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.
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.
“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.