TA: Quicker Action on Vision Zero Can Save Thousands of Lives

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At the current rate of improvement, the de Blasio administration is 31 years behind schedule on Vision Zero. Image: Transportation Alternatives

The de Blasio administration is making progress on street safety, but not fast enough to achieve the mayor’s Vision Zero target of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024, Transportation Alternatives says in a new report. At the current rate of improvement, it will take nearly 40 years to reach that goal.

Advocates from TA, Families for Safe Streets, and other groups took to the steps of City Hall this morning to call for swifter, more aggressive action from city and state officials.

TA Executive Director Paul Steely White said the city needs to cut traffic fatalities by 40 percent per year — as opposed to the present rate of 10 percent.

“We’re here to say that Vision Zero is working, but Vision Zero isn’t working fast enough,” White said, adding that there are “scores of ways the mayor, his agencies, and other key players can do a better job implementing Vision Zero and deliver Vision Zero on time so we can save lines.” Among those recommendations — budgeting more resources for DOT to implement street redesigns.

Released this morning, TA’s 2015 Vision Zero Report Card grades elected officials and public agencies on their street safety performance.

TA’s Paul White (center) with City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez and Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer at City Hall this morning. Photo: David Meyer

According to the report, only 22 percent of the city’s 154 priority corridors have received safety improvements — and only three of those corridors were redesigned along their entire length. Given those numbers, White said the city needs to start setting annual Vision Zero benchmarks to assess its street safety policies and practices.

While commending de Blasio for making progress, White called out the administration for shortchanging street redesigns. “At the current rate, the DOT only has funding to fix a fraction of those dangerous streets during the year,” he said.

When DOT does have the resources to redesign a street, the agency needs to be bolder, the report says:

The agency’s approach in 2015 was more reactive than proactive. With a pattern of implementing piecemeal improvements where wholesale redesigns are needed, and a willingness to let their safety expertise be overridden by local community boards.

The report argues that de Blasio “brought less fervor to Vision Zero initiatives than in 2014.” At the press conference, White called on the mayor to increase funding for DOT’s “operational” budget, which would allow the department to more rapidly make inexpensive but effective changes to the city’s most dangerous streets and intersections.

TA’s Vision Zero Investment Report, released last year, called for a $50 million annual investment in DOT operational projects and an additional $2.4 billion in capital funding over the next ten years. The mayor will release his preliminary FY16 budget tomorrow.

Advocates say DOT needs more funding to address safety concerns on the city's most dangerous corridors. Image: Transportation Alternatives
TA says DOT needs more funding to address dangerous conditions on the city’s most dangerous streets.

The report also criticizes NYPD and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton for not doing enough to enforce traffic laws. Bratton was conspicuously absent from the mayor’s press conference yesterday, which TA says reflects his disinterest in safer streets. “There are 4,000 hit-and-run incidents every year that result in injury, and only a fraction of those — fewer than 100 — are even prosecuted or charged,” White said this morning. “Because there’s no evidence. Because cops are not investigating those crashes.”

Also speaking today were members of Families for Safe Streets, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool, and seven members of the City Council.

Among them was Council Member Helen Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, where the Community Board 7 transportation committee recently deadlocked over a complete street redesign of Amsterdam Avenue.

“I was appalled at that decision,” Rosenthal said. “It’s absolutely not acceptable for community boards, who as Paul described are ill-educated about what is needed to make a safe street, to be the only arbiter of having that safe street go through. While I understand that DOT likes to work with the community to install safe streets, the community board, we all have to remember, is advisory only.”

  • Pretty gutsy of Brewer to show up to a safe streets event considering she’s directly responsible for the mess that is CB7.

    Meanwhile, a proactive Vision Zero initiative is not what we have a city, and there’s a limit to the reduction in the number of deaths without a holistic approach, including street design, police enforcement, automated enforcement and congestion pricing. 0 will remain elusive.

  • Joe R.

    Zero deaths is a totally unobtainable goal unless we radically reduce motor traffic volumes, or just grade separate all motor traffic from other modes. The only way we could conceivable approach or reach zero without doing these things would be if self-driving vehicles constituted 100% of all vehicles on the streets. Yes, we can probably reduce the carnage by half eventually, perhaps even 2/3rds, but zero is just not possible so long as we operate heavy machinery controlled by fallible humans in close proximity to unprotected people.

    I do however think we can approach zero pedestrian deaths on sidewalks with a plan to install bollards citiwide, starting with the streets having the highest number of injuries.

  • reasonableexplanation

    You know, I’ve been thinking about the bollard idea since you last mentioned it… I think a modified scheme may work:

    -Bollards on busy streets with wide sidewalks where parking is not allowed part of the time (e.g. 6th/7th ave, midtown, etc).
    -Status quo on narrow side streets or where cars are parked most of the time (most residential streets). Parked cars accomplish the role that bollards would without taking up precious sidewalk space.

    -Intersections/crosswalks/curb cuts would have to stay unprotected for accessibility reasons.

  • Joe R.

    On side streets you could put the bollards in the parking lane if you really wanted them there. That would simultaneously reduce the parking supply. This would have obvious benefits in terms of reducing motor vehicle traffic. That said, I agree we’ll get the most bang for the buck putting the bollards on busy streets without 24/7 parking first.

    Yes, you have to leave enough space in between bollards on curb cuts so large shopping carts or carriages can go up or down. In some cases you might also want to allow smaller vehicles like mini snow plows on sidewalks.

  • An end to wide parking lanes would help. Incrementalism and Vision Zero don’t work. All streets should be complete streets.

    The paradigm on community involvement also needs to switch. DOT should only have to go to community boards if, for some reason, they can’t provide protection for all users.

  • Komanoff

    As a certified data geek, I tip my hat to T.A. for the graph showing that the difference between the actual fatality reduction rate and the rate needed to reach zero fatalities in nine years equates to 1,800 deaths. (I’ve quickly checked the math and it’s solid.) Well played!

  • Josh NYC

    Vision Zero is a failure!

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