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

And when you snooze, pedestrians and cyclists lose.


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.

  • Daisy’s World

    Air pollution causes an estimated 40,000 early deaths in the United Kingdom every year. The British government, which has lost three court cases over air quality since 2015, plans to ban new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040 as part of a 3 billion pounds (US$3.9 billion) clean air strategy. Campaigners say this needs to happen earlier to tackle what ministers have called a “public health emergency”. France has also pledged to end the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 while Denmark has proposed a full ban on new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 and on hybrid vehicles from 2035. The mayors of Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have said they plan to ban the most polluting diesel vehicles from city centres by 2025.

  • HamTech87

    De Blasio didn’t back down in the Bronx with the VC Park PBL. I’m happy to criticize him a lot, but there we really can’t.

  • He also moved admirably to push ahead the protected bike lanes on 43rd Avenue and Skillman Avenue.

    If only that kind of vigilence were typical rather than exceptional.

  • I thought DOT’s statement was fine. I’d rather they go out there and aggressively install safe infrastructure and, when pressed, just be diplomatic and tell people that getting used to change takes some time, but that these things work. They did that here. We can’t realistically expect them to tell senators to take a long walk off a short pedestrian island. And, to be fair, DOT didn’t need to make Marty Golden look like an out-of-touch fool. He did that all on his own.

  • Joe R.

    Let’s not also forget Queens Blvd. He pushed those bike lanes through over the objections of the local parking protection boards (otherwise known as the community boards). I’m generally not a fan of De Blasio, but we have to give credit where it’s due.

  • Except he has been absent as the obstructionists stall the last phase of the QB bike lane in Kew Gardens.

    For every time that de Blasio did the right thing, we can cite multiple instances where he failed to do so. (This is why I miss Bloomberg.)

  • Joe R.

    I tend to think air pollution deaths are grossly underestimated. Environmental pollution due to fossil fuel use also contaminates food. That could easily double the number of pollution-caused deaths. It’s important to remember before the Industrial Revolution, and the widespread burning of fossil fuels, cancer was virtually unknown. Cancer spiked even more once we started burning large quantities of oil in the 20th century. There is also the degradation in the quality of life caused by smelly air and noise from internal combustion engines. This undoubtedly shortens lifespans as well. Large cities can and should ban the use of internal combustion engines by 2025 at the latest. I would honestly love to see a ban right now.

  • Daphna

    Better to raise the gas tax to the point where people for economic reasons choose non-gas and non-diesel cars. Better to impose a cost on the choice of using those types of vehicles, which will make many people select against them, than to ban those vehicles which prevents people from exercising choice.

  • I am starting to believe that anything associated with “car-free” presents an existential threat to the majority of American folks. I am serious. We have been probably more brainwashed by car culture than any other. Going back to the dawn of rock and roll, top 40 music–look how many car songs were shoved down throats. That’s just one example off the top of my head. Kerouac’s On the Road even, it is a favorite of mine and I hate to think this but the glorification of that book was probably somehow underwritten by the big car manufacturers of the day. It is the ultimate car propaganda.

    Anyways my actual point is that people seem to think of cars as more than a tool that performs a certain function. Among all the items we use on a regular basis, cars are special. I get that they are exceptionally useful and empowering and that people are going to get very attached to them. But I wish the car worshipers would take a deep breath and realize that nobody is actually trying to take anyone’s car away. This is simply about designating space. Yeah we love cars, but do they need to be everywhere, all the time. The answer is no. You know it and I know it. And it has been proven around the world that quality of life improves as you designate more public space in cities for non-car users.

  • Joe R.

    I think part of it has to do with the insane amount it costs to own a car. Nationally, the average is over $8,000 annually. In NYC it could easily exceed $10,000. People of course get pissed off when something they spent that much money on can’t be driven wherever they want as fast as they want. That also explains why as policy the goal of local DOTs has been mainly to move as many cars as possible as fast as possible.

    Then there’s the cultural stuff. Probably a majority of the over 60 generation first got laid in the back seat of a car. Then you have the nebulous associations of driving with freedom, even though I fail to see how something which costs high four or five figures annually gives you freedom.

    Self-driving cars could change this if we go from a majority owning cars to a majority just calling for a ride whenever they need one. Without so much money invested, it will be easier to see a car as merely a tool to get from point A to point B. It will then become much easier to ban or limit auto access to places where cars cause more harm than good.

  • JohnBrownForPresident

    Absolutely. Check out this (admittedly shitty and ad-based) article:

    One person in Rome reported going out to sit in their car on
    the street to find a fleeting moment of “mental privacy.” They weren’t
    alone: “Almost half of Americans (45%) go to their car, outside of the
    home, to have a private moment to themselves, surpassed only by the
    bedroom (72%) and bathroom (55%), much more traditional and expected
    spaces to go to have a moment alone,” the authors write.
    Only 45% feel a sense of privacy or security. “Life at home is
    changing, profoundly, all over the world,” the report concludes.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I guess I’ll need to reprise my usual role as the Ghost of Christmas Future.

    A car-free city is not compatible with funding mass transit primarily with congestion pricing.

    The government could end up promoting driving for the revenues, the way it promotes gambling via the lottery.

  • Daisy’s World

    Seven years ago, the state aborted plans to rebuild a section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway below the Brooklyn Promenade. The highway, the state abruptly announced, wasn’t in dire need of major repairs after all. The change of heart stunned members of the community who had been involved in plans to renovate that crumbling piece of Robert Moses’ legacy. “We were completely mystified,” recalled Robert Perris, who was and remains the district manager of the community board that encompasses Brooklyn Promenade. Now, seven years later, the city has determined that the highway does in fact need immediate repair, and it’s pursuing the project on its own, even though the BQE is part of an interstate highway and experts say states are generally responsible for the interstates that run through them


Hey Brian Lehrer — Traffic Congestion Is Not a Vision Zero Tactic

This morning on WNYC Brian Lehrer said he didn’t understand why Mayor de Blasio would want to penalize Uber for making traffic congestion worse, since the mayor is “causing congestion purposely” to make streets safer for walking and biking. Here’s an excerpt: They want to make driving in the city as unpalatable as possible so people […]