With Traffic Deaths on the Rise, Advocates Declare “State of Emergency”

Amid alarming uptick in 2019 traffic deaths, advocates and elected officials demand Mayor de Blasio take action to get Vision Zero back on track and enact Vision Zero Street Design Standard
Joseph Cutrufo -
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According to statistics from the NYPD, New York City traffic deaths in 2019 are up 30 percent compared to the same time period in 2018. With at least 64 people killed in traffic crashes to date, that amounts to one fatality every other day, on average. 

In light of these troubling numbers, Families for Safe Streets, a group of New Yorkers who have lost loved ones or been injured in traffic crashes, and Transportation Alternatives gathered with elected officials and advocates on the steps of City Hall Tuesday to declare a “state of emergency” for Vision Zero, Mayor de Blasio’s initiative to eliminate traffic deaths in the five boroughs. 

The de Blasio administration’s implementation of Vision Zero has seen real success during the last five years. But we can no longer deny the fact that Vision Zero’s piecemeal implementation has been an impediment to further progress. For this reason, Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives are imploring Mayor de Blasio to enact the Vision Zero Street Design Standard bill, which would require the City to take a more proactive and systematic approach to making our streets safer. If passed, the city would be required to consult a checklist of safety measures -- including protected bike lanes -- for every street redesign, and provide an explanation for why any measures are omitted. 

It is well known that the New York City Department of Transportation is capable of designing and building safer streets -- we have seen it happen on numerous occasions -- but Mayor de Blasio all too often yields to the voices of the few who drive at the expense of the majority who do not. Parochial politics tend to get in the way of projects which would make streets safer, and we sometimes don’t see action on a particular corridor until after someone has been killed:

  • The fourth phase of the Queens Boulevard overhaul has been stalled for over a year due to horse-trading between the mayor and a City Council member.
  • Grand Street in Brooklyn was partially redesigned but has been left unfinished since the fall of 2018.
  • Central Park West still doesn’t have protected bike lanes, despite the clear consensus that safety must come first on this corridor. 
  • The protected bike lanes and pedestrian crossing islands on Dyckman Street in Upper Manhattan, which were installed after nearly a decade of advocacy, were quietly removed overnight without any plan to replace them.
  • And although the mayor recently notified Manhattan Community Board 9 that he would instruct the DOT to complete a road diet on Amsterdam Avenue in Upper Manhattan, he allowed the plan to languish for two years during which 200 were injured and one person was killed.

“A three year-old is dead. A father of three is dead. That is just the toll of the past week. This is a public health crisis so urgent that not two days can pass without unsafe streets stealing another life. But the mayor doesn’t seem to be paying attention to his city, and his signature program is in a state of crisis,” said Amy Cohen, co-founder of Families for Safe Streets. “People are dying and suffering life-altering injuries. Enough is enough.”

“The system we have now for making streets safer just isn’t working. It is incumbent upon the mayor to capitalize on Vision Zero’s early success, double down on safety and empower the Department of Transportation to advance life-saving interventions wherever possible,” said Tom DeVito, Senior Director of Advocacy at Transportation Alternatives. “This is an emergency. There’s no room for debate, and no time for petty local politics.” 

“This increase in traffic related fatalities is unacceptable, as the Chairman of the Transportation Committee I have made safety a top priority. That is why I have introduced legislation that would require the Department of Transportation to develop a public checklist of street design elements that would enhance the safety of our streets. It is our responsibility to ensure that out cyclists and pedestrians are protected,” said Vision Zero Street Design Standard bill sponsor and chairman of the City Council Transportation Committee, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.

"The death of Aurilla Lawrence is all the more tragic because it could have been avoided if our city took more proactive measures to prevent traffic crashes,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “No other family or community should have to endure a loss of life to a car crash. I thank Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez for crafting legislation to make our streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians and join him in calling for the bill’s swift passage,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso

“Pedestrians and bikers know the dangers of our City streets all too well. I urge the passage of the Vision Zero Street Design Standard to hold our city accountable to improving safety on our streets, protecting New Yorkers, and actually meeting the goals of Vision Zero,” said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

"New York City needs streets that are safe, walkable and bikeable to encourage residents to leave their cars at home and reduce pollution. We included Intro. 322 by Councilman Rodriguez in our Environmental Scorecard because it would result in more pedestrian-friendly and  greener streets,” said Julie Tighe, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “We are proud to join Transportation Alternatives in calling for the City Council to pass this commonsense bill."

"While Vision Zero is an admirable start, the problem remains that the NYPD is still motor vehiclist. In their view anyone other than a driver is always in the wrong, it is always our fault. Wheelchair users and children often can not be seen from the drivers seat with the result  that we are at risk of being sad statistic," said Edith Prentiss, President of Disabled in Action.

"As someone who acquired my disability after being struck by a taxi while in the crosswalk with the light in my favor, I can attest to the need for safe streets,” said Susan Dooha, Executive Director of Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY. “This is a critical bill that would ensure that NYC DOT includes life-saving measures every time they redesign a major street. It includes ADA compliance for people with disabilities and opening up sight lines for drivers and pedestrians to see each other. We need to make city streets safer for everyone."

In advance of the vigil, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced that he would bring the Vision Zero Street Design Standard bill to a vote in May. 

“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 Street Design Standard bill at the end of this month," Johnson said. "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."