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Ellen Zavisca of Knoxville-Knox County Planning



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Ellen Zavisca’s almost two-decade profession as a transportation planner is outlined by her dedication to centering the expertise of pedestrians and cyclists. As a planner for Knoxville-Knox County Planning and the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Group, Zavisca has pioneered Protected Routes to College, fortified techniques for gathering and analyzing crash information, and rejuvenated the Nice Smoky Mountains Regional Greenway Council.

A self-professed information nerd, Zavisca has spent the final decade compiling and sustaining a database of crashes to raised serve Knoxville’s mission to cut back site visitors fatalities and accidents. In doing so, nevertheless, she requested herself, “We’ve received the information. Now what?”

Realizing numbers are just one piece of the puzzle, she has made it a routine in her work to humanize information and to inform tales. With this background in thoughts, Sturdy Cities invited Zavisca to function a panelist within the newest Crash Evaluation Studio, which examined a deadly crash in Bradenton, Florida.  

Sturdy Cities was capable of meet up with Zavisca and ask her what stood out within the crash she analyzed, what challenges exist in ameliorating our constructed atmosphere right now, and what excites her about her work. (The next dialog was edited for readability.)

As an professional in planning and multi-modal road design, you had been invited to supply your insights at our newest Crash Evaluation Studio which centered on a deadly crash in Florida. Did something stand out to you in that crash?

After I learn by means of the crash report and examined the situation, what was putting about it was its very ordinariness. You’ve received this four-to-five lane arterial going by means of a neighborhood and it’s a sort of roadway that’s in all probability in each single neighborhood. Right here was an individual making an attempt to get from level A to level B, who has possible performed it 100 occasions, however this time they didn’t make it.

When we now have these unsafe intersections, usually our answer is to discourage individuals from crossing it, which is, in itself, ridiculous. Not solely is it unlikely somebody will go two or three blocks out of their solution to entry a protected crossing, however we shouldn’t design for that. 

We’ve had quite a lot of conversations, particularly orbiting Protected Routes to College, the place individuals say, “nicely, sure in fact it is best to stroll to the ‘safer’ signalized intersection.” Think about, nevertheless, it’s raining and also you simply wish to go residence. You’re presently at an current intersection however it’s not the “protected” one. You’re possible not going to stroll 10 or extra minutes out of your means simply to cross the road. We don’t count on drivers to routinely go 10 or quarter-hour out of their means, but we count on this from pedestrians, who’re additionally extra weak on our streets, as it’s.

A part of this work is accepting human nature and what persons are prone to do and sure to not do. 

How does your work relate to the Crash Evaluation Studio?

I began my profession in conventional multi-modal—that means bike and pedestrian—planning however someplace within the final decade or so, I started wanting into crash information extra critically. I began with analyzing and mapping pedestrian crashes and, extra not too long ago, analyzing all kinds of roadway crashes.

Placing collectively the information was fascinating however once I would current it, in return I received a collective shrug. That’s once I realized that not everyone responds to information. It’s a must to inform tales, form it into methods which might be partaking to individuals. Having it and placing it to make use of are two completely various things.

To offer an instance of the place story-telling has grow to be a central a part of my work: we now have a bunch that comes collectively each six months to evaluation roadway fatalities. We convey collectively regulation enforcement and other people from each career and nook with a purpose to have a dialogue.

After I put together for that, I search for information articles, obituaries, pictures of everybody we misplaced to site visitors violence within the final six months. We find yourself beginning each assembly with these slides with a purpose to underscore that these aren’t simply numbers however these are mother and father, youngsters, grandparents, and neighborhood members that we misplaced on our streets. 

A part of why I did it is because it’s too straightforward to speak about particular person crashes and focus the dialog on particular person habits: “Oh, they need to’ve performed this or crossed there.” It’s not that these issues aren’t considerably true, too, however we have to step again and see this as a flawed transportation system that we’ve all contributed to. 

It’s a system that enables for human flaws, errors, and distractions to result in horrific harm and loss of life. And it doesn’t should.

Usually, what would you say are a number of the largest challenges in our constructed atmosphere right now?

Coping with the trade-offs. As town of Knoxville has been doing its outreach, we’ve discovered that persons are typically enthusiastic about pedestrian and biking infrastructure, however the minute they understand that it might decelerate their trip by 30 seconds, hesitation creeps in. There’s a change in mindset that we nonetheless have to undertake. Folks particularly worry shedding issues greater than they embrace gaining issues. 

To the extent that we will get individuals out of their vehicles and expertise these locations, they’ll see the world otherwise. You see a hall so otherwise if you’re strolling alongside it or making an attempt to cross it versus cruising down that very same strip in your air-conditioned, climate-controlled private automobile.

I believe placing individuals within the bodily house by providing, “let’s take a stroll there,” or, “let’s attempt to cross there,” is a lot extra informative. It entails some extra coordination than hopping on a Zoom name, however having that dialog within the bodily house is absolutely essential to understanding what we’re working with and what individuals have been coping with.

Usually, you’ll hear individuals say, “nicely, no one walks there,” or, “no one rides their bike there,” however the actuality is that they do. You don’t see it till you search for it after which it may well’t be unseen.

There’s additionally information that factors to it. We all know persons are strolling alongside these corridors as a result of we all know the place individuals catch the bus, we all know which bus routes get used and the place individuals get on and off. We all know individuals stroll there, cross the road there, and so forth.

Is there a mission you’ve labored on not too long ago that gave you hope for the way forward for our cities?

There are the bigger multi-modal initiatives pursued by Knoxville that are making a optimistic distinction, lowering shut calls, crashes, and total making a safer atmosphere for pedestrians. It’s undoubtedly nice to see, particularly since these modifications have been underway for a very long time and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of {dollars} have been spent on these initiatives. 

But, the issues I get enthusiastic about essentially the most are the smaller interventions—like a pedestrian refuge or a curb extension with flex posts—applied as a part of the Protected Routes to Colleges initiative.

It’s these little modifications that you just not often have a ribbon-cutting for, a ceremony for, or a federal grant to fund, however it’s these little modifications that make the distinction if you’re fascinated about crossing the road safely. We ought to be doing much more of that. 

These investments value a little bit of effort, some conversations, and a few upkeep, however they are often performed tomorrow. We tend to look towards the larger tasks and the federal {dollars}, and typically these are obligatory, however we should always concurrently make smaller strikes whereas we anticipate these larger alternatives.

It’s so irritating when a mother or father asks, “why can’t my child cross the road safely?” and all you possibly can inform them is that in a few years they are going to. In a few years that child received’t be at that faculty anymore, anyway!

  • Entry the supplies and recording from the Bradenton, Florida, Crash Evaluation Studio right here.

  • Entry Ellen Zavisca’s presentation, “You’ve received information. Now what?” right here.

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