De Blasio Talks Vision Zero on WNYC

WNYC’s Brian Lehrer started off his Friday “Ask the Mayor” segment with Bill de Blasio by taking questions about Vision Zero. No earthshaking news came up, but it’s always interesting to hear how the mayor conveys messages about street safety and urban mobility to the public.

Mayor Bill de Blasio
Mayor Bill de Blasio

The first call came from a woman upset over the city’s focus on motor vehicle enforcement. “All of the penalties and all of the enforcement come down on drivers,” she told de Blasio. “With the city, it seems like they’re afraid of upsetting the bikers lobby or pedestrians.”

De Blasio, who earlier in the segment had called enforcement an “education” tool to shape driver behavior, did not mince words. He said that the city would enforce cycling laws, but that pedestrians and cyclists aren’t the source of the problem

The greatest degree of danger comes from motor vehicles. That’s 100 percent clear. That’s historically where the vast majority of death and injuries come from — is someone using their motor vehicle in an inappropriate fashion. We don’t give a speeding ticket when someone speeds. We don’t give a failure to yield ticket when someone yields. Let’s be blunt: If people are breaking the law and putting others in danger, I’m not going to back down on that. We’re going to go, in fact, do more enforcement of that.

A bicyclist who endangers others, of course we’re going to enforce. The amount of damage they can do is not the same as what a car can do or a truck can do, but of course we’re going to enforce that.

Another caller said she had been hit by a driver and asked how the city is making pedestrian crossings safer. De Blasio pointed to Queens Boulevard as an example of how his administration is redesigning dangerous streets. “Changing the design of intersections, changing the sequencing of the lights, giving more time for pedestrians to cross before any traffic is allowed — these are the things we’re increasingly implementing,” he said.

Lehrer also asked whether the city is considering implementing more “Barnes Dance” signals, which give pedestrians an exclusive phase in all directions, with no. De Blasio pivoted to emphasize the relation between safe streets and helping people get around without a car. “We have to keep things moving — that’s true, except when we come to the conclusion that, practically speaking, we can achieve greater safety without paralyzing the place,” he said. “I want to remind you, I’ve said this before, what we have to do more and more of in our society is get out of our cars.”

De Blasio then talked up city-funded initiatives of varying merit — ferry service, the BQX Streetcar, and Citi Bike — before concluding: “The goal should be to get out of your car whenever possible — [to] not use your car, choose another options. That’s something we have to keep pushing no matter what else we do.”

  • kevd

    “The goal should be to get out of your car whenever possible” Unless, of course you’re the Mayor and you rsimply have to go to a gym 10 miles from your residence….

  • BBnet3000

    I don’t care how often people get out of their cars so long as I can walk, ride and occasionally drive without being endangered or harassed.

    I really hate messaging that makes it sound like we are trying to control people’s daily habits and I suspect it’s fueling NIMBY resentment.

  • com63

    I know. Really bad messaging. He should really emphasize that the majority of New Yorkers are pedestrians first and that all of these things are trying to protect them from real dangers. Even people who drive most places in the city are often pedestrians too.

  • com63

    BdB should do a citibike to 86th street express to City Hall commute. If he had real interest in Vision Zero, he would do this.

  • BBnet3000

    That’s another thing that gets me about VZ messaging though: the idea that it’s a pedestrian safety program only. Lots of people are injured and killed in automobiles in NYC too. Anyone using any form of transportation stands to be safer from street redesigns. In fact, the largest decline in injuries on many redesigned corridors has been among auto occupants.

    If Bill wants to change people’s personal habits he needs to get tougher on the bad habit of drinking and driving. The Swedes have reduced this really significantly and it’s a cornerstone of their roads becoming the safest in the world.

  • Brian Howald

    I care how often people drive, but I do agree that it is mixed messaging when speaking about Vision Zero.

    As far as Vision Zero is concerned, I, like you, don’t care how much people drive as long as no one is getting killed (or injured, though I guess that isn’t the goal of Vision Zero).

    As far as quality of life and climate change, I am very concerned how much people drive their cars.

    However, there is an argument to be made that the more people travel by foot or by bike, the better they are able to see the point of Vision Zero and how terrifying it can be to be at the mercy of dangerous drivers.

  • Vooch

    BdB should commute the easy bikeride on second ave to his office a mere 6 miles and downhill most of the way.

  • Vooch

    JSK messaging was better – all about public space

  • AnoNYC

    I think all around reckless driving is a much bigger issue than driving under the influence in NYC. Speeding, unpredictable movements, failing to yield, are all around a greater contributor to collisions. Many drivers just get frustrated and push their way through obstacles. There need to be more severe penalties for these offense, and there has to be actual accountability. This is why we should blanket the city in traffic enforcement cameras, because the NYPD is not on it. We also need to accelerate the reconfiguration of streets.

  • I nearly flipped out listening to the caller suggesting that pedestrians and cyclists get off scot free and that only drivers are punished.

  • AMH

    Really happy to hear rational comment from the mayor that pedestrians and cyclists are not deadly.

  • I disagree. The messaging is exactly what is needed. We need people in power in this city to say to drivers, clearly and unapologetically, “you are the problem”.

    American society said precisely that to smokers; and smoking is no longer a mainstream act or a socially acceptable act. We need to shoot for an analogous shift regarding driving in New York.

    In many parts of the country, this blunt message would be infeasible, on account of decades of bad planning. But we don’t have that problem here. We are fortunate enough to live in an oasis of civilisation, a city which is covered by reliable round-the-clock public transit and by many forms of taxis. So, in New York City, this is the right message to send.

    De Blasio is a mealy-mouthed weasel in general. But he got this one right.

  • Vooch

    BdB did hammer home the point that cars are the problem and that is a profound good step. However, I do believe the JSK talking points of a) 80% of out public space are our roadways and b) the repeated drumming over & over & over again in a dozen different ways that streets-are-for-people is the winning message.

    If we continue to concieve our streets in purely mechanistic terms, there will never be a transformation of our public space into something delightful We’ll never have streets safe enough for children to play stickball on again. We’ll never get Summer Streets extended to all weekend, every weekend all Summer. We will never have a glorious pedestrian plaza stretching from Union Square to Columbus Circle on Broadway. We will never link The grand public space of St. Patrick’s with the similarly grand public space of Rockefeller Center across Fifth Avenue.,

    When we discuss our streets as merely mechanical conveyors, we already have lost the message. The message is delight and joy and fun. Streets are For People

  • NYer

    Leave it to Brian Lehrer to take the opportunity to ask a totally irrelevant question. Barnes Dances? Who cares? Ask De Blasio why can’t the City can’t just go ahead and deploy automated enforcement technologies on its own, minus the Albany-permitted monetary fines, for the purposes of general analytics and identifying and contacting the most reckless drivers and repeat offenders. The City could do that tomorrow, if it wanted.

  • TALK is CHEAP. The mayor was good on message. Still his budget proposal does not match the rhetoric. Cannot find 50 millions to accelerate the pace of securing dangerous intersections.
    Talk is cheap

  • kevd

    we’ve had 30 years of anti-drinking and driving messaging, combined with significant penalties.
    drunk driving is no longer the biggest problem on our roads. Borderline sociopathic, aggressive driving is.

  • Joe R.

    We need to start regulating power-to-weight ratios as well. Car makers have been engaging in a ridiculous horsepower race for decades. Today’s slowest cars accelerate faster than most race cars did 50 or 60 years ago. The average person is physiologically incapable of acclimating themselves to such a rapid increase in speed, or using such capabilities properly. Instead they use it to scoot around traffic just to gain one or two places, beat red lights, in general drive like reckless assholes. We probably need to limit vehicles to 40 HP/ton overall, perhaps 10 HP/ton on urban surface streets. Maybe you could have temporary emergency acceleration capability which only engages for 5 or 10 seconds on highway entrance ramps. That’s really the only time I might see that you need much over 40 HP/ton. These horsepower limits will push the development of more aerodynamic, efficient vehicles also. That will really be the only path open to reaching higher top speeds, as opposed to just using the brute force method of increasing power.

    Also worth a mention is driving drugged has largely replaced driving drunk. Some large fraction of the population is on prescription drugs, some of which impair driving ability. There is currently no requirement to inform the DMV so they can suspend someone’s license when that’s the case. We need to do this yesterday.

  • neroden

    Trouble is the NYPD is not doing their job. It’s great that de Blasio will personally do the right thing, but if the people *under his command* refuse to obey him, there’s a problem. When we see cops arrested for insubordination, or indeed for illegally parking in the bike lane, I’ll believe it…

  • neroden

    Reckless driving is supposedly illegal, but the NYPD absolutely refuses to enforce this. This is a problem.

  • ahwr

    Today’s slowest cars accelerate faster than most race cars did 50 or 60 years ago.

    What makes you say that?

    A 50s corvette could get to 60mph in under 7 seconds.

    A late 30s race car could get to 60mph in a bit more than 8 seconds.

    A slow accelerating car today takes 11 seconds.

    By regulating power-weight ratios, do you mean restrict what’s sold everywhere, even to the guy that wants to tow a large trailer over a mountain, to match what you think is appropriate for NYC? You’re tilting at windmills with that one. You’re better off waiting for self driving cars.

  • Joe R.

    You probably could have software which can vary the maximum horsepower according to the load. That should mean a vehicle towing a trailer can still achieve whatever the legal maximum power-to-weight ratio is. In cities you would “detune” this via software to something like 10HP/ton. With GPS you can easily detect your location so you won’t be limited to 10HP/ton on a country road in Nebraska.

    Note that with proper aerodynamics you can still achieve speeds in excess of 150 mph even with only 40HP/ton.

    There is quite a bit of variation in race cars. Many did better than today’s slowest cars 50 or 60 years ago, some didn’t. I was under the impression ~7 seconds 0 to 60 mph is considered slow by today’s standards.

    A Model T weighed about a ton with 4 passengers and had maybe 10 to 15 HP. That was/is more than adequate for tooling around town.

  • bolwerk

    BdB seems entirely deferential to Bratton. If he isn’t, he’s afraid tabloids will spank him. Also, it will be 1983 all over again. Ethnics can’t behave without a constant police presence!

  • bolwerk

    Not sure drunk driving was ever anywhere near the biggest problem on our roads. :-p


Vision Zero and the Challenge of Culture Change

This is the first post in a two-part piece about how Vision Zero will have to change attitudes toward streets and driving in order to succeed. City Council Member Mark Weprin’s Vision Zero moment came after watching video footage of the collision that killed 3-year-old Allison Liao in Flushing, Queens, last October. The driver of […]