Things Looked Good for NYC’s Vision Zero…Until Subway Riders Turned to Drivers
By Neil Kalra
With cyclist and pedestrian deaths on the rise after several years of declines, and all other NYC traffic deaths creeping higher, discontent is surfacing about the overall effectiveness of the city’s “Vision Zero Traffic Safety Program. And doubt is creeping in about the city’s ability to solve the fundamental threat to street safety as more cars choke city streets each day.
Five years since Vision Zero’s ambitious program to reduce traffic deaths and injuries began, overall traffic fatalities may have bottomed-out last year. But some alarming increases in pedestrian and cycling deaths in 2019 make us wonder if those across-the board traffic injuries and deaths might be on the rise. Mayor de Blasio’s brainchild bundles safety improvements aimed to eliminate “all traffic deaths by 2024.” And though real life tells us his “Zero” death objective is not realistic in our lifetimes, progress may now be stagnating.
After a five year downturn, total traffic deaths are spiking back up; with 96 fatalities on our streets through June, 2019. Eighty three died in the first half of last year. This year’s halfway mark is almost a 16 percent jump. The spikes are most notable in northern Queens and southern Brooklyn.
Through the first half of 2019 there was an increase in bicyclist fatalities from collisions with motor vehicles to 15, compared to ten in all of 2018. Bike injuries were up too: 968, a spike of 9.6 percent. A cyclist, who commutes daily to his work from Astoria, recently told the media that he “gets used to near close calls with other vehicles.”
A former policy director at the city’s Department of Transportation – now in the private sector – believes those numbers should worry cyclists; saying recently to AM New York (AMNY) that “six inches could be the difference between brushing yourself off or getting killed” [in a crash].
Driver error such as distracted driving, failing to yield and speeding or the failure to yield caused of at least 50 of this year’s citywide traffic deaths, according to law enforcement data.
After a Very Good Start, is Vision Zero’s Goal Really Sustainable?
The program’s initial vision was to better protect pedestrians, which still represents one of the largest portions of fatalities each year. But this year, pedestrian deaths are clearly up. A recent flurry of stories about accidents that injure pedestrians in crosswalks, and bicyclists riding in protected lane fatality accidents with motor vehicles recently caused the Mayor to make an off-the-cuff remark that he will do more to combat reckless drivers. One (or more) of the three common driver errors listed above have been cited as reasons for the spike in those two traffic death counts.
So what’s causing these numbers to soar? How about the continued deterioration of the NYC subway system? Pundits and government officials both note that fewer riders underground means more traffic above ground. Previously de Blasio urged drivers to take their responsibility to yield “very seriously.” We assume his informal “pledge” means there might be more law enforcement “on the case.” But he didn’t say.
We hear the mayor’s office and the Department of Transportation talk of street and bike lane redesign which allows for more (and better) separation of cyclists and pedestrians from motor vehicles. And some of them appear worthy. But this initiative is so new there’s not enough progress to know what works on a larger scale.
The real solution is parallel, significant re-tooling our subway system so that frustrated riders return (and traffic above ground correspondingly diminishes). Because overly crowded streets are more dangerous for everyone.
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