Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has selected a transportation policy veteran to lead the city’s ambitious plan to dramatically reduce traffic fatalities.
Linda Bailey will become head of the city’s inaugural Vision Zero Office in March, Bowser (D) announced Wednesday.
The new office is part of the city’s renewed commitment to Bowser’s Vision Zero program — modeled after a Swedish initiative aimed at eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries.
Bowser, who launched the program four years ago, has implemented a number of safety improvements in her quest to eliminate all traffic deaths in the city by 2024. The number of traffic fatalities has steadily increased in recent years, prompting the city to revise its strategy with a crackdown on traffic law violators and additional prevention and enforcement measures.
“Residents and visitors are moving around our city in record numbers — using new types of transportation and visiting new areas of the city. Our goal, and the goal of the Vision Zero Office, is to ensure that no matter how people are moving around D.C. or where they are going, they are able to do so safely,” Bowser said.
In her new role Bailey, who most recently served as executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials, will work within the District Department of Transportation and across city agencies “to improve the safety of Washington, D.C.’s transportation network,” Bowser said in her announcement. Bailey will lead a team of experts in engineering, policy and community outreach.
In her role at NACTO, Bailey led a team of 23 people who worked with major U.S. cities in areas such as street design and bicycle infrastructure. She led projects on bus lanes, transportation equity and autonomous vehicles; and oversaw the launch and operation of NACTO’s global designing cities initiative, setting a worldwide standard for redesigning city streets to prioritize safety, pedestrians, transit and sustainable mobility.
She has worked for NACTO since 2014. Before that, she was the federal policy adviser for the New York City Department of Transportation, where she helped develop its Vision Zero program and secured funding for various road safety initiatives.
Her familiarity with Vision Zero and her nearly two decades of work in urban transportation were among the qualities city officials extolled about her.
DDOT Director Jeff Marootian called Bailey “one of the nation’s leading experts in urban transportation” and said she will bring “her depth of knowledge from working with cities across the country to our top priority of making the District’s streets safer for all users.”
Bailey’s role will be wide-ranging, keyed to serving as the city’s expert safety adviser and charged with pushing efforts to prevent traffic fatalities. The Vision Zero office will be tasked with coordinating a citywide strategic plan to make streets safer, serving as a liaison between DDOT and other city agencies, policymakers — and community members, advocates and neighborhoods. Ultimately, it will work to bring the city closer to zero deaths.
“My fundamental job is to make it happen,” Bailey said in an interview. Her plan, she said, is to run an office that is “the energy behind pushing forward and innovating a bias toward action and safety.”
“I hope that this office is both inspiring for people to believe in the commitment and also to get behind the actions that we need to take to make it come through,” she said.
Bailey may look at New York City, the first major U.S. city to adopt Vision Zero, as a model. The city’s program has been successful by some measures. Traffic deaths have declined for five consecutive years, according to city data. And last year, the number of deaths fell to 200, down from 222 in 2017 — and the lowest level in more than a century, according to city records.
“They are making progress,” Bailey said, noting that the city has prioritized pedestrian and bike access, protecting the most vulnerable rode users — things which are priorities for the District as well.
According to preliminary data from D.C. police, 36 people were killed in traffic collisions in 2018, including 14 pedestrians and three bicyclists. That number is up from 30 in 2017 and is the highest since 2008, when 39 people were killed in traffic crashes.
Among the strategies the city is implementing this year are banning right turns on red and restricting left turns at some intersections. In addition, pedestrians will have more time to cross at many intersections and there will be new zones for delivery trucks and ride-hail drop-offs. Road users, including drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, who break traffic laws face higher penalties.
“There’s a lot already being done, but how do we continue that focus and move it forward?” Bailey said. She said she plans to study the current state of the District to understand why some things aren’t working as they should, find the roadblocks, and help create ways to resolve those issues.
She’s already found inspiration from her daily commute on bike and Metro from her home in Alexandria to downtown. She’s experienced the gaps in the city’s bike network that force riders to go from bike lanes to general travel lanes. She knows the problems residents and visitors face with sidewalk access around construction sites.
“There are parts that can be better, especially in the downtown corridor,” she said. “We will work on that.”