I spend a lot of my life in NYC as a pedestrian, and I am highly invested in any measure that makes walking on City streets less perilous. Even with many recent changes to street layouts, the alarming statistic is that every two hours, someone in NYC is seriously injured or killed by a vehicle–many of them children and elderly persons. Hence Mayor de Blasio’s championing of his Vision Zero Plan to end pedestrian fatalities in the City. It’s ambitious, but am definitely behind it. So I went to the public hearing on it at Brooklyn’s Borough Hall last night to see what others in my borough think about it, too.
Newly elected Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams presided over the hearing, and a number of City Council members from Brooklyn districts spoke, as well as our new Public Advocate Tish James and newly appointed City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. Plus the room was packed with a broadly diverse crowd of citizens, many of whom spoke (with a 1-minute time limit) after public officials spoke (each with a 2-minute time limit).
The DOT gave an overview of the City’s 63-point Vision Zero Plan, which is itself worth reading. Some facts worth noting here:
- Each year, approximately 4,000 people are injured and 250 killed by vehicles in NYC
- Poor driver choices are responsible for 70% of pedestrian fatalities
- Brooklyn, a county/borough of 2.5 million people, has the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities
- The leading cause of death for children under 14 in NYC is being struck by a vehicle
- The second-leading cause of death for seniors in NYC is being struck by a vehicle
We simply have to change these statistics.
The Vision Zero Plan itself outlines a number of changes to be made, from redesigning streets and busy thoroughfares to stricter enforcement of moving violations and more active involvement from the City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission. Again, this is well worth reading and reviewing, and clearly a lot of smart thinking and work has gone into this. An important point is that the City is prohibited by NY State law from changing speed limits itself; in order to lower the City’s current speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph (as proposed by Vision Zero, although several public officials suggested that it be lowered to 20 mph), this will have to be passed in Albany. But what public officials emphasized over and over is perhaps the most important point–we have to shift our thinking from traffic incidents as “accidents” to calling them what they are: preventable crashes. And we also have to shift thinking from vehicle-centric transportation to the reality that our citizens are equally pedestrians, cyclists, straphangers, drivers, and passengers–and to ensure that, as Tish James said it, “No one has a monopoly on our streets.”
Our communities include children, and it’s worth noting that children cannot perceive the speed of oncoming vehicles. Our communities are also full of elderly people, many of whom are affected by Alzheimer’s and other mental and physical conditions that impair their speed and ability to cross intersections. We also have large numbers of people who are otherwise impaired in physical movement and cognitive ability. We can either choose to recognize this reality and plan accordingly, or we can irresponsibly choose to ignore it. Personally, I am thankful for public officials who see the moral imperative of ensuring the safety of all citizens.
The points of the Vision Zero Plan drew comments, but it appeared that the public was largely in agreement with the plan–although several speakers made important points on how it may not go far enough. Worth noting:
- More enforcement of moving violations is important, but we’ve seen drivers responsible for atrocious and fatal wrecks who serve zero or minimal jail time for their reckless choices. As one citizen noted, “Murder is illegal in New York–unless you do it with a car.”
- Taxi and limo drivers involved even in multiple crashes still retain their licenses.
- Taxi passengers cause bike wrecks when they suddenly open doors into oncoming traffic–and not one has yet been held responsible for injuries or damage.
- Current data on crashes is not geo-tagged or accessible to pin-point problem areas; the NYPD and DOT data management systems need upgrading. Council Member Brad Lander has introduced a bill to remedy this, but it’s still pending.
A number of the speakers who testified told personal stories about the affects of pedestrian crashes. One young woman wore a t-shirt showing a photo of her with her brother who was killed as a young man in a pedestrian crash. She presented Borough President Adams with a copy of his funeral program. A woman in a wheelchair testified that she herself has been struck by a vehicle in a crosswalk, and had stories of her friends in wheelchairs who also had been struck, and who also are forced by a lack of curb cuts on pedestrian thoroughfares to travel in the street with oncoming traffic. These are real stories from real people who are behind Vision Zero and the additional work that needs to be done to make NYC safe for all people going about their business on our streets. And these real stories and people are also why I fully support Vision Zero.
I look forward to seeing the City move on Vision Zero, and for more improvements to come.