Vision Zero in the United States Versus Sweden: Infrastructure Improvement for Cycling Safety

Key takeaway:

  • As more Vision Zero policies are getting adopted in the United States, infrastructure design should remain central to increase safety in cycling, but it must be supplemented with other initiatives to promote a safe cycling culture.


  • Vision Zero policies implemented in US cities often combine infrastructure projects with law enforcement, education, and cycling encouragement initiatives. This is partially due to the relatively high costs of infrastructure improvements and the fact that enforcement, education, and encouragement can also improve cycling safety.
  • In order for US Vision Zero plans to succeed, there must be a long-term vision for minimizing injury and death rates combined with interim targets for qualified improvement along the way.
  • Research shows that cycling on roads with cycling infrastructure can reduce injury rates; however, it can increase danger for cyclists at intersections. Cycling on streets without cycling infrastructure can sometimes reduce the chance of injury at intersections; however, on-street collisions are more fatal because most cycling fatalities occur at non-intersections and speed is the main contributor to cyclist deaths. This implies that:
    • The context (i.e., existing street design, speed limits, etc.) in which infrastructure is built is important.
    • Cycling infrastructure is necessary to address cycling fatalities, especially separated cycling infrastructure on high-speed roads.
    • 20mph speed restrictions in areas where vulnerable cyclists are integrated with general traffic flow could help reduce cycling injuries and fatalities.
    • Despite the mixed evidence, cycling infrastructure is necessary to increase safety. It creates an environment where more people perceive cycling to be safer/normal and more drivers are aware of/more positive towards cyclists.
    • Cycling infrastructure is especially important in the US where men dominate cycling culture and rates of cycling are low among youth, the elderly, and women. More cycling infrastructure can make cycling more inclusive.
    • Three key recommendations to improve cycling infrastructure in the US are:
  1. Implement 20 miles per hour speed restrictions, especially when cyclists have to ride alongside vehicular traffic: The chance of cyclist fatality doubles at vehicle speeds of 30 miles per hour, increases by a factor of 11 at 40 miles per hour, and increases to a factor of 16 at 50 miles per hour.
  2. Improve intersections (via better engineering) to decrease the chance of serious injury and severity of potential collisions.
  3. Separate traffic flow on high-speed roads to protect cyclists from road traffic dangers.
  • Further research is needed to determine the most effective non-infrastructure improvements, but they will likely include cycling encouragement schemes, promoting a road safety culture, and dis-incentivizing automobile use.



  • There is no one-size-fits-all approach to cycling infrastructure. Cycling infrastructure must be designed with the local context in mind.
  • Cycling infrastructure is important but not sufficient. Education and encouragement to normalize cycling are important as well.
  • There needs to be a holistic approach to cycling infrastructure that considers the entirety of cycling journeys. This means creating a network of safe streets and safe routes that join up together, not just isolated streets or stretches.



  • The authors examined existing Vision Zero and cycling-related literature to highlight the central components of the Swedish policy with the goal of providing evidence-based recommendations for successful implementation of similar policies in the US.


Cushing, M.; Hooshmand, J.; Pomares, B.; Hotz, G. (2016). Vision Zero in the United States Versus Sweden: Infrastructure Improvement for Cycling Safety. American Journal of Public Health, 106.


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