Last month, the Minneapolis Vision Zero initiative released its annual report, which gives an update of the Vision Zero Action Plan, and the news surrounding the work was not great. In 2021, 23 people in Minneapolis died in crashes. Eleven of them were pedestrians.  Six were teenagers.

"This is unacceptable," said Ethan Fawley, program director of the Minneapolis Vision Zero program during a presentation of the report with the Minneapolis Public Works Committee on March 17. The city hasn’t seen this many fatal traffic-related deaths since 2007. This increase in deaths come on top of another spike in 2020, when 15 people died in crashes, the largest total  since 2013.

Vision Zero is a nationally-recognized initiative that seeks to eliminate all traffic-related deaths and serious injuries.

A chart in the 2022 Minneapolis Vision Zero annual report that breaks down the number of traffic-related fatalities by mode of mobility.

During his presentation at the Public Works meeting, Fawley noted that a disproportionate percentage of the fatal crashes in 2021 were in North Minneapolis. Statistically,  higher poverty areas have a disproportionate amount of fatal crashes compared to wealthier areas in the city.

Why is that? There are numerous variables, one being what streets are most likely to have a high rate of crashes and injuries. In the southwest corner of Minneapolis, there are almost no high-injury streets. It is a much different picture in the Central corridor and North Minneapolis.

Highlighted streets are the high injury streets in the city, while the purple streets are ones that have had no recent safety improvements.

A street chosen for updating can see significant safety improvements. For example, the city recently added protected bike lanes on Blaisdell and 1st Avenues South, two high-injury streets.

Some of the most dangerous streets in the city are four-lane, undivided streets, such as Lyndale and Hennepin Avenues South. Lyndale Avenue South is undergoing a pilot three-lane conversion in June and Hennepin Avenue South will soon see a major reconstruction.

What makes the 2022 report even more sobering is how people died.

“In 2021, about 80% of fatal crashes included very reckless driving--a huge increase from 2019 when about 30% of fatal crashes included very reckless driving," the report reads. There were also 151 severe-injury crashes in 2021.

According to the Minnesota statute on reckless and careless driving, a person engaging in reckless driving is “aware of and consciously disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the driving may result in harm to another or another's property.” Reckless driving can include driving at high speeds, driving distracted, and/or driving while intoxicated.

What the data don’t show is the societal undercurrents that inform this sharp uptick in reckless driving.

I talked with Fawley about why people are driving in more reckless ways. Just like other breaks in society, such as a sharp increase in vehicle-related crimes and behavioral issues at schools, the reasons are connected to what is happening outside of these dangerous moments.

Holistically, it may help to visualize yourself in the driver’s seat of a car when you are stressed out, hungry, sick, angry, or sad. How do you drive? Why do you drive calmly some days and other days any slow-moving vehicle makes you upset? Typically, something else is going on in your life.

“We have to recognize the lived experiences” of the people engaging in reckless driving, Fawley said.

Much more work around creatively engaging people is needed to understand what is behind the uptick in reckless driving. Some questions Fawley is already considering are based on the disparities we see across the city. Who is dealing with the financial stress? Who can and cannot leave their neighborhoods? How has the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd impacted people in the city differently?

Reckless driving “layers onto the stress and trauma” that many people in our city experience, Fawley explained. A loss of a loved one from a traffic death compounds onto the existing trauma in communities.

Even though the report suggests a normalization of reckless driving in our city, Fawley isn’t quick to rattle off solutions. Rather, he wants to find out how best to create meaningful actions that will make a difference. “The solutions are really complex and challenging,” Fawley said.

Vision Zero continues to help implement traffic calming measures which includes high-visibility crosswalks, pedestrian crossing lights, and creating bump outs to encourage slower right-hand turns. The city has recently put in $500,000 worth of traffic calming measures in high-poverty areas.

The current Vision Zero plan for Minneapolis ends in 2022. An updated plan for 2023 is being put together and will be presented through local government channels this summer.