Jeramey Jannene

Mayor’s Office Adds ‘Vision Zero’ Czar

Newly-created position will coordinate citywide effort to eliminate traffic deaths.

By - Nov 8th, 2022 12:54 pm
Members of the Milwaukee Fire Department respond to a multi-vehicle crash on N. Sherman Blvd. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Members of the Milwaukee Fire Department respond to a multi-vehicle crash on N. Sherman Blvd. File photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson is poised to gain a new ally in his quest to tackle reckless driving.

The 2023 city budget adds a transportation planner position to the mayor’s office staff. The individual would be in charge of coordinating the city’s multi-departmental “Vision Zero” effort, a strategy to eliminate traffic deaths. Milwaukee formally adopted the policy in June, joining an international movement that started in Sweden in the 1990s.

Alderman Michael Murphy, at the request of the Department of Public Works (DPW) and Johnson’s chief of staff, successfully introduced a budget amendment to relocate the new position to the mayor’s office from DPW.

“Vision Zero is not just a DPW initiative. It’s a citywide push forward,” said Public Works Commissioner Jerrel Kruschke on Oct. 27 when the Finance & Personnel Committee reviewed the amendment. Krusche and Murphy said placing the individual in a highly-visible office would elevate the importance of the effort, and help compel other departments to act.

“To make other departments do certain things is difficult, so having it in the administration is helpful,” said the commissioner.

Murphy said it was important the position is directly in the mayor’s office, not in DPW or the Department of Administration. “It has a much different weight and carries the mayor’s imprint on what the public policy will be,” he told his colleagues.

To date, Kate Riordan, a planner on DPW’s multimodal unit, has served in a part-time role in Johnson’s office managing the policy’s implementation. “We have been working on a borrowed-time basis,” said Johnson’s chief of staff Jim Bohl. According to Kruschke, going forward Riordan is expected to serve as the DPW liaison on the effort.

Riordan presented the policy to the council in June. “Vision Zero recognizes that people will make mistakes, but those mistakes should not cost lives,” she said. The policy is designed to make streets safer for all users, including drivers and pedestrians, by reducing the number and severity of crashes. It also pushes to call any incident a crash, not an accident. “This is very important to remember. Calling it an accident implies that there was nothing that could be done to prevent it.”

According to Wisconsin Department of Transportation statistics, 87 people were killed in traffic fatalities in Milwaukee County in 2021, 101 in 2020 and 74 in 2019. Eighty-six fatalities have been reported in 2022.

Johnson called for the Vision Zero policy on Dec. 21 when he released his STAND (street design, traffic enforcement, accountability, and neighborhood engagement while demanding progress) plan. “We will establish a 10-year goal for eliminating traffic fatalities on our roadways,” said Johnson at the time.

The mayor is now tasking his cabinet members to come up with three strategies to reduce reckless driving and for defensive driving courses for city employees who drive regularly.

The new position is to be paid $53,957 in 2023, which Bohl and others said might not be enough to recruit the level of candidate desired. Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic suggested delaying the start date to effectively increase the pay for the first year. According to city budget staff, the mayor’s office currently includes 14 full-time equivalent positions, including two interns.

Ald. Scott Spiker joined Murphy as a co-sponsor on the amendment. It was unanimously adopted by the full council on Nov. 4.

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