Streetsies 2019: Vision Zero Hero of the Year!

Meet the people and machines that helped make streets safer this year.

vz montage 2019
The coveted Streetsie.
The coveted Streetsie.

There was a lot of competition this year among local politicos for the “Vision Zero Hero of the Year” award, with several local pols notching exemplary legislation to make our city more livable and our streets safer. Honorable mention goes to Albany lawmakers State Senators Andrew Gounardes (speed cameras), Brad Hoylman (West Side Highway speed limit) and Jessica Ramos (e-bike legalization).

And we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere this year without all of the people who fought for congestion pricing this year and over the last decade: Charles Komanoff and Alex Matthiessen, the Regional Plan Association, Riders Alliance, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, former Streetsblog Editor Ben Fried, Sam Schwartz, Transportation Alternatives and many others who deserve their own award for patience, diligence and commitment.

But politicians and groups of advocates aren’t the only entities (animate or inanimate) that are able to improve our lives and our safety. So here are this year’s nominees for the most coveted of our annual Streetsies awards, Vision Zero Hero:

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson

No other city official has moved the debate about street safety so far so fast, and no one so prominent has put “breaking the car culture” at the center of the city agenda, as future mayoral candidate Corey Johnson.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Council Speaker Corey Johnson

Johnson’s “Streets Master Plan” — which includes such goodies as mandating 50 miles of protected bike lanes per year, 30 miles of dedicated bus lanes per year, doubling the amount of pedestrian plazas and many other systematic improvements — became law in October. It expanded on the vision he expounded in his “Let’s Go” blueprint, which earned him last year’s “Vision Zero Hero” Streetsie.

“Seven million people in New York City don’t own a car, but for too long things have been stacked in car drivers’ favor and away from other people who need to use our city’s streets. It’s about reorienting that,” Johnson said when introducing the bill.

No New York politician since DeWitt Clinton (who built the Erie Freakin’ Canal!) has ever repeated for the Streetsie in this category, but Johnson certainly has made a strong case.

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez

Ydanis Rodriguez
Ydanis Rodriguez

Rodriguez, head of the Transportation Committee, has worked on  behalf of a slew of bills that would make the city safer and greener, including bills to create offices of “active transportation” and “pedestrians.” The “Bike Mayor” and “Pedestrian Mayor” would work inside the Mayor’s Office, rather than the Department of Transportation, operating across agencies to better coordinate the sadly lagging Vision Zero. He also calls for 100 miles of protected bike lanes per year.

Rodriguez never fails to defend cyclists and pedestrians, even under fire from pro-car community boards and TV reporters who seek to blame the most-vulnerable road users for this year’s increase in deaths.

Now he’s pushing a bill to require turning drivers to drop their speed to 5 miles per hour.

“I have zero tolerance for drivers who don’t respect us,” he said on Monday.

Antonio Reynoso. Photo: NYC Council
Antonio Reynoso. Photo: NYC Council

Council Member Antonio Reynoso

As head of the Sanitation Committee, Reynoso, of Brooklyn, spearheaded a deal that will improve safety in the rogue private sanitation industry by limiting the cut-throat free-for-all that had up to 50 private carters competing in each neighborhood.

The October deal finally regulates an industry that has contributed to the deaths of at least two dozen people since 2016, including at least four people this year.

He’s also good on promoting other street-safety improvements such as bike lanes and residential loading zones. And he stood up to Gov. Cuomo’s expensive plan to add 500 cops to police the subways.

Speed Cameras

Thousands more reckless drivers are getting caught speeding near schools — and thousands fewer car crashes are occurring — thanks to this year’s legislative initiative to reauthorize the city’s 140 speed camera systems and expand them by 600 or so. Since the summer, the cameras have been installed at a rate of about 40 per month — and city data suggest that drivers are learning their lessons because those who get tickets are seldom dinged a second time.

Drivers are racking up thousands of more speed camera tickets now that more cameras went into effect in July.
Drivers are racking up thousands of more speed camera tickets now that more cameras went into effect in July.

Even better, since the expansion of the life-saving school-zone cameras returned, the number of crashes has started dropping. In the two months from July 11 through Oct. 11, there were 53,325 motor vehicle collisions throughout the five boroughs — 6,188, or 10.4 percent, fewer than the same period in 2018.

“Speed cameras work. Period. They change driver behavior and cause people to slow down, protecting New Yorkers from injury and death in traffic collisions,” said State Senator Andrew Gounardes, the Brooklyn pol whose bill gave the city the green light to install the added cameras.

Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the city will get to its goal of 750 school zone camera systems by the end of 2020, thanks to a mayoral demand that she start installing 60 systems per month.

Can we have one on every corner?

Council Member Carlina Rivera

Carlina Rivera
Carlina Rivera

Rivera, of Manhattan, fielded legislation, passed last month, that requires construction companies to provide safe detours for cyclists, instead of spitting them out into lanes of speeding traffic.

The penalty? The city can yank on-street construction permit from developers who block the bike lane if they don’t provide the alternative safe routes.

Rivera also co-sponsored the Bike Mayor bill, and negotiated a community-benefits package that mitigates some of the damage to the Lower East Side of the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project — including to a key north-south bike route.

She also bikes regularly, and not just for the cameras.

The Placard Corruption Twitter Account

The Placard Corruption Twitter Account

No single individual (or group of individuals?!) has done more to keep the abuse of city-issued parking placards in the public eye than this anonymous tweeter. The account’s prescription is simple: “Report to 311 & tweet it out. Press your elected officials. Stop the corruption before it grows into something worse. NYC deserves better!”

The account’s brave anti-corruption stance briefly got it banned this year for a tweet that supposedly violated Twitter’s privacy policy (with a photo of a business card that a cop had placed in his windshield). But now it’s back — and more righteous than ever. We look forward to more activism on the part of this account in the New year. Nothing stops a lawbreaker faster these days (with the notable exception of the commander in chief) than being exposed on Twitter.

And the Streetsie goes to…

Speed cameras! No offense to the fine people above, but cameras are simply the best tool for reducing reckless driving (and, honorable mention to bus-lane cameras, which may be an early contender for Vision Zero Hero of 2020). Thank these electronic eyes for keeping our children alive.

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