Mike Bloomberg’s NYPD Traffic Enforcement Blind Spot

It’s not for nothing that Michael Bloomberg is known as a champion of traffic safety. He has given millions to reduce global road deaths, and the life-saving innovations that have become the hallmark of his DOT are setting the pace for cities across the U.S.

Making streets safe from reckless drivers is not a priority for Ray Kelly's NYPD, and Mayor Bloomberg is just fine with that. Photo: Brad Aaron

This makes the mayor’s refusal to acknowledge NYPD’s traffic enforcement shortcomings especially perplexing. More than that, Bloomberg has on multiple occasions downplayed the role NYPD must play to keep city streets safe from reckless drivers, most recently in the Daily News.

Here’s the quote from a Monday story about the death of 6-year-old Amar Diarrossouba:

“We deploy our police officers when they’re not doing other things,” he said. “We have signs. We try to educate our kids.”

“Parents also have a responsibility to talk to their kids and explain to them that they have to look before they cross and not go out without supervision,” the mayor added.

The mayor was not speaking off the cuff. On his radio show in January, Bloomberg said: “[W]e don’t enforce the automobile traffic laws or the pedestrian laws as well as we should. The police have a lot of things to do. They focus on the most serious things and when have time, do these others.”

At a street safety event two years ago, attended by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Bloomberg told Streetsblog that NYPD lacks the resources to enforce city speed limits. He has also chastised a reporter for questioning NYPD’s commitment to investigating traffic crashes.

Bloomberg knows that speeding kills, of course. International efforts to increase speed enforcement, funded in part by Bloomberg Philanthropies, are touted on his web site. At the 2010 event, the mayor called speeding “the biggest killer on our roads.”

A 2009 Transportation Alternatives study found that 39 percent of city motorists clocked with radar guns and speed cameras were speeding, heedless of school zones and other areas with heavy pedestrian traffic. TA also found that a motorist could speed every day in NYC and get ticketed only once every 35 years, and that police and enforcement cameras combined catch only one out of every 438 red light runners.

Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly draw a lot of attention to gun violence. But while traffic crashes now rival guns as a mortal threat in NYC, dangerous drivers are clearly not an NYPD priority. Rather than bring the department in line with his street safety agenda, for whatever reason, Mayor Bloomberg is its chief apologist.

  • Eric McClure

    Attention Mike Bloomberg: see next Streetsblog article NYPD: 1,297 Pedestrians and Cyclists Injured, 20 Killed in Traffic in January. Your support for the DOT’s work is admirable. Your refusal to push the NYPD on enforcement and crash investigation is most decidedly not.

  • Joe R.

    The elephant in the room here isn’t so much the lack of enforcement but the ridiculous volumes of motor traffic. Studies have shown time and again as space grows scarcer, people do ever more anti-social, selfish things to hold on to what little space they have. It’s long past time to ban personal cars in the borough of Manhattan and the denser parts of the outer boroughs. It’s also long past time to eliminate curb side parking citiwide to discourage car ownership/use. Bring traffic volumes down to what they were pre-WWII to restore some sanity to the streets. There isn’t enough space to safely move the volume of motor vehicles we’re trying to move, regardless of levels of enforcement.

  • The narrator

    I am Jack’s abject disappointment.

  • Anonymous

    “The police have a lot of things to do.”

    Right. For many weeks now NYPD has been cracking down on on drivers making illegal right run in the morning from 3rd Ave into 36th street. At any given time there are 2-5 police cars and over a dozen of police officers. Most are just chatting and idling about. Sure, turning on that intersection adds traffic to the tunnel exit but it is not unsafe in any way. (BTW, a cop car often blocks the turn into 2nd Ave because there is a deli there that’s popular among cops and makes it hard for all the express busses to turn). All this while drivers are speeding down 3rd ave and blowing red lights. At the time I pass by that area (I take the QM24 bus) I count up to 5 or more vehicles blowing that red light every time it changes and far less making the turn. NYPD has their priorities wrong.

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