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

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

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