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A City in New Jersey Hasn’t Had a Bicycle Death in 7 Years. Can the Model be Replicated Elsewhere?

Each year, approximately 1,200 Americans die in bicycle accidents. But none of them have happened in Hoboken, New Jersey, since 2017.

The small city, just 10 minutes away from Manhattan, boasts an impressive feat having eliminated traffic-related deaths in less than a decade.

“We have now marked seven years since our last traffic death in Hoboken, making us one of the only U.S. cities to reach this milestone,” Hoboken mayor Ravi S. Bhalla said in a news release at the beginning of this year. “While deliberate action on everything from re-striping high visibility crosswalks to implementing comprehensive road redesigns has aided our success, we aren’t stopping – we will continue to aggressively implement Vision Zero in every aspect of our major infrastructure projects.”

How did the city of 60,000 people do it?

In 2019, after Bhalla was elected mayor, the city went all in on a Vision Zero plan – a set of guidelines that aims to eliminate traffic deaths around the world. Several cities across the nation, including San Francisco, have implemented the initiatives that are focused around safe mobility.

San Francisco adopted its Vision Zero plan in 2014 – making it the second city to do so in the U.S. – but fatality numbers continue to remain largely stagnant for the city of more than 800,000 residents.

In 2022, there were 18 traffic deaths, the highest number since at least 2005. Bicycle deaths have fluctuated between one and four deaths per year for the last decade. Like many cities across the nation, San Francisco officials say vehicle speed is a top factor in many fatal accidents.

Hoboken officials credit their success to a number of transportation policies and updates. There’s also emphasis on continued improvement, even with no deaths on record in recent history. In 2023, the city announced a series of new upgrades:

  • Multi-way stops added to 14 intersections (6 in high crash intersections)
  • 418 delineators installed to improve intersection visibility (65 of these were put near parks, schools, public housing, and senior buildings)
  • 61 crosswalks re-striped
  • 27 curb upgrades
  • 1 raised sidewalk installed
  • Nearly a mile of resurfaced road
  • Multiple curb extensions installed to slow vehicle turning speeds
  • 15 MPH school zone speed limit added to 67 blocks

“There really isn’t a silver bullet or any magic, innovative thing where we’ve cracked a code,” Hoboken transportation director Ryan Sharp tells the Associated Press. “Our approach has been more about focusing on the fundamentals. We’ve created a program where we’re layering these things in year after year.”

Balancing progress with access

The plan, while successful, has come with criticisms, too. Hoboken has removed parking spaces across downtown to allow for curb extensions, bump outs, and daylighting, which eliminates parking near intersections to allow for greater visibility.

Hoboken is densely populated, thanks to its proximity to New York City, but cars still are a main feature on city streets. During the pandemic, small businesses worried that increasing daylighting would create barriers to patrons visiting downtown shops and would limit economic recovery, but the practice has been catching on across the country as more and more municipalities see it proving to be effective.

The AP reports that more than 40 states have enacted some sort of daylighting law. Last year, California state lawmakers approved a new statewide rule that prohibits parking within 20 feet of an intersection.

This has been a tenet of safety improvements across the Bay Area for years, but the new state law is expected to eliminate thousands of parking spots in San Francisco and includes some exemptions that may prove to be a problem.

“Here’s the thing about A.B. 413, which could make the law a failure if cities allow it: local authorities can exempt commercial vehicles,” writes Streetsblog SF. “Delivery trucks tend to block a larger portion of the sightline than cars, and they tend to want to park wherever they can, including right at the corner.”

It’ll be up to local governments to uphold the spirit of the legislation and refrain from making exceptions.

The right recipe for safe cycling

Vision Zero has only been around in the U.S. since 2012 when Seattle first joined the initiative. More than a decade later with several cities implementing the policies, it’s starting to become clear that they’re effective.

In New York City, for example, traffic deaths fell 19% from 2010 to 2020, while the U.S. death rate increased 8%. Even while not achieving what Hoboken has, the data translates into saved lives.

“Reducing traffic deaths the way New York City did is a labor-intensive process that requires a lot of institutional capacity,” a former Streetsblog journalist writes. “Cities need staff that can identify problem areas and then develop and implement cost-effective solutions — often against the background of a fair amount of controversy. There is also whole data management project associated with tracking progress and fine-tuning the approach.”

This fine-tuning is what made Hoboken a success story. City transportation staff were able to find the right combination of policies that work best for the city and layer them into long term planning.

San Francisco made its pledge to reach zero traffic deaths by 2024 a decade ago, and while it’s so far unclear whether we will meet that goal this year, there is progress being made to make the city a safer and more welcoming environment for cyclists.

There are now 43 miles of protected bike lanes in San Francisco, and more on the way along with other upgrades to infrastructure.

Click here to learn more about San Francisco’s Vision Zero progress and find ways to get involved in making the city a little more like Hoboken.