UPDATED: Speaker Johnson to Push Vision Zero Design Bill This Month

Council Speaker Corey Johnson rallying with Families for Safe Streets last years. Photo: John McCarten/NYC Council
Council Speaker Corey Johnson rallying with Families for Safe Streets last years. Photo: John McCarten/NYC Council

Updated | Hours before an emergency rally to protest de Blasio administration delays in fully implementing Vision Zero, Speaker Corey Johnson announced he will push the issue further, holding a vote on a long-delayed bill that would force the city to redesign streets for safety.

A veto-proof majority of council members supports Intro. 332, the so-called Vision Zero Design Standard bill, which would establish a 10-point checklist of safety features such as bike lanes for DOT to consider when it redesigns streets. The bill is stalled because the de Blasio administration opposes it.

“The New York City Council is committed to making our streets safer and breaking the car culture. Smart street design saves lives, which is why the Council will vote on the Vision Zero design standards bill at the end of this month,” Johnson told Streetsblog on Tuesday morning. “I want to thank all of the advocates for their tireless work in making our streets safer. Together we can and will make our streets better and safer.”

In August, DOT Chief Operations Officer Margaret Forgione testified against the bill, arguing that the city already considers safety in its redesigns, that its reporting requirement would cost time and money, and that a standard checklist would not add value to the agency’s current process.

“Weighing street design safety elements to employ in any project is individualized, complex and dependent on any number of site-specific factors,” Forgione said. “Intricacies of these decisions cannot be conveyed in a quantifiable checklist, which would be misleading because it would not reflect how DOT is maximizing safety at any given location using our engineering judgment.”

With Johnson pushing forward, the de Blasio administration has changed its tune.

“We agree with the Speaker that we must aggressively pursue Vision Zero to save lives across our city. We are reviewing this legislation and look forward to working with the Council to ensure the legislation allows DOT to continue carrying out their important street safety design work,” said City Hall spokesperson Seth Stein.

Brian Zumhagen, a spokesman for the DOT added: “No death on our streets is acceptable, and under Vision Zero, this administration has brought traffic fatalities to historic lows for five consecutive years with record numbers of ambitious street redesigns across all five boroughs.”

He added: “We are continuing a robust program to redesign hazardous corridors and intersections, changing signal timing to reduce deadly speeding, giving pedestrians exclusive crossing times at more locations, and expanding our bike network and adding new intersection designs to our protected lane toolkit. We also believe that traffic enforcement efforts will benefit from the further rollout of speed cameras in the wake of state expansion this year.”

Scores of activists rallied at City Hall on Tuesday to argue that Mayor de Blasio has decelerated Vision Zero. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Scores of activists rallied at City Hall on Tuesday to argue that Mayor de Blasio has decelerated Vision Zero. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The announcement by Johnson comes as activists led by Families for Safe Streets are rallying at noon at City Hall to protest a rise in road fatalities this year, despite the mayor´s stated commitment to Vision Zero. Fatalities are up 30 percent* this year after several years of consistent declines, according to NYPD data.

* The Department of Transportation disputes the accuracy of the NYPD numbers and stated that the rise in fatalities is 10 percent so far this year. The agency says there were 58 fatalities as of May 6, 2018 and 64 over the same period this year.

Debbie Kahn spoke of the pain of losing her son Seth. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Debbie Kahn spoke of the pain of losing her son Seth. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Regardless of whatever numbers you use, there was plenty of grieving to go around on Tuesday as members of Families for Safe Streets — whose ranks include dozens of moms, dads, siblings and other relatives who have lost family members to road violence — spoke about finding meaning from their pain.

“I go through days and don’t remember what I’ve done. Sometimes I don’t bother even getting up out of bed … why bother?” said Debbie Kahn, whose son Seth was killed by a reckless MTA bus driver on Ninth Avenue and 53rd Street nine years ago. “My son is dead. Why does it have to take young people dying to fix a street? We need to treat this like the public health criss and epidemic that it is. Please help me give meaning to my son’s death.”

Story was updated to include a new comment from DOT and Debbie Kahn.

  • burnabybob

    I want to be optimistic, but the devil is in the details. If this bill results in a proliferation of class 2 (unprotected) bike lanes around the city, it won’t be worth it. Recent studies have shown that they are basically useless at improving cyclist safety, and may even put cyclists at greater risk. I would much rather see a more limited network of protected bike lanes along arterials than more abundant, lower quality class 2’s.

  • Jeff

    Yeah it could turn into what a lot of states’ “Complete Streets” policies have become–basically just painting bicycle symbols in any space that’d be leftover anyway after serving our four-wheel masters.

    Which, I gotta say, as an experienced cyclist who enjoys touring in suburban environments, is actually kinda great, since you do end up getting _some_ kind of treatments at intersections and the like on suburban arterials, and serves notice to motorists that you belong. But it doesn’t make cycling accessible to more people!

  • crazytrainmatt

    The bill on the council site linked above is limited to arterials and specifies class 1 PBLs.

  • kevd

    I’ve ridden on suburban arterials with bike lanes outside phoenix. They were pretty great – basically a mile between lights because every housing development is a 1 mile square. Horrible urban planning, but nice riding (before it gets hot).

  • burnabybob

    Thanks for pointing that out. I didn’t realize it went into so much detail. So far so good. I just hope that if this bill does pass, the DoT will have the will to implement complete streets to the full degree possible. There will still be plenty of wiggle room for them to water things down.

  • Reader

    “Weighing street design safety elements to employ in any project is individualized, complex and dependent on any number of site-specific factors. Intricacies of these decisions cannot be conveyed in a quantifiable checklist, which would be misleading because it would not reflect how DOT is maximizing safety at any given location using our engineering judgment.”

    This is a lot of words to say that New York is a special flower and that stuff that works everywhere won’t work in some places because of reasons.

  • Joe R.

    I actually prefer suburban arterials over NYC streets, even without bike lanes, so long as they have a shoulder wide enough to bike on. Sure, these streets are just awful from a pedestrian perspective, but the long distance between lights makes them great for cycling. So does the fact many places put their lights on sensors late nights, so you’ll typically go miles without even seeing a red light. When you do, it’s often green by the time you reach it since the sensors just turn it red long enough for any cars waiting on the side street to get across. Even if NYC refuses to get rid of many traffic lights, they should still put them on sensors late nights like lots of other places do.

  • Jeff

    What are the procedures and/or strategy around council vetoes? Does a bill which passes with a veto-proof majority automatically override a potential veto? Or if not, does the Speaker typically only bring up a bill with a veto-proof majority and the threat of veto if the intention is indeed to override said veto?

  • Vooch

    It would be a hoot to hear JSK demolish that quote.

  • LES Stitches

    Here is my favorite part of the article: “DOT Chief Operations Officer Margaret Forgione testified against the bill, arguing that the city already considers safety in its redesigns, that its reporting requirement would cost time and money”. Lol as if NYC has ever cared about spending too much time and money on something.

  • Maggie

    Mine was “it would not reflect how DOT is maximizing safety at any given location“, WTF. obviously if deaths are up then DOT isn’t maximizing safety. It’s really dangerous when city govt treats voters like cannon-fodder. Go Corey go.

    https://www.westsiderag.com/2019/03/06/residents-had-pushed-for-safety-measures-for-years-before-deadly-crash-on-claremont-avenue-an-accident-waiting-to-happen

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