Zero team is focusing on what infrastructural changes and updates would benefit Madison’s multi-modal culture and safety. Crash data collected each year is used to help guide and determine the most impacted areas that will become the focus of future development, redesign and improvements. Check out the first edition of our Vision Zero Quarterly newsletter and let’s work together to change our roadway safety culture!

The Vision Zero website offers additional information about:


Dr. Yang Tao, the City Traffic Engineer, contributed to this blog.

This content is free for use with credit to the City of Madison - Mayor's Office and a link back to the original post.

Category: Transit