Research Papers

#VisionZero in Canada: What can we learn from Twitter when it comes to road safety initiatives?

Version 1
Date added June 18, 2019
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Category 2019 CARSP XXIX Calgary
Tags Research and Evaluation, Session 7A
Author/Auteur Cloutier, Thigpen, Fersten
Stream/Volet Research and Evaluation
Slidedeck Presentation Only:



Background/Context: Canada's Road Safety Strategy 2025, launched by The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators at the end of 2015 and entitled "Towards Zero: the Safest Roads in the World", is intended to guide road safety stakeholders from all levels of government, private industry, and non-governmental agencies. This strategy is in line with provincial and territorial traffic safety plans directly related to Vision Zero or Safer System approaches. Accordingly, cities are using various means to reach out their population and win public approval, including social media. An example of such media is Twitter, a microblogging platform for sharing short text-based messages called "tweets", which can also include hyperlinks, images, and videos ( Twitter is increasingly used in transportation research. As a research team focusing on built environment and transportation, we observed that Twitter is regularly used to discuss Vision Zero. However, partly because it is a new field of research, little is known on how cities and organizations engage with the public regarding Vision Zero on social media platforms such as Twitter.

Aims/Objectives: This paper aims to explore the use of the hashtag #VisionZero on Twitter to understand: 1) whose voices are represented on social media, and in what context (i.e. who is influential?); 2) what are the main themes represented in the conversation and are they related to Vision Zero principles? Methods/Targets: We collected tweets between 4 June 2018 and 4 July 2018 using the standard Twitter Search API using TAGS version 6.1 (Twitter Archiving Google Sheet From these, We identified a subset of Canadian tweets based on 1) user location in Canada, or 2) mention of a Canadian place name in the tweet. We used Gephi 0.9.2 to create a network visualization using the ForceAtlas2 algorithm, node size proportional to in-group (i.e. larger nodes and labels represented accounts that were more frequently retweeted, replied to, or mentioned), colour by modularity class (accounts that frequently interact are given the same colour and are close together), and we hid nodes that had fewer than seven connections (to highlight the main underlying social structure). For the Canadian tweets, we calculated word-combination frequency (n=3, i.e. trigrams) using the R package TidyText v.0.1.9. We then counted tweets associated with Vision Zero core principles for tweets containing keywords (or synonyms) related to each principle.

Results/Activities: We collected 30,145 tweets during our study period. Of these tweets, 29% were original messages, and 71% were retweets. We identified 14,306 tweets from Canada (47% of the total) consisting of 25% original tweets and 75% retweets. Most of the discussion was related to Vision Zero in Toronto and New York City. Within Canada, Toronto politicians, planners, and advocacy groups were the most influential. Two other actor groups are present in this network: the Toronto Police (mainly via their Operations Center account) and the media (the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star accounts). The most commonly mentioned phrases in Canadian tweets were"road safety plan" (#1), followed further down the list by "road safety program" (#9).

Discussion/Deliverables: While most of the tweets were supportive of Vision Zero principles, the effectiveness of Vision Zero plans enacted by currently elected officials was questioned, and a few tweets were widely shared that did not relate to Vision Zero principles.

Conclusions: Vision Zero is a promising intersectoral approach for population health improvement given the high cost of road injuries to society. Our results are likely to be of interest to those working in road safety and other related areas such as public health, active travel, and urban planning. However, the challenge for any of those organizations is to rectify the absence of Vision Zero principles by becoming more involved in Twitter conversations and focusing these conversations on the core principles.