Advocates: We Don’t Need New NYPD ‘Vision Zero Unit’ — We Need Safer Streets and Better Trained Cops

Mayor de Blasio promised a new NYPD unit to help keep streets safe. No one believes him. Photo: Ed Reed:Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor de Blasio promised a new NYPD unit to help keep streets safe. No one believes him. Photo: Ed Reed:Mayoral Photography Office

A new NYPD unit intended to crack down on reckless drivers at some of the most dangerous intersections in the city will only lead to more harassment against people of color and those on two wheels instead of four, safe-street advocates and activists warn.

Mayor de Blasio announced during his annual State of the City address on Thursday the creation of a new, 100-person police unit. No details were given, but the unit, which will be overseen by NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief William Morris, is meant to patrol dangerous hot spots where pedestrians and cyclists have been killed, according to the Post.

Skepticism is high. For starters, neither City Hall nor the NYPD responded to requests for more information about the new “NYPD Vision Zero Unit,” which comes more than six years into Vision Zero, the initiative to reduce and ultimately eliminate all traffic fatalities. Deaths have dropped over those six years, but never below 200.

Activists immediately raised objections to the new unit, given that the NYPD has a long track record of disproportionately targeting black and brown people, as well as cracking down on riders of no more than 50-pound bicycles instead of drivers of 3,000-pound vehicles, who cause 99 percent of the carnage.

“The NYPD has a history of racially disparate enforcement, so naturally we’re concerned that this new unit’s enforcement efforts, like past efforts carried out in the name of Vision Zero, will be focused on bicyclists and pedestrians, and a disproportionate share of those on bicyclists and pedestrians of color,” said Transportation Alternatives Deputy Director Marco Conner. “The NYPD’s Vision Zero efforts, ideally, would be focused on reckless operation of multi-ton cars, truck route enforcement and oversized trucks.”

The optics of deploying more armed officers — who have brutally arrested black and brown people for selling churros and caused a melee at Jay Street-Metrotech last fall — aren’t good, legal experts say.

“Black and brown communities across the city are intimately familiar with the fact that more NYPD officers only means more instances of racialized policing,” said Anthony Posada, the supervising attorney within Legal Aid’s Community Justice Unit. “This new NYPD unit is not going to make our streets safer and is only going to continue picking on cyclists and jaywalkers and not the drivers who cause the fatalities.”

And sending out cops to prevent traffic fatalities is no substitute for getting reckless drivers off the road or building streets with safe infrastructure to slow down drivers — or eliminate them entirely from places — for the benefit of the most vulnerable road users: pedestrians and cyclists.

“The only way we make our streets safer is through aggressive redesign and reduction or elimination of cars & trucks,” said TransAlt Queens Chairman Macartney Morris.

“If there are known hot spots where people walking and riding bikes keep getting killed by people driving cars, can’t we just redesign the road so cars can’t mow people down?” asked @newyorkist on Twitter. “We gotta have cops there to tell people not to run people over? Jesus.”

Above perhaps all, very few cyclists believe that police — 51 percent of whom live in the suburbs and very few of whom are cyclists themselves — have been properly trained or even understand the experience of the community they are now being asked to protect.

“How will officers be trained and instructed? What will be the metrics for success?” former Streetsblog Editor and current “War on Cars” host Aaron Naparstek asked. “NYPD is all about community policing these days, right? So, how is NYPD working with the bike/ped/street safety community to ensure that this new program is implemented as well as it can be. Have the police bothered to ask cyclists and pedestrians what would make streets safer?”

Streetsblog has reported many instances when NYPD officers have appeared to be ill-trained, whether it was ticketing a cyclist who had just been hit by a driver, not arresting a driver who intentionally tried to run over a cyclist, a cop telling a cyclist he could not write a failure-to-yield ticket because the driver struck the cyclist with the corner of his car instead of the front of his car (literally gibberish), cops wrongly claiming they can’t write violations for failure to yield unless they actually witness the crime, constant victim-blaming, or simply not even empathizing with victims … if the victim is a cyclist.

And, lest we forget, cops are often parked in bike lanes, which is the ultimate show of disrespect.

Indeed, the NYPD only recently abandoned the practice of ticketing cyclists after one had been killed by a driver.

And it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that amped up enforcement intended to crackdown against dangerous drivers has gone awry. Over the last year, during which a record-breaking 29 cyclists were killed, de Blasio had announced several crackdowns against reckless motorists — including ones in July, November, and December.

But the actual numbers prove police were more occupied with ticketing cyclists than they were truckers.

Last week, Morris quietly revealed that cops wrote 34,593 moving violation tickets to truck drivers in 2019, and more than 35,000 to cyclists, despite the fact trucks represent 10 percent of all traffic on city streets yet were responsible for 43 of the 220 road deaths last year, and cyclists represent about 1 percent of all traffic, according to the city. Cyclists were blamed for two deaths last year and a few hundred injuries.

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