Vision Zero is the City and County of Denver’s program to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. There are five fundamental principles central to Vision Zero:
- Traffic deaths and severe injuries are acknowledged to be preventable.
- Human life and health are prioritized within all aspects of the transportation system.
- Acknowledgment that human error is inevitable, and transportation systems should be forgiving.
- Safety work should focus on systems-level changes above influencing individual behavior.
- Mitigation of speed is recognized and prioritized as the fundamental factor in crash severity.
The City and County of Denver’s Vision Zero Action Plan(PDF, 6MB) was released in 2017, focusing on the most vulnerable users on Denver’s roadways, and on the city’s most dangerous corridors. Actions were defined around five key themes guiding the creation of safer streets:
- Enhance city processes and collaboration
- Build safe streets for everyone
- Create safe speeds
- Promote a culture of safety
- Improve data and be transparent
2020: The impact of COVID-19
2020 began on a high note, with Denver celebrating creation of a new Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI), formerly known as Denver Public Works, and city charter changes that more clearly emphasized the department’s role in supporting Vision Zero efforts to build a safer transportation system for all.
The department also welcomed staff from transportation safety programs formerly housed in Denver’s Department of Public Health & Environment:
- Community Active Living Coalition (CALC) – funded by a State of Colorado grant
- Teen Safe Streets – funded by a grant from CDOT to engage youth
- Booster and Seatbelt Engagement (BASE) program – funded by a CDOT grant for child passenger safety
Daily life changed dramatically in March of 2020 as the world responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. The state, along with the City and County of Denver and counties in the metro area, issued Stay at Home orders to attempt to halt the spread of coronavirus. Workplaces shifted almost overnight to remote work, ending many people's daily commutes. Transportation patterns were fundamentally altered, with fewer vehicles on the roads and public transportation routes limited or cut due to lower demand.
DOTI responded to the pandemic with new initiatives that supported social distancing and continued strengthening its commitment to Vision Zero through greater departmental coordination and weekly meetings that moved an ambitious slate of safety projects forward.
It’s unclear how the pandemic will impact long-term travel trends; however, we must consider the public health crisis in the context of Denver’s 2020’s crash statistics.
Overall, there were fewer fatal and serious injury crashes in the City and County of Denver in 2020 compared to 2019, likely due to fewer vehicles on city roadways. There were no fatalities recorded in Denver in the month of April, during the height of the metro area's Stay at Home orders.
On Colorado’s interstate highway system, there was an increase in the number of traffic fatalities in 2020 compared to 2019; this may be attributed to people driving at greater speeds in an environment where there were fewer cars on the roads and less congestion.
57 people died in traffic crashes in Denver in 2020, a decrease from the previous year’s record high of 71 people. In general, the past decade has seen an increasing trend in fatalities at the same time Denver added about 100,000 residents, from approximately 630,000 in 2012 to just under 740,000 in 2020.
Per capita, Denver’s fatality rate has also risen during this same time period, from 5.68 fatalities per 100,000 in 2012 to 8.39 in 2019 (the last year for which data is available). Peer city analysis shows Denver has avoided the sharp uptick many cities have recorded since 2017.
(Peer city analysis uses FARS data for fatalities and ACS annual census estimates for population. Denver tracks all transportation related fatalities investigated by the Denver Police Department, including those that do not meet the specific NHTSA/FARS criteria.)
Serious Bodily Injuries (SBIs)
304 crashes in Denver in 2020 resulted in serious bodily injuries – fewer than 2019, which was a year that experienced a significant increase in SBI crashes.
Total SBI crashes in 2020 register lower than the previous 5-year average of 328 SBI crashes per year.
Looking at SBI crashes as a percentage of all crashes that occurred in 2020, there was no reduction to report. 1.91% of crashes in Denver in 2020 resulted in serious bodily injuries, slightly higher than the previous 5-year annual average of 1.29%. The slight uptick in 2020 might be attributed to people traveling at higher speeds amid less congestion, with higher speeds contributing to the risk of having a serious injury crash.
Fatalities by Mode of Travel
The graphic below shows how people were travelling when killed in traffic crashes. More people were in cars compared to other modes. People on foot represented the next highest number of deaths.
Vision Zero projects will continue to focus on safety improvements to ensure that walking in the mile high city is a safe and sustainable choice for all residents and visitors.
DOTI is also accelerating its buildout of the city’s bike network to make biking a safer and more convenient travel option. One person on a bicycle was killed in 2020.
Vehicles Miles Traveled (VMT) through 2019: Regional metrics of vehicle miles travelled and population growth show more people in the Denver metro area traveling more miles.
In previous years, Denver saw that the majority of people living or working in the city were commuting to work in vehicles, with smaller shares using transit or carpooling. A sample from a Fall 2020 travel survey showed more than 50 percent of respondents were teleworking – compared to only 8 percent in previous commuter surveys. In 2020, those traveling to in-person work still primarily drove alone. View more survey results
Traffic counts performed on some of Denver’s busier roadways in September and October 2020 found that daily traffic was between 85% and 92% of normal compared to the same frame in 2019 and that during the COVID-19 pandemic, traffic volumes were more level throughout the day, rather than heavily concentrated in the morning and evening peak travel hours (7-8am and 5-6pm), as has been customary.
Interstates saw less traffic than in typical years, but similar percentages of fatal crashes compared to traffic. This is likely due to speed.
Equity is a guiding principle of Denver’s Vision Zero Program. Research shows that traffic crashes disproportionately affect low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. We also know the majority of fatal and serious injury crashes in Denver are happening on just 5% of the city’s roadways – known as the High Injury Network (HIN).
Of the 337 Vision Zero safety improvements that DOTI made in 2020, more than 50% occurred along the city’s High Injury Network and more than 40% of projects occurred in identified equity areas – areas of greatest need.
Related to the pandemic, DOTI’s 2020 travel survey found that many residents living in Denver’s “Equity Areas” were not only hardest hit by the virus, but were also more likely to be employed in “essential” industries and unable to work from home.
During the initial stay at home order, parks and outdoor spaces within the city became crowded, increasing both risks and concerns for people trying to comply with public health orders and stay physically and socially distant while enjoying spring weather after a long winter. With lower traffic volumes and people taking fewer car trips, DOTI moved quickly to close select streets to thru-traffic on a temporary basis to create space for walking, biking and outdoor recreation.
The first four Shared Street locations, totaling 5.5 miles, closed on April 4, prioritizing dense neighborhoods where adjacent parks were seeing significant use and reaching capacity, and areas of the city without immediate access to a park or trail. In June, DOTI closed 2.5 more miles of streets for residential use, with 10 total streets closed throughout 2020 and into 2021. Read more
In previous years, Denver CALC had held and promoted many in-person events for Vision Zero in the community; with public health orders restricting in-person interactions, CALC found creative new ways to help Denver communities stay active. During a time of social distancing, safe and clean public spaces such as sidewalks, parks, and public plazas become even more important for many members of our community, particularly our most vulnerable residents. To support community-led work already happening in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Denver CALC rolled out a funding opportunity to fund up to $500 to community groups to support work in walkability, bike-ability, and/or access to safe and healthy spaces for physical activity. Over three months, CALC funded 30 micro-grant projects across the Denver region that kickstarted community gardens, bike rides, public art, and more, reaching over 7800 residents.
Read more from Denver CALC
Bike network buildout
in January 2020, Mayor Michael B. Hancock and DOTI Executive Director Eulois Cleckley announced the new approaches that would help Denver complete 125 miles of new bike lanes by the end of 2023. By coordinating the installation of new facilities with paving operations, and using a centralized approach to build “backbones” and plan for connected networks in the city’s populous core, Denver is aiming to achieve the goal of every resident living within a quarter-mile of a high ease of use bike facility.
The announcement took place on West 35th Avenue along the city’s first “neighborhood bikeway” – the first of many local streets to prioritize comfort for people on bikes and people walking. The roadway design uses striping, signage and the diversion of non-local vehicle traffic, with additional traffic calming measures to reduce crossing distances at intersections and discourage speeding.
As the year progressed, it was clear that DOTI crews were more than up to the challenge. A record 40 miles of new bicycle facilities were installed in 2020.
People for Bikes named Denver as a Top 10 Bike Friendly city, and recognized the 13th/14th Avenue protected bike lanes as one of America’s Best New Bikeways of 2020.
People for Bikes
Safe Routes to School
Vision Zero partner program Safe Routes to School is focused on safer, more enjoyable, and less stressful ways to get Denver students to and from school. This means healthier students and communities. Biking is an ideal, active mode of transportation for many students, but SRTS and partners have identified the importance of education to create safer riders and build awareness of the new types of bike facilities that riders encounter in Denver.
To support this education, DOTI and Denver Parks and Recreation created a first of its kind bike course in the city at the Montbello Recreation Center, which opened in August 2020. The “mini city” layout familiarizes newer riders with common signs and markings, teaching skills such as
- Stopping and starting
- Turning and merging
- Using hand signals
- 4-way stops
- Noticing people at crosswalks
Safety Enhancements for City Operations
Telematics: DOTI Fleet Management has implemented and standardized telematics technology in city vehicles to improve safety for all. The technology analyzes cab and roadway conditions, using audible coaching to alert city employees of risky driving behaviors such as speeding.
Driver behavior is tracked through scoring, so supervisors can also provide coaching where necessary. By better understanding the conditions and actions of city staff who are driving for work, DOTI and other departments can realize citywide improvements and make more informed safety policies and analysis.
Read the Vision Zero Action Plan (2017)(PDF, 6MB)
- 60 percent of action plan tasks are completed
- 22 percent of action plan tasks are actively in progress
- Vision Zero completed 252 individual projects
- During 2020 over 40% of Denver’s VZ related projects were installed within the Equity Index area and over 50% were installed along the High Injury Network
See where on the 2020 Vision Zero Story Map
After each fatal crash, teams from DOTI and Denver Police closely review the conditions that led to the event and visit the locations of crashes where they can identify safety enhancements for rapid implementation. The teams also proactively review all SBI crashes that involve Vulnerable Roadway Users (people on motorcycles, people walking, or people on bicycles). The teams reviewed all 57 fatal crashes in 2020, and 82 SBI crashes. They conducted 34 field visits to crash sites and created work orders to quickly implement 15 different updates to signage, striping and traffic signals.
- East Colfax Safety improvements
- 5 Rapid Response projects – improvements following 2019 fatal crashes
- Shared Streets for COVID-19
- Start of annual paving season and coordinated bike lane installations
- Montbello Bicycle Course
- Bannock Street closure
- Bike Corral installations
- Corridor signal timing changes on Broadway/Lincoln
- Leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs) at East Colfax signals
South Federal Boulevard: After 8 fatal crashes along the southern stretch of this corridor in 2016 and 2017, the Vision Zero team installed improvements and monitored crash events to track effectiveness.
- 2018: zero fatalities, injury crashes reduced by 50 percent
- 2019: zero fatalities, injury crashes continuing to drop
- 2020: one fatality, injury crashes beginning to trend upward
With this shift in crashes, the Vision Zero team will revisit how best to address needs along Federal Boulevard, which is not only on the High Injury network but also runs through areas scoring high on DOTI’s equity index.
Interstate 25 and 20th Street: The Vision Zero team also began tracking this downtown intersection in 2019 following installation of new signage, pavement markings, and message boards, as well as increased enforcement for impaired drivers. There were no crashes, fatalities or serious injuries reported at the location in 2020.
Photo red light technology: This technology continues to be a valuable tool to reduce crashes and severity where deployed in Denver. Continuing the tracking at 6th Avenue and Lincoln, there were 30 crashes from June 2019 to June 2020, with zero fatalities.
New data dashboard — The Vision Zero data dashboard on Denvergov.org will be updated to use a more complete and accurate measure for serious bodily injury (SBI) crash events. The current dashboard, which launched to the public in 2019, uses data from initial Denver Police reports that were not always verified or corrected after crash investigations were completed. This will result in a lower number of SBI events showing for the years represented on the dashboard. This more accurate count allows the Vision Zero team to focus on the appropriate events and crash typologies, and make more effective safety recommendations.
Build the pedestrian network identified in Denver Moves: Pedestrians & Trails — Key projects in 2021 are expected to include
- Filling in several sidewalk gaps around the Cory Merrill Elementary and Middle Campuses
- Peoria St from 44th Ave to 39th Ave
- Smith Rd from Quebec St to Kearney St
- Kendall Park and McWilliams Park sidewalks
Continue building the enhanced bikeway network and the amenities that support it (bicycle detection, parking), and phase implementation to ensure connectivity — DOTI will continue toward our goal of adding 125 miles of bikeways in Denver by the end of 2023. With Denver’s street paving season recently kicking off, there are several bike lanes planned for installation with paving operations in 2021.
Road Safety Audit design and installs — In 2020, DOTI completed four Road Safety Audits on Colorado Boulevard (from 26th to 35th Avenues), Sheridan Boulevard (from 285 to Alameda), Chambers Road (40th to 56th Avenues) and Hampden/Havana (from Dayton to Dartmouth Avenues). In 2021, design will begin to implement the recommendations from the audit.
Speed Limit Reduction Feasibility Study —DOTI has been examining the impact of reducing the default speed limit on unsigned local streets from 25mph to 20mph, following interest from advocacy groups and city council in amending the city code. The recommendations of the study will be available in 2021, including plans for education, encouragement, and roll out in different areas of Denver where local travel patterns may be more impacted.
Safe Routes to School Action Plan — 2021 will see the finalization of the SRTS Action Plan, creating a toolkit to benefit Denver schools, partners and city transportation planning around school buildings, multimodal facilities and community education opportunities.
Continued Collaboration — Denver will continue to convene regular meetings with safety stakeholders including: CDOT, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, RTD, DRCOG, Denver Health and our neighboring cities. Denver was invited by FHWA and the Vision Zero Network to dive deeper into important traffic safety topics and encourage substantive conversations about ways to best align state and local goals toward zero traffic deaths in Colorado. The Strategies to Coordinate Zero Deaths Efforts for State and Local Agencies report was published in 2020.