Cincinnati Public Schools Board Endorses 'Vision Zero' Traffic Policies

The district's endorsement of pedestrian safety efforts comes after 13 students were hit by cars last year.

click to enlarge City officials with the parents of Gabrielle Rodriguez earlier this year - Seth Weber
Seth Weber
City officials with the parents of Gabrielle Rodriguez earlier this year

Just over a year after a car struck and killed a Cincinnati Public School student while she tried to cross a street to catch her bus, the Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education yesterday voted unanimously to back a raft of policies called "Vision Zero" that seeks to end traffic fatalities and injuries entirely. 

On Sept. 10, 2018, a car struck Gabrielle Rodriguez, 15, as she was crossing Harrison Avenue toward her bus stop. She was knocked off her feet. Then another car rolled over her. She died soon after. 

It wasn't the only auto-involved pedestrian injury involving students. Thirteen were hit last year, and  one student was hit last month when a driver ran a red light. Another student and his mother were hit on their way to Rees E. Price elementary school when a driver ran a red light this morning in East Price Hill, Cincinnati Police say. The mother went to the hospital with an injury to her leg. The student was the seventh hit this year.

CPS, of course, isn't the main decider in the city's traffic policies, but it has a big voice in advocating for changes to protect the roughly 40,000 students who travel to and from school each day.

City officials, meanwhile, have already launched efforts to get Cincinnati in line with the Vision Zero policies. 

Those initiatives boil down to a few key points: new leadership, increased traffic enforcement, infrastructure improvements, a sweeping plan to change the way the city approaches traffic safety and a proposed charter amendment that would allow police to use hand-held cameras to ticket speeders.

The Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE) has already approved 65 pedestrian safety improvement projects in about half the city's neighborhoods that started this summer, from new crosswalks and pedestrian signage, sometimes with lights, to larger improvements. Some of those are around Western Hills High School, where Rodriguez attended school.

One city-wide initiative is an online, interactive map where users can both see and input data about dangerous traffic conditions and streets that aren't ideal for pedestrians. Longer-term moves included tapping DOTE veteran Mel McVay as the city's pedestrian safety manager. McVay will oversee efforts to improve the city's traffic infrastructure, data collection and the launch of Vision Zero. 

Street narrowing, 24-hour parking, more traffic safety enforcement blitzes along corridors with speeding problems, higher penalties for speeding, educational initiatives with CPS and Cincinnati Recreation Centers and more could all be part of the plan, which is being drawn up with input from multiple community engagement sessions.

At a May 21 public hearing discussing those efforts, a number of CPS students from Covedale Elementary, which has seen students injured by cars, performed a song they wrote about traffic safety called "It's Lit Not to Get Hit." That song won a national award for public service announcements. Those students reprised that performance at last night's board meeting. 

Shawna Rodriguez, Gabrielle's mother, says she hopes the vote can bring further action to help protect pedestrians. She gave an emotional speech to the school board before the vote yesterday. 

"Not one more child should be hit on their way to school," she said.

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