This U.S. city, the Massachusetts state capital, has implemented a comprehensive, multi-pronged safety plan that links the transformation of its citizens’ mobility with the total elimination of traffic-related fatalities. Pedestrians and cyclists, the most vulnerable, are at the center of the strategy.


There can be no treatment without a diagnosis. Cities around the world are immersed in complex transformation processes to deal with mobility issues. Why is this? There is no single cause, but there are several problems: traffic jams, environmental pollution, excessive reliance on private vehicles – and the social exclusion that generates – and, of course, accidents.

Last October, the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), the maximum traffic authority in the United States, published its annual report on accident figures, with data up to 2018. Most noteworthy among its statistics are those corresponding to pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists, i.e. the most vulnerable users: the number of pedestrians killed in urban centers has risen 69 percent since 2009 and currently reveals the highest fatality rates of the last three decades. This situation is particularly serious in the poorest neighborhoods, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the association of highway safety representatives from the different states, which laid the blame for this on such unacceptable reasons as deteriorated infrastructure in these areas. In addition, the NHTSA report reflects the fact that cyclist deaths have also soared in the cities, up 48 percent over the last decade.

At the end of 2015, the City of Boston – the Massachusetts capital with a population of 4.5 million (including the metropolitan area) – presented an ambitious action plan designed to reverse the accident statistics for the city’s roadways and streets, entitled Vision Zero Action Plan. Interestingly, one year earlier, in 2014, Fundación MAPFRE had presented its Goal Zero campaign. The ultimate goal of this “action plan” is now a challenge for all Bostonians: to achieve “zero fatalities” in traffic accidents by the year 2030.

Vision Zero Action Plan is working. So far, the numbers clearly endorse the initiatives being implemented: in 2015, year zero of this plan, 20 people were killed on the streets of Boston. By 2018, just three years later, the number of fatalities had been halved: 10 people, seven of them pedestrians and no cyclists. With 2019 coming to a close, the data are similar to those for 2018 in terms of fatalities, albeit with a considerable reduction in the number of crashes, confirming the downward trend. The key to this success is made clear by the words of the city’s mayor, Marty Walsh: “Ensuring the streets of Boston are safe for all is the number one priority of our Transportation Department.”

What is Boston’s plan for putting an end to crash victims? Inspired by the Vision Zero concept created in Sweden in the late 1990s and adopted by many other cities around the world, the idea starts from the premise that even one human life is an unacceptable cost for any urban mobility system. Moreover, while human error is unpredictable, it is felt that fatal accidents are preventable.

Boston apuesta por el «Zero»

As stated by the city’s mayor, it is a matter of prioritizing. And, in Boston, they have no doubt that there is no better mobility than that which causes no victims. On this basis, the major lines of action adopted by Boston’s Transportation Department are related to speed reduction measures, the design of safer streets, special protection of the most vulnerable road users, the application of the latest technologies to road signs and data collection, and engaging the city’s citizens to meet this challenge of achieving “zero victims”. Without forgetting the basic underlying question, namely the equitable application of all the actions to prevent the existence of “marginalized street” zones.

Of all the lines of action mentioned, reducing speed limits is the most important. A report from the International Transport Forum estimates that a speed reduction of just five kilometers an hour reduces the risk of fatal accidents by 28 percent. The mayor of Boston and the Massachusetts governor have been working on this matter. Thus, since 2016, there exists a law permitting all cities in this state to reduce the maximum speed limit to 25 miles per hour (mph) in the most densely populated areas. That legal framework allowed Marty Walsh to apply the 25 mph (40 km/h) limit to the entire city of Boston in January 2017. The results were not long in coming: a study presented in 2018 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) concluded that, following the introduction of the speed reduction, the chances of a vehicle reaching 35 mph (56 km/h) had fallen by 29 percent.

In addition, appealing to community engagement, the City of Boston has created the Neighborhood Slow Streets, urban areas where the speed limit is just 20 mph (32 km/h). The difference is that, in this case, it is the communities themselves which request the speed reduction on their streets. Each year, out of all the applicants, the Transportation Department selects new neighborhoods to be integrated into this initiative, according to the needs of the inhabitants and traders in that district. There are currently 12 “slow” or “calmed traffic” zones in Boston, although the city government plans to create 15 new slow areas over the next four years.

In Boston, they have no doubt that there is no better mobility than that which causes no victims

Since the action plan to prevent traffic-related fatalities was designed, those responsible for implementing it have clearly focused on aspects such as compiling traffic data and sharing it with the population in real time, the need for residents to participate in a simple, instantaneous manner, and continuous analysis of those statistics. Bostonians are therefore able to consult – and download – data on the Vision Zero website of all the traffic accidents that have taken place in the city – involving the intervention of the emergency services – in recent years by user type (pedestrian, cyclist, motorist, etc.), with the precise location, date and time of the crash. Moreover, they can access an online interactive street map where they can report dangerous situations or suggest concrete improvements. They can even compete with other city residents to see who is the safest driver thanks to an app (Boston’s Safest Driver) that uses gamification to fulfill a twofold objective: collect data on driving habits and engage the citizens.

The detailed analysis of all the crashes and the enormous success in terms of participation have turned Boston’s “Vision Zero” plan into a “living” project which takes into consideration hundreds of parameters before any action is taken, whether this be: creating pedestrian safety areas at the most dangerous intersections or priority corridors for pedestrians, cyclists or motorcyclists; designing protected, two-way bike lanes in areas with the highest accident rate; installing more visible pavement markings; establishing protective areas for school-age children or the elderly, etc. A comprehensive plan which, since April 2018, has received renewed public investment to the tune of five million dollars and dreams of a user-friendly city for everyone, including the vulnerable or the more deprived. A city with zero crash victims.

“Look Both Ways”, Fundación MAPFRE signs up to the Boston challenge

Fundación MAPFRE and the city of Boston maintain a fruitful relationship, with ongoing projects such as the collaboration with the Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH) for the prevention of accidents involving minors and their consequences. That relationship went one step further last September with “Look Both Ways”, an initiative created by Fundación MAPFRE, the City of Boston and the Transportation Department, whose objective is to promote empathy among those sharing the city’s streets.

The main event of this campaign took place on September 19-20 at the City Hall Plaza, right in the center of the city, and gave all those who came along the opportunity to enjoy an interactive experience that was both fun and educational. Using virtual reality systems to offer a series of experiences, the citizens of Boston were able to put themselves in the shoes of other road users (pedestrians, cyclists, motorists, people with disabilities…), the idea being for them to learn how to interpret traffic hazards from a different perspective than their usual viewpoint.

«Look both ways», Fundación MAPFRE se suma al reto de Boston

Chris Osgood, Boston’s Chief of Streets, supported the event with his presence and stated that “this campaign will help us advance toward the Go Boston 2030 goals of ensuring safe, equitable access to our streets for all users.” For his part, Alfredo Castelo, chief representative of Fundación MAPFRE in the United States, stressed that “road safety is one of the most critical issues we face today as a society” and expressed how “proud” our Foundation is to be able to collaborate actively with the City of Boston on a project that shares the Vision Zero goal.