Auditor to investigate effectiveness of DC’s Vision Zero program

The goal was clear — to reduce the number of transportation-related deaths and serious injuries in D.C. to zero by the year 2024.

However, with three years until that date, D.C. had the most traffic deaths in the past decade last year — 37 — the latest indication that the District’s Vision Zero program, implemented by Mayor Muriel Bowser in 2015, isn’t close to meeting that goal.

While the District Department of Transportation has introduced several interventions — including banning right turns on red lights at many intersections, reducing speed limits and increasing the number of bicycle lanes, the number of traffic deaths has risen every year, except in 2019.

The Office of the D.C. Auditor will soon start a 10-month investigation into the Vision Zero program.

Auditor Kathy Patterson said she realized the issue deserved study after receiving a letter in 2018 from dozens of safety advocates.

“The numbers even then looked to be going in the wrong direction,” Patterson told WTOP. “They were not feeling an urgent responsiveness from the Department of Transportation.”

Patterson said the audit will study several aspects of how well the program is being implemented.

“I think a case can be made that the resources have not been commensurate with the issues, but we have not done that analysis,” said Patterson. “We haven’t even had our introductory meeting yet.”

After extensive interviews, Patterson hopes to better understand whether D.C. taxpayers are getting their money’s worth from the program.

“What has been budgeted, what has been spent, where has it been spent, and in what fashion? And to the extent that we’re able to do this, we will also be looking at other communities around the country that have implemented plans with similar kinds of goals.”

In addition, Patterson wants to make sure Vision Zero is being applied equitably across the District.

“If we find traffic safety assessments in one part of the city go forward quickly, smoothly, and with some kind of impact,  and other parts of the city they don’t, that would be something that would be of concern,” she said.

Asked to provide comment on the proposed audit, Acting DDOT Director Everett Lott said in a statement: “DDOT has a robust set of safety programs in place to achieve Mayor Bowser’s Vision Zero goals, and we look forward to working with the DC Auditor to help increase the public’s understanding of those efforts.”

The bottom line issue for Patterson, in evaluating Vision Zero’s effectiveness: “What can you do, versus what are you doing?”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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