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By Eric Bosco

The Vision Zero initiative began in Sweden in 1997 with the goal of eliminating fatal traffic and pedestrian accidents, and has since spread around the world. The City of Boston and Mayor Marty Walsh joined the initiative in 2015 and a year later launched a story map that gives citizens the power to directly influence the process of making Boston’s streets safer – and fatal crash-free by the city’s target date of 2030.

 

The Boston Vision Zero story map unites a visual collection of maps, apps, charts, and infographics about the initiative that were individually launched after the city joined the initiative in 2015. The story map platform provides residents with up-to-date accident data and the ability to individually report safety concerns pinpointed by street or neighborhood on a crowdsourced map – all in one place.

The story map, which was published in July 2016, has been selected as Harvard’s Map of the Month, a new recognition program highlighting best-in-class data visualizations created by all levels of governments and nonprofits. Boston’s Vision Zero map was selected for its ability to enhance understanding of – and even solve – the issue of traffic safety concerns as well as its integration of multiple data sources, including crowdsourced data. The map was made by Youshe Li, GIS application developer, for the city’s Department of Innovation and Technology.

In the first six months after the map’s launch last year, more than 11,000 citizen safety concerns were filed and plotted

 

 

The impact of the innovative map in spurring local civic engagement in the Vision Zero initiative is clear; in the first six months after the map’s launch last year, more than 11,000 citizen safety concerns were filed and plotted, according to Joyce John, a Story Mapper with the city’s Department of Innovation and Technology, who oversees the project.

 

“If visibility is bad at a certain intersection, or people speed, or if there’s a safety concern of any kind, you can add it directly to the map,” John said. “And if someone has already reported it, you can add a comment and it will show that more than one person shares that concern. This map gives citizens the power to directly influence the process of making Boston’s streets safer.”

The map also combines Boston Police Department and Emergency Medical Services data on crashes into a traffic crash map that plots where accidents happen in real time. It also has a heat map to indicate the areas with the highest concentration of crashes, and allows residents to view crashes sorted by accident type – pedestrian, bicycle, or motor vehicle.

 

In addition to helping share information with residents, the map also has internal importance: the city now has a one-stop shop for the data it needs to make informed traffic safety decisions.

 

“By combining data from the two maps, the city can develop new plans and projects to improve safety,” John said. “A third map is in the works which will highlight the safety projects that result from this analysis as well as those that are already underway. It will show that yes, the city is indeed responding to the crash data and safety concerns of the public.”

And the city has made significant decisions aided by the data and mapping around the Vision Zero initiative. Last August, Mayor Marty Walsh announced a citywide reduction in the speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour. An infographic included in a tab on the Vision Zero Boston map shows that the likelihood of a fatal accident when travelling at 20 mph is 18 percent, compared to 50 percent at 30 mph.

 

John said the city is in the process of installing 34 new traffic radar signs, which give real-time speed feedback to drivers to ensure speed limit compliance, and with the new roadside additions, the city will have installed 50 signs since the start of the initiative.

 

“It’s about taking all the three sources of data that we have and then trying to pull together insights about where the traffic lights should go, where the speed radar signs should go,” John said. “And are there certain zones we need to target to make them safer?”

 

A new tab on the map that John said will soon be updated allows residents to view city projects that will address problematic intersections and streets that are given high priority due to the volume of safety concerns or accidents. The tab currently shows plans to address “high priority corridors” on Massachusetts Avenue and Codman Square.

 

“You’ll see a lot of projects in the hot spots where the most crashes were happening and it’s going to be able to show that yes, there was a response to where all those crashes were happening and safety measures are being taken,” John added.

 

On July 26th, the city will host a Data Challenge, or hackathon, around optimizing the placement of speed radar signs. Participants will be asked to evaluate the data included in the map and consider neighborhood data to inform placement of the signs based on demographic information like population density of school-age children or the location of hospitals and elderly housing.

 

But the map is clearly built to engage a broad, citywide audience not limited to those with advanced programming skills that may be drawn to a hackathon. “We really wanted people to be able to see just very simple titles and be able to go directly and find out information and if you spend 10 minutes with this map, you'd really have a good idea of what Vision Zero is about,” said John.

 

If you have a map that you would like to submit for consideration as Map of the Month, submissions are accepted on a rolling basis here.

About the Author

Eric Bosco

Eric Bosco is a Research Assistant and Writer for the Ash Center’s Civic Analytics Network. Prior to joining the Ash Center, Eric worked as a journalist and research assistant with the Boston Globe Spotlight Team and as a staff writer at a regional newspaper in southern Massachusetts. As an undergraduate journalism student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, his investigative reporting for the Globe on the university’s controversial confidential informant program earned him appearances on national television and radio.

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