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Bill de Blasio

As Other Cities Lead on Street Safety, de Blasio Hits the Snooze Button

10:47 AM EDT on October 16, 2018


Now the capital of Spain is schooling the capital of the world.

Madrid became the second major city in as many weeks to announce dramatic changes that will reduce speeds, empower pedestrians and eliminate cars, joining London, which made a similar move last week.

Meanwhile, New York is going backwards — giving in to a backlash from the city's car-owning minority.

First, the good news: According to El Pais, the Spanish capital has created a "Sustainable Mobility Ordinance" that reduces the speed limit to 18 miles per hour (and 12 miles per hour on streets where the sidewalk is not elevated above the road level), allows bicycles to make rights on reds, and bars anyone but residents or people with low-emission cars from driving inside the Centro district, which is roughly the size of Manhattan below Houston Street.

There will be more speed cameras, no such thing as jaywalking, and, on some streets, "pedestrians will have priority over vehicles," El Pais reported.

The de Blasio administration has announced plans to do...nothing of the sort. (And didn't respond to my questions for this story.)

In fact, City Hall is even wavering on the existing street-safety plans already in the works. In the past few months, the city has announced the removal of a protected bike lane on Dyckman Street (final decision pending), delayed the completion of the proven street-safety improvements on Queens Boulevard, reportedly removed a bike lane from a street-safety plan for Morris Park Avenue, has not cracked down on placard abuse (despite many promises), is seeking consensus along Northern Boulevard rather than immediately opening its time-tested toolbox and putting the "New Boulevard of Death" on a road diet, and has declined to push ahead with a crucial safety redesign for upper Manhattan under fire from its local community board. Lower speed limits and car restrictions? They're not even on the table with this mayor.

This administration can't even find the right choice words to criticize State Senator Marty Golden, who openly mocked de Blasio's laudable street safety effort in a Twitter rant on Saturday, standing safely for more than two minutes on a new pedestrian safety island on Gerritsen Avenue, yet complaining how unsafe it is.

“I understand you want to make the community safe, but this is over-engineered,” Golden continues in his rant. “This is overdoing it. … And lost parking spaces.”

Golden also complained that there had been "eight accidents in three days," a claim that is clearly fabricated. Yet DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg has been talking by phone with Golden to calm his nerves. In my less-than-humble opinion, she should have told him to drive back to whatever cave he came out of. (Lest we forget, Golden likes to drive really fast and once ran over a pedestrian, who later died.)

"We do recognize that when pedestrian islands are first installed, local drivers face a period of adjustment," DOT said in a mild statement after I asked for a broadside. "However, we have found that throughout the city, drivers adapt and often come to support the changes, as do pedestrians. We ask for the Gerritsen Beach community’s patience during this period of transition and we will continue to monitor and adjust the roadway design as needed."

Ask a community for patience? How about boldly defending — and expanding on — what we all know works: street safety measures that reduce speeds and protect pedestrians and cyclists from the single biggest threat to our lives: cars.

Anything else is letting the terrorists win.

After this story was published, de Blasio spokesman sent over this statement:

Our Administration has aggressively implemented Vision Zero since day one, and the results speak for themselves. We have seen record drops in fatalities since 2014 even while they increase in other cities around the country. And the positive trends continue: while pedestrian fatalities in New York City have dropped over 42% since Vision Zero began, overall fatalities are down 26 so far this year. We have achieved this with hundreds of street redesigns, including the installation of 68 miles of protected bike lanes, along with increased enforcement – by both the NYPD and through the use of school-zone speed cameras, which we got re-authorized back in September. We will continue pursuing Vision Zero and working to make our city fairer and safer for all.

Gersh Kuntzman is editor-in-chief of Streetsblog. He writes his periodic "Cycle of Rage" column when he gets angry. They are all archived here.

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