In many American cities, pedestrian and cyclist deaths are climbing—even in cities that are aiming to eliminate traffic deaths and injuries through “Vision Zero” goals. In San Francisco, where 18 pedestrians were hit and killed by cars last year, along with 10 people in vehicles and one cyclist, the city declared a state of emergency for vehicle safety. In New York City, as of late December, 114 pedestrians had been killed in 2019, and there were more than twice as many cyclist deaths as the year before.
In Oslo, Norway, by contrast, there were zero pedestrian deaths in 2019. There were also zero cyclist deaths. Only one person died in a car crash, a driver who ran into a fence. The city is smaller than San Francisco and New York but roughly the same size as Portland, Oregon—another city that wants to eliminate traffic deaths—where 49 people were killed in car crashes last year.
What’s the difference? At a national level, Norway has more political support for ending “accidents” that can be avoided through better infrastructure design, more traffic enforcement, and other changes in policy. “The most important [factor] might be that road safety has been a priority for many years and has given us a reduction of road deaths, from 560 people yearly in the 1970s to 110 deaths in 2019,” says Christoffer Solstad Steen, who works with Trygg Trafikk, an Oslo-based organization that focuses on traffic safety. “When many stakeholders—government, locals, organizations—work together with a shared vision of zero deaths and heavy injuries, it gives results over time.”