Building the Vision: Community and Collaboration

Author(s): Verlinden, Nasca, Smith Lea
Mavis Johnson Traffic Safety Award

Slidedeck Presentation Only:



Background/Context: Vision Zero road safety plans often include measures covering engineering, education, enforcement, and technology. A key ingredient that can be missing from these plans is engagement, both at a community level with local organizations, and on the neighbourhood level with community members. Planning outcomes can be improved by incorporating the knowledge of people who live in the neighbourhood (Blanchet-Cohen, 2015; Innes & Booher, 2004; Rowe & Frewer, 2000; Sorensen & Sagaris, 2010). Interactions that are exclusively one-way (i.e. safety and awareness campaigns) ignore the knowledge that resides with local residents and within community and advocacy groups regarding priority actions (Bailey & Grossardt, 2010). A well-designed, community-based process, on the other hand, can reduce inequality and build a sense of trust, as well as addressing community concerns (Gehl Institute, 2018).

Aims/Objectives: In order to address this gap, the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) has worked towards building community involvement in road safety and Vision Zero, both at the community organization level and at the level of neighbourhood resident engagement. With community organizations, our goals have been three-fold: to build a common understanding of priorities related to road safety, to draw public and political attention to these priorities through our combined efforts, and to expand the circle of organizations who consider road safety to be part of their mandate. On the neighbourhood level, TCAT has been working to increase the quality of engagement with respect to road safety and walkability issues.

Methods/Targets: Our efforts have targeted three groups: community organizations, municipal decision-makers and neighbourhood residents.

Results/Activities: On the community scale, our approach has been to first engage with local organizations whose mandate clearly covers road safety, including local walking and cycling advocacy groups, place-making organizations, etc. Drawing on the expertise of each group, we together evaluate the issues affecting different user groups (people walking, people cycling, people using transit, children, people who are visually impaired, etc.) and develop a list of priority actions. In 2018, we launched a platform of Vision Zero road safety priorities ahead of the municipal election and asked candidates to commit to taking action. We used a diversified approach to communications that included working with a design agency, press conferences and media interviews, and social media. The platform garnered attention from the media and from the candidates themselves, making road safety part of the election conversation. An important follow-on to this work was that we subsequently reached out to organizations who do not typically consider road safety as part of their mandate (health, education, community services) and asked for their endorsement of our road safety priorities, building the chorus of voices on these issues.

On the neighbourhood scale, we have been working in a number of different communities across Ontario to meaningfully engage residents who are typically not involved in the transportation planning process. Two key aspects of this work are first, to involve residents right from the beginning in problem identification, recognizing that people who walk, drive, bike and ride transit in the neighbourhood on a daily basis have detailed and expert knowledge of what works well and what needs to be improved. Second, we emphasize building partnerships with local organizations, again with the goal of accessing local knowledge, but also to grow the capacity of these organizations to engage in community issues related to road safety and walkability.

Discussion/Deliverables: The outputs of our work to date have been:

  1. A new level of cross-sector collaboration among community groups around road safety;
  2. A unified community voice that can effectively call attention to these issues through a wide variety of social and news media;
  3. Increased capacity among community groups to speak about road safety, especially those for whom road safety has previously been outside of their mandate;
  4. Community-identified priorities and interventions for improving road safety on the neighbourhood scale.

Having laid this groundwork, we will apply this cross-collaborative approach to future campaigns and interventions. A particularly important lesson learned has been that a wide range of community actors are interested in Vision Zero. Many organizations view road safety as a priority, even if it is not explicitly covered in their mandate, and will support a clear call to action from more expert organizations. While those implementing Vision Zero strategies across Canada have reported new alliances forged and fruitful collaborations between municipal departments (for example, public health and police services), there is also great potential for growing collaboration amongst community groups, which remains largely untapped. Community health centres, seniors' associations, advocates for people with disabilities, transit riders, schools and residents associations can all come together around the goal of eliminating traffic deaths at the neighbourhood scale. Meaningful engagement around problem identification and the setting of priorities is key to building this type of community-based, cross-sector buy-in.