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Vision Zero: Eliminating Traffic Deaths by 2050

A CNU Midwest Profile of Claire Yates


Over 5 million police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes were reported in 2020, 31% of which resulted in injury or death. US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg shone a light on this issue earlier this year in a national call to action saying, “Traffic crashes cost tens of thousands of American lives a year – a national crisis on our roadways…we are asking all Americans – including private industry, nonprofit and advocacy organizations, and every level of government – to join us in acting to save lives on our roadways.”

Most people agree this tragic loss of life is unacceptable. Urbanists believe the solution starts with prioritizing people over traffic. But how do we get there?

In 2022, Louisville KY’s Metro Council adopted an ordinance creating Vision Zero Louisville. The new transportation safety initiative is tasked with eliminating traffic deaths on Louisville’s streets by 2050. To achieve this, Vision Zero Louisville has adopted the multi-layered Safe System Approach to eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries through “safer streets, safer speeds, safer people, safer vehicles, and improved post-crash care.”

I sat down with Vision Zero Louisville’s first full-time Program Manager, Claire Yates (Transportation Planner II with Louisville Metro Public Works) to learn more about the initiative.

Claire is a Transportation Planner II with Louisville Metro Government’s Department of Public Works and Program Manager for Vision Zero Louisville, the city’s transportation safety initiative. Claire earned her Bachelor of History from Bellarmine University and her Master of Urban Planning from the University of Louisville. Claire lives in Louisville with her wife Christa and her dog Romi.


Challenges and opportunities come with a new ordinance, a new role, and a bold goal. Yates has focused work on the last year in a few key areas: data collection and analysis, community engagement, and national benchmarking and best practice implementation. “Government’s foremost priority is public safety – if the government does nothing else, it’s public safety,” Yates said, “Streets are a critical piece of that. Public safety goes beyond gun violence. Public safety is about crashes, too.”

The data collection and analysis at Vision Zero Louisville breaks down a huge problem into implementation goals. Vision Zero Louisville categorizes dangerous roads in two ways:

· Systemic, meaning roads identified as dangerous by design

· Reactive, meaning roads known to be dangerous because of crash data

As you can imagine, many roads fall into both categories. Yates says: “We are talking about surface streets - limited access highways and interstates are outside our purview. Surface streets are not where we need to be prioritizing speed. That is incongruent with quality of life and place, from life expectancy to air pollution and positive health outcomes. We can’t give up on these streets.”

Another key initiative of Vision Zero Louisville is the Crash Dashboard. Yates updates crash data monthly, linking crash data to local news coverage, allowing her to name victims and organize data by injury severity level. “Very few cities across the country take the time to link those two data sets together,” Yates pointed out. “When you name the victims, it really hits home.”

Vision Zero, Louisville used their data and maps as part of their Safe Streets and Roads for All (SS4A) grant application, developed in partnership with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and Palmer Engineering, which resulted in receiving a $21 million implementation grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Local and state governments have started to recognize that many of our roads are designed for speed, not safety, spurring conversations about how we re-frame the goal of our road system. “What level of motorist inconvenience are we willing to trade off for increased safety?” Yates asks. “We should think about our streets with quality of life and public safety first – if that means your commute is four minutes longer, then that’s just what it is. Motorist convenience shouldn’t outweigh public safety, particularly for our most vulnerable users: pedestrians and cyclists.”

“It takes a really long time to change a culture from a focus on speed, throughput, traffic counts, and road classification to prioritizing quality of life and road design that reduces speed to a level that doesn’t kill someone on impact. This can mean 35 mph instead of 45 mph. And it means redesigning roads to be 35 mph roads, not just sticking up a new speed limit sign.”

“It’s going to take a lot of money and a lot of buy-in from the public. We need members of the public to say to their elected officials, ‘I demand that you invest in safe streets. I demand that I don’t die on this road.’”


A huge part of Yates’ work centers around community conversation, including monthly virtual task force meetings that are open to the public. “We blur the lines between transportation professionals, advocates, and residents. It doesn’t matter who you are, we are going to give you updates on everything from relevant state legislation to road projects to post-crash trauma care.”

In these monthly meetings, Yates takes time to talk about what it takes to achieve zero fatalities by 2050, including walking attendees through the grant writing process. “We go over the public input process and have a robust dialogue about road design. Over time, the public becomes more educated on the governmental side of this issue and the government attendees become more open, transparent, honest, and frank about what’s happening. We’re about smashing down the traditional opaqueness of government by showing people what we are doing day-in and day-out and asking residents, ‘Does that work for you?’”

Claire Yates accepting the 2023 Center for Neighborhoods Public Official of the Year Award

In a time when our communities feel divided on countless issues, Yates works tirelessly to include a wide, diverse set of community voices with one shared goal: “to reduce fatal and serious injury crashes. Full stop.” The Center for Neighborhoods recognized Yates’ unique workstyle by naming her 2023’s Public Official of the Year. She is also headed to the Esri User Conference in San Diego this month to accept a national award recognizing Vision Zero Louisville’s work in GIS and data modeling.

“We try to do our work based on data-driven approaches. Not just crash data, but Justice40 areas, as well.” Yates shared that they, like many local governments, often see high engagement in areas of the community where there is not the greatest need. Unsurprisingly, many of the most dangerous intersections are in the most disadvantaged census tracts. Yates says they are constantly asking, “How do we move conversations to center them where the greatest need is based on decades of neglect and disinvestment?”

Yates continued, “Residents want to see more. The most common complaint to Louisville Metro Council members is speeding. When I tell people about the work I do, almost invariably they say something along the lines of, ‘I want that for my street. I want a safer street. I don’t want cars speeding through my neighborhood.’”

The beauty of the Vision Zero Task Force is what happens when people join. When people identify as a member of the Task Force, it empowers them in a free and open way to speak up about transportation issues in their community. “It creates a path for people to get involved in neighborhood organizations to advocate for calmer, safer streets, using the tools and education Vision Zero has provided,” Yates shared.

“Most people want to live in a neighborhood that’s easy to get around but also one where you don’t have to take your life into your own hands just to cross the street. I don’t think that that's too much to ask.”

Author Bio:

MK Lindsey is Vice President of Real Estate Development for Crawford Hoying in Columbus, OH. For the last decade, MK's work has centered around creating dynamic destinations - distilleries, museums, corporate visitor centers, parks, and walkable neighborhoods. With a project portfolio of ~$1B across 7 states, her key projects have included the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in downtown Louisville, KY, Sagamore Spirit Distillery in Baltimore, MD, the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, VA, boutique hotels throughout bourbon country, and mixed-use district developments in Dayton, Cincinnati, and Louisville. MK has a unique blend of experience in storytelling, master planning, project management, construction, historic redevelopment, and finance. She works with architects, designers, engineers, municipal staff, builders, bankers, and equity investors to make difficult, multi-year projects happen across the region.

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