An Evaluation of the Leaders Responsible for Preventing Traffic Fatalities & Injuries on NYC Streets
Letter from Executive Director Paul Steely White
When we embarked on Vision Zero, our city joined an international braintrust of urban centers dedicated to changing driving culture. Looking at their examples, we built our initiative around “the three E’s.” Engineering, enforcement and education became our global guideline for reaching Vision Zero.
Today, we see that we need to move beyond those three E’s. The clearest conclusion of this 2015 Report Card is that, while we made great strides, we are not doing enough. I propose that in New York, reaching Vision Zero will take five E’s, adding evaluation and equity alongside engineering, enforcement and education.
We must modernize Vision Zero and embrace new guidelines — evaluation and equity — to reach our goal.
Without tools to evaluate our progress, Vision Zero is simply lip-service. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal of zero traffic deaths and serious injuries remains timebound to 2024, but he has set no schedule for the reduction. There is no measuring stick, no benchmarks along the way. We pass new laws, increase enforcement and redesign streets without any evaluation of effectiveness.
At the same time, children in low-income New York City neighborhoods are three times more likely to be killed in traffic than children in adjacent wealthy neighborhoods. Women are less likely than men to bicycle on a street without a protected bike lane. Nationwide, police forces exhibit extreme racial bias, and traffic enforcement is no exception. If we fail to consider equity in Vision Zero, we entrust the safety of our streets to deeply flawed systems.
At every stage, we must ask: Is this working? Are we saving the greatest possible number of lives?
Vision Zero is not a destination on a prescribed route, but a moving target. The tactics that reduce yearly traffic fatalities in New York City from 300 to 200 will be different from those that move us from 100 to 0. I propose that these new guidelines — seeking benchmarked evaluations of our efforts and always considering equity in Vision Zero — are the progressive next step.
This 2015 Report Card is an evaluation of how the agencies and officials responsible for reaching Vision Zero performed in the past year. Next year, we will complete this evaluation again, and we look forward to the day when City Hall takes over and truly evaluates progress toward Vision Zero.
Paul Steely White
Citywide Progress Toward Vision Zero in 2015
Vision Zero is the idea that traffic crashes are preventable, and it is the responsibility of government to actively protect citizens on streets and sidewalks. In early 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio took up this responsibility and set a goal of zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries in New York City by 2024.
In 2015, traffic deaths decreased across the board, and while pedestrian injuries declined, injuries to cyclists and people in motor vehicles increased. All declines were small. At this rate, Mayor de Blasio will not meet his Vision Zero deadline.
Without an acceleration of efforts, New York City will reach Vision Zero a full 31 years late, and an additional 1,800 people who could have been saved will be killed.
While Mayor de Blasio, some legislators and agency leaders have launched innovative efforts to reduce traffic deaths on city streets, most players are falling short. This inconsistency reigned in 2015, and a lack of coordination contributed to the injury of 51,280 people in New York City traffic and the death of 238.
Locally, without leadership from their commissioner, adjacent NYPD precincts are summonsing reckless drivers at disparate rates. Neighborhoods with dangerous streets are inconsistently assisted by a Department of Transportation that allows community board decisions to override the recommendations of safety engineers. With little leadership from Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles has largely bowed out of the effort to eliminate traffic deaths. In much of the five boroughs, Vision Zero appears optional, with some elected officials boldly demanding safer streets, and others actively working to dismantle the few new safety laws that have been put in place.
The greatest barricade on the road to Vision Zero is the fact that there are no set benchmarks to measure the success of any official or agency.
After initial signs of promise — like the lowering of the citywide speed limit to 25 mph, the increase in the number of automated speed cameras, the NYPD successfully increasing enforcement of the most dangerous traffic violations, and the enactment of 12 new Vision Zero laws passed in 2014 — the pace of progress has been disappointing. In 2015, street improvements were underfunded, the NYPD and district attorneys hardly made use of new Vision Zero laws, and the Department of Motor Vehicles declined to participate in any safety efforts at all. At the Department of Transportation’s current rate of street redesign, it would take 100 years to fix every dangerous corridor in New York.
People on Foot
Pedestrian injuries decreased in 2015. Pedestrian fatalities decreased slightly. 10,065 people on foot were injured, compared to 11,027 in 2014. 129 people on foot were struck and killed by drivers in 2015, compared to 133 the previous year.
People on Bicycles
Cyclist injuries increased notably. Cyclist fatalities decreased. 4,273 people on bicycles were injured in 2015, compared to 3,997 the previous year. 15 people on bicycles were struck and killed by drivers in 2015, compared to 20 cyclists in 2014.
Motor Vehicle Drivers and Passengers
Motor vehicle injuries increased slightly. Motor vehicle fatalities decreased. 36,942 passengers in or drivers of motor vehicles were injured in 2015, compared to 36,158 the previous year. 95 people in motor vehicles were killed in 2015, compared to 109 in 2014.
Transportation Alternatives published the first-ever Vision Zero Report Card in July of 2015, ranking officials in New York City and State on six months of efforts to save New Yorkers’ lives.
With the understanding that Vision Zero will only be reached when every decision maker is at the table every day, striving for benchmarks set by the leaders of the Vision Zero Task Force, these superlatives mark the officials who have most notably improved or declined, those leading the way and those ignoring their responsibility to protect New Yorkers.
Top of the Class: The Best of 2015
As a City Council member and chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee, Ydanis Rodriguez made deliberate decisions to stand up for safety. With his presence at press conferences and crash sites, his outspokenness during hearings, and his leadership in legislation, Council Member Rodriguez put the lives of New Yorkers first and set an example for the rest of the city.
Bottom of the Barrel: The Worst of 2015
Staten Island District Attorney’s Office
Until January 2016, the Staten Island District Attorney’s Office was managed with an outright disregard for the number of people killed and injured on local streets. As a result, while every other borough has brought about significant reductions in pedestrian fatalities in the past 30 years, on Staten Island this number has remained largely unchanged, and even increased in 2015. This pattern of inaction will hopefully change with newly-elected Staten Island D.A. Michael McMahon.
Rising Star: Most Improved in the Last Six Months
Senator Martin Malave Dilan
After a legislatively reckless start to 2015, Senator Dilan made a notable about-face in the name of protecting his constituents, expressing regret for bringing forward a bill that would have weakened the Right of Way law. In vowing not to reintroduce that bill or pursue it further, and by admitting that his earlier efforts were misguided, Senator Dilan took a bold stand for Vision Zero, and the humility it sometimes takes to save lives.
Sinking Ship: Least Improved in the Last Six Months
New York State Department of Motor Vehicles
To date, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles has logged an entire year without a commissioner and presented no effort to take up its responsibility to protect New Yorkers. DMV traffic safety hearings, even in cases where drivers have killed children, remain erratically scheduled, much to the dismay of the families of victims. In addition, official DMV publications regularly use the blame-absolving word “accident.”
2015 Vision Zero Report Card
* Grade received in TransAlt’s Class of Vision Zero Mid-Year Report Card, July 2015. If no grade is listed, the agency or official did not receive a midyear grade.
** District Attorney’s Offices were originally graded as one unit.
Mayor Bill de Blasio
2015: Grade B+
Previously: Grade A-
In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio successfully reduced the number of New Yorkers killed and injured on city streets, proving that the amount of resources dedicated to Vision Zero has a direct effect on the number of lives saved. However, he brought less fervor to Vision Zero initiatives than in 2014, even when lifesaving projects like the Right of Way law and Times Square’s public plazas were in the crosshairs. Though many pedestrians were injured and killed in 2015, often on city sidewalks, Mayor de Blasio gave few public responses. However, at the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims in November and again in early 2016, Mayor de Blasio reiterated his commitment to Vision Zero and the victims’ families present. He matched those words by increasing funding for street redesign and other new initiatives in 2016.
In March, Mayor de Blasio announced and fully funded a groundbreaking redesign of the full length of Queens Boulevard, New York’s most notoriously dangerous street.
In May, Mayor de Blasio’s Executive Budget underfunded the redesign of dangerous streets, well below the amount needed to fix even half of the streets defined as dangerous by the Department of Transportation.
In June, large sections of Central and Prospect Parks were made car-free, making two iconic New York places dramatically safer. But when the public plazas in Times Square came under fire the same month, City Hall did not defend the safety initiative, despite the dramatic reduction in crashes that followed the installation of the plazas.
In November, after two weeks in which 13 pedestrians were killed, Mayor de Blasio stood with the families of victims at the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims and made a public pledge to increase enforcement against dangerous driving, and to accelerate street redesign.
By the end of 2015, Mayor de Blasio had failed to set any metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of Vision Zero efforts. Despite thousands of horrific traffic crashes, Mayor de Blasio never appeared at the scene to decry lawless driver behavior.
Recommendations for Mayor Bill de Blasio
- Put Vision Zero 2024 back on schedule by adopting interim annual reductions targets. Bolster annual agency budgets, policies and programs accordingly, and perform more rigorous year-end analysis of outcomes.
- Visit crash sites, meet with the families of victims and launch a large-scale public advertising campaign funded by convening city agencies and their budgets to raise awareness of Vision Zero.
- In the City’s next budget, commit to substantial increases in the basic operating funds of the Department of Transportation to allow for the redesign of the most dangerous streets.
New York Police Department
2015: Grade C-
Previously: Grade C+
In 2015, the NYPD continued a pattern of inconsistent enforcement. Despite the Department’s traffic safety charge, Commissioner Bill Bratton was largely missing in action, only mentioning Vision Zero a few times all year, in some instances opposing safety initiatives. Despite a wealth of data and proven tactics, Vision Zero efforts are unsystematic, arbitrary and left to the discretion of local precincts.
During the summer of 2015, the NYPD began to screen the victim-focused safety video, “Drive Like Your Family Lives Here,” for officers at roll call.
In August, after a year of training officers in the Right of Way Law, the law had only been used 38 times, in less than 4% of crashes where a driver violated the law.
In October, the NYPD failed to appear at a Vision Zero Oversight Hearing held by the City Council.
After 13 pedestrians were killed in two weeks of November, NYPD Transportation Bureau Chief Thomas Chan announced a ten-day crackdown on dangerous driving, followed by a brief period of traffic enforcement focused around senior centers.
In November, after 84-year-old Aglaia Gounaris was killed while crossing the street in Flushing, Queens, the 109th Precinct responded by summonsing pedestrians. On the same day, 55-year-old Floria Burton was killed crossing the street in Hunts Point, the Bronx. Despite video evidence and a driver admission of guilt, the local 41st Precinct did not summons the driver.
In December, the 17th and 19th precincts asked Families for Safe Streets to address officers about enforcing the Right of Way Law. In the same month, 30-year-old Victoria Nicodemus was killed on the sidewalk by an unlicensed driver in the 88th Precinct, where officers had issued only 195 summonses for speeding and 91 for failure to yield in the prior 11 months.1
A pilot program which asks Traffic Enforcement Agents to respond to traffic crashes involving property damage, reserving police investigation resources for fatal and injurious events, responded to 6,400 incidents in 2015.
At the end of 2015, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton had made no public statements in support of Vision Zero, or his responsibility to protect the lives of the 25,000 New Yorkers killed and injured annually by lawless drivers. His Collision Investigation Squad investigated less than 10% of serious injury crashes, and less than 2% of injurious hit-and-run crashes. The number of summonses issued for speeding and failure to yield was notably higher than the previous year. However, all year, only 120 non-criminal summonses were issued under the Right of Way law, 24 of which were dismissed.2
Early in 2016, Mayor de Blasio dedicated the NYPD to undertaking aggressive traffic enforcement in areas with high populations of senior citizens.
Recommendations for NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton
- Proactively promote Vision Zero, fostering a precinct culture where officers are proud to prioritize traffic safety and focus enforcement on what endangers New Yorkers. Increase enforcement of the Right of Way law in all precincts.
- Significantly expand the capacity of the Collision Investigation Squad to better solve hit-and-run crimes and to fully investigate crashes resulting in life-altering injuries.
- Expand restorative justice initiatives for traffic offenders, in the style of the “gun courts” of the early 2000s, and following the example set by the Red Hook Community Justice Center.
Department of Transportation
2015: Grade B-
Previously: Grade B+
Under Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, the DOT has not met its potential to save lives by transforming streets. The agency's approach in 2015 was more reactive than proactive, with a pattern of implementing piecemeal improvements where wholesale redesigns are needed, and a willingness to let their safety expertise be overridden by local community boards.
In June, DOT unveiled a plan to redesign Atlantic Avenue as part of its “Great Streets” program that addresses only two miles of the 10-mile street, ignores best practices and wholly disregards the protection of pedestrians and cyclists. Two months later, 66-year-old Muyassar Moustapha, who owned a store on Atlantic Avenue, was killed crossing a section of the street that isn’t included in the redesign.
In July, the first phase of a $100 million reconstruction of Queens Boulevard began with new bike lanes, pedestrian plazas and a design that models a complete street.
Also in July, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg stood with victims’ families at the Vigil for Vision Zero.
In September, the DOT installed the maximum number of speed cameras permitted by state law. In that same month, construction finally began on a bike lane for the Pulaski Bridge, a project that was launched in 2012 and scheduled to be completed in 2014.
This fall, after six years of local residents requesting safety improvements on Amsterdam Avenue, including pedestrian refuges, curb extensions, signal timing and a protected northbound bike lane, the DOT finally presented a plan for redesigning the street.
In November, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg stood with victims’ families at the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.
Through December, the DOT allowed 111th Street in Corona to remain a known dangerous street despite community requests for safety improvements, by kowtowing to a small group of obstinate community board members with no traffic engineering expertise.
By the end of 2015, the DOT had installed nearly 13 miles of protected bike lanes, more than double the number installed the previous year. It also put 47 million feet of safety markings on city asphalt, a 50% increase over 2014, more than the agency has ever done in a year. But the DOT has yet to set a timeline for its Pedestrian Safety Action Plans, nor has it scaled up operations to meet the challenge of Vision Zero.
Early in 2016, Mayor de Blasio dedicated $115 million in new capital investment toward redesigning unsafe streets. He also announced a 100 intersection pilot program testing a safer design for making left turns at intersections and new protected bike lanes on five dangerous streets.
Recommendations for DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg
At least double the number of annual Street Improvement Projects, particularly in areas that are in priority need of Vision Zero improvements, and set a timeline to fix streets identified in the Pedestrian Safety Action Plans.
Issue quarterly reports on Vision Zero street improvements and progress toward the goals of the Pedestrian Safety Action Plans.
- Publish a plan to redesign all arterials, the 15% of streets that are most dangerous, with “complete street” infrastructure, beginning with temporary materials to ensure efficiency and demanding a larger operations budget to scale up permanent redesigns.
Department of Citywide Administrative Services
2015: Grade B-
Previously: not evaluated
In 2015, none of DCAS’ 27,000 vehicles caused a fatal traffic crash. With a new side guard initiative, the agency participated more actively in Vision Zero. However, considering its potential to set a national example by perfecting New York City’s official fleet, the agency could go further, faster, when it comes to vehicle safety.
In February, DCAS committed to installing side guards on 240 trucks in 2015, a safety feature that protects cyclists and pedestrians in close proximity to large, turning vehicles, and began immediate installation. However, this is only a small fraction of the approximately 27,000 vehicles that DCAS owns or leases.4
In April, drivers in DCAS training sessions began watching the victim-focused safety video, “Drive Like Your Family Lives Here,” with 8,500 having attended this training by the end of the year.
In June, DCAS committed to installing side guards on approximately 6,000 vehicles, all new city vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds by 2024.5
By the end of 2015, DCAS exceeded its goal for side guard installation, creating 256 safer city vehicles. Throughout the year, no one was killed in a crash caused by the driver of a DCAS vehicle.
Recommendations for DCAS Commissioner Stacey Cumberbatch
- Accelerate and expand the side guard installation program to the entire fleet of vehicles owned by DCAS.
- Make rigorous safety standards part of city contracts for all leased or hired vehicles.
- Require an intensive safety training for all private vehicles under contract with the city that matches DCAS safety standards for drivers.
Department of Education
2015: Grade Incomplete
Previously: not evaluated
In 2015, the DOE only just began to acknowledge its critical role in Vision Zero, despite the statistically high burden of crash likelihood borne by school-age children in New York City and a number of children killed and injured by drivers on their way to and from school this year.
In March, crossing guard Marie Cox was hit and injured by an SUV driver while working outside P.S. 112 in Jackson Heights.
In May, 12-year-old Ervi Secundino was killed by a livery cab driver outside Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem, where he was in sixth grade. In the same month, the DOE became the first city agency to outfit its entire truck fleet with side guards.
In September, four Bronx children waiting for their school bus were struck on the sidewalk by a livery cab driver. The most severely injured, an 8-year-old girl, required surgery to her two fractured legs and fractured pelvis.
By the end of 2015, the DOE had partnered with the Department of Transportation to provide a traffic safety education program at more than 600 New York City schools. However, though traffic crashes remain the number one cause of death by injury for children between the ages of 5 and 14, the DOE has yet to join the Vision Zero Task Force or make any public statement with regard to school-age children being killed in traffic crashes.6
Recommendations for New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariňa
- Join the Vision Zero Task Force, and actively participate by adopting the street safety curriculum created by the DOT for integration into all classrooms.
- Create and distribute traffic safety standards for all contractors, and work with the Office of Pupil Transportation to improve the safety of school buses.
- Advocate for street redesign and expansion of the speed camera program as part of an expansion of Safe Routes to School.
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
2015: Grade Incomplete
Previously: not evaluated
In 2015, while traffic crashes remained a public health problem plaguing New York City’s children and seniors according to the DOHMH’s own data, the agency failed to elevate the importance of Vision Zero as a public curative.
In early 2015, the DOHMH pledged to launch a 20-school pilot program to strategize improvements in students’ safety and ability to walk to school and a study of optimal traffic safety messaging for older New Yorkers. Both initiatives were completed but results were not made publicly available.
In May, the DOHMH helped coordinate workshops in Brownsville and East New York to engage local residents about new bike lanes.
At the end of the year, traffic fatalities remained a leading cause of injury-related death for children and senior citizens in New York City, according to the DOHMH’s own data.
Recommendations for DOHMH Commissioner Mary Travis Bassett
- Be a proactive members of the Vision Zero Task Force by producing research documenting the positive health impacts of core Vision Zero initiatives, including speed cameras, changes to the speed limit and street redesigns.
- Lead the way on a publicity campaign for Vision Zero akin in budget and immediacy to a tobacco control campaign.
- Draw attention to the inequity of unsafe streets by coordinating city agencies around the disproportionate effect that crashes have on children and seniors.
New York State Department of Motor Vehicles
2015: Grade F
Previously: Grade D
In 2015, the DMV continued to operate without a commissioner and made no effort whatsoever to participate in Vision Zero or assume its responsibility to protect the lives of New Yorkers.
In July, Transportation Alternatives asked the DMV how many hearings were held for fatal crashes involving pedestrians in 2014, and the number of license suspensions that followed. The DMV did not fulfill this request.
In November, the family of Matthew Brenner, who was killed by a reckless driver in Brooklyn in July 2014, was informed that their DMV hearing had been canceled and would not be rescheduled.
In the same month, the mother of Kelly Gordon, who was killed after being struck by two taxi drivers in Manhattan in April 2014, was allowed to speak with Administrative Law Judge Regina Rinaldi about her dissatisfaction with how the case had been handled.
At the end of 2015, the DMV had spent over a year without a permanent commissioner. The official form for reporting a traffic crash in New York State still refers to collisions as “accidents.”
Recommendations for Commissioner of the New York State DMV*
- Standardize practices for holding fatality hearings, publish regular data on them, and ensure that, in compliance with the law, they are held within six months of a fatal crash.
- Reform fatality hearing protocol to create a formal opportunity for families to speak in front of the judge in every case.
- Demand a technical language change from "accident" to "collision" in the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law, and commit to discontinuing the use of “accident” in all official documentation.
*The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles has been without a commissioner for more than a year. See the report card for the Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo for more information.
New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission
2015: Grade B-
Previously: Grade C+
In the second half of 2015, the TLC dedicated further effort to ensuring that their drivers set the example of safe driving on New York City streets. However, there remain unmet needs for driver training and monitoring
This winter, the TLC launched easily accessible online reporting of crashes involving their drivers, as well as enforcement efforts.
In March, the TLC placed the victim-focused safety video, “Drive Like Your Family Lives Here,” on its YouTube channel, later adding a Spanish translation and using the video in driver training.
In June, the Vehicle Safety Technology Pilot Program launched with black boxes, driver-alert systems, and other driver monitoring devices in 33 vehicles, and preliminary findings were published online.
In July and November, TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi stood with victims’ families at the Vigil for Vision Zero and World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.
In August and again in November, at the invitation of the TLC, a member of Families for Safe Streets led Vision Zero trainings for 40 of its new prosecutors.
In November, 88-year-old Luisa Rosario was struck and killed on the Upper West Side by a yellow taxi driver who had worked 16 hours in one day. He had taken short breaks that kept him in compliance with the TLC’s current rules.
In December, the TLC launched an intensive driver education program for operators of for-hire vehicles and will require all drivers who have applied for a license since March 2015 to complete the training. Also, year-to-date enforcement data revealed that TLC enforcement officers have increased traffic safety summonses 106% and speeding summonses 238% since 2014. The increase is the direct result of a larger squad of dedicated officers.
Recommendations for TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi
- Require behind-the-wheel training for all drivers, with more extensive training requirements for drivers who are inexperienced or new to New York City.
- Expand black boxes and other driver monitoring tools to all for-hire and taxi drivers and introduce a minimum break length between 12-hour shifts to keep exhausted drivers off the road.
- Utilize the TLC’s power to revoke driver’s licenses, and when revoking the licenses of a reckless for-hire or taxi driver, publicize the revocation to deter others from dangerous driving.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority
2015: Grade D
Previously: Grade C-
In 2015, MTA drivers started the year safely, but this was overshadowed by a series of horrific bus crashes in late 2015 and their silence when lobbyists for the bus driver’s union attacked the Right of Way law.
This winter, the MTA failed to apologize after publishing an inaccurate 2014 advertising campaign that blamed pedestrians “texting while walking” for being hit by buses8. In reality, there is no evidence of this being the cause of pedestrian fatalities in New York City, but there were eight documented instances in 2014 of bus drivers who killed pedestrians in the crosswalk with the right of way.
In the spring, when Transit Workers Union Local 100 pushed for legislation to exempt bus drivers from the Right of Way law, the MTA did not publicly support the lifesaving law and opposed the prosecution of bus drivers who killed pedestrians9.
In October, with Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio, MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast announced the funding of the 2015-2019 Capital Plan, which will allow repairs and upgrades, and eventually a system in shape to encourage public transportation use over driving.
Also in October, the MTA began a pilot program of electronic turn warning and collision avoidance systems on six buses.
In November, in the same week, an MTA bus driver killed 69-year-old Leyla Enukashvili who was crossing the street with the right of way in Forest Hills, and in a hit-and-run crash, another MTA bus driver killed 70-year-old Carol Bell, a disabled woman who had the right of way.
In December, 62-year-old Eleonora Shulkin was killed by an MTA bus driver while she crossed the street with the right of way in Sheepshead Bay.
At the end of 2015, all MTA buses still have a major and well-documented design flaw that creates a blind spots for drivers that is dangerous to pedestrians.
Recommendations for MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast
- Create an ongoing Vision Zero education program for all bus drivers that focuses on the necessity of yielding the right of way to pedestrians and the prioritization of safety.
- Review management practices to ensure drivers are not being pressured to drive unsafely, including preserving break allowances at the end of routes and removing schedule sanctions that encourage speeding.
- Install rear wheel guards on all buses to protect pedestrians and accelerate bus redesign plans to remove blind spots for bus drivers.
District Attorneys’ Offices
2015: Grade B-
Previously: Grade C+*
Led 2015 with a groundbreaking conviction, but Vision Zero does not yet appear to be a priority.
2015: Grade C-
Previously: Grade C+*
In 2015, a pattern of complacency continued, and the office seems uninterested in protecting the lives of constituents.
2015: Grade F
Previously: Grade C+*
There is no indication that the office considers Vision Zero part of its responsibility, and no effort was made in 2015.
2015: Grade C-
Previously: Grade C+*
Despite a series of disturbing crashes in 2015, the office has shown little engagement with Vision Zero or any understanding of its potential for leadership.
2015: Grade B-
Previously: Grade C+*
In 2015, the office demonstrated a strong commitment to Vision Zero, leading a task force and pursuing tough convictions, but there is more room to lead.
This winter, Brooklyn D.A. Kenneth Thompson set up a first-of-its-kind working group, the Driver Accountability Task Force, bringing together police, court officials, victims’ families, and advocates to pursue a better brand of justice in the aftermath of traffic crimes.
In February, D.A. Thompson halted the prosecution of the MTA bus driver who killed 78-year-old Jean Bonne-Annee in a Flatbush crosswalk where he had the right of way.
In March, 8-year-old Tierre Clark and 25-year-old Kadeem Brown were killed on a sidewalk on the Grand Concourse by an epileptic green cab driver who failed to take his medication. Bronx D.A. Robert Johnson charged the driver with two counts of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in October.
In July, cyclist Alejandro Moran-Marin was killed, and several others injured, in downtown Brooklyn by a driver who had gone off his seizure medication prior to the high-speed crash. D.A. Thompson declined to charge the driver.
In August, a driver killed eight-year-old Jadann Williams in Ditmas Park but D.A. Thompson did not file any charges. The Brooklyn D.A. instead filed charges against a neighbor of Jadann’s who punched the driver immediately after the crash.
In September, after an erratic livery cab driver struck a crowd of pedestrians on the sidewalk, injuring several children, former Bronx D.A. Johnson declined to file any charges. In the same month, 59-year-old Marlene Zotti, who used a walker, was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Sunset Park. D.A. Thompson brought charges against the driver for leaving the scene, but not for the woman’s death.
In November, Queens D.A. Brown secured a second-degree manslaughter conviction for the driver who killed 59-year-old Min Tin Cheng and 41-year-old Min Wang Lin while driving over 100 miles per hour on Queens Boulevard in 2013. In the same month, Manhattan D.A. Cyrus Vance secured a groundbreaking criminally negligent homicide conviction against the driver who killed Jean Chambers in a crosswalk on the Upper West Side in 2014 while driving the wrong way.
Recommendations for District Attorneys Thompson, Vance, Brown, Clark and McMahon
- Launch and expand Vehicular Crimes Units that focus on all levels of injury.
- Take a vocal public stance against dangerous driving by leading legislative efforts that will permit expanded prosecution, combined with strong public messaging that dangerous driving will not be tolerated in New York City.
- Engage with Vision Zero publicly by publishing aggregate case outcomes online and supporting partnerships between prosecutors, police and victims.
*In the Class of Vision Zero Mid-Year Report Card, published July 2015, all District Attorneys’ Offices were evaluated under one comprehensive grade.
Governor Andrew Cuomo
2015: Grade C
Previously: not evaluated
In 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo wisely vetoed a flawed hit-and-run bill, but has yet to assume a leadership role in protecting the lives of his downstate constituents.
In February, the Move NY coalition released its final “Fair Plan,” a Vision Zero-forward proposal that, by creating a more balanced and equitable tolling regime, would unleash money for mass transit improvements while relieving city streets of excess vehicular traffic. Governor Cuomo has yet to grant a meeting with the coalition of unions, advocates and planners who back the proposal.
In October, Governor Cuomo, along with Mayor de Blasio and MTA Chairman Prendergast, fully funded the 2015-2019 Capital Plan, allowing system improvements that will encourage public transit use.
In December, Governor Cuomo vetoed legislation on penalties for hit-and-run drivers that failed to address the current incentive for drivers to leave the scene of a crash.
By the end of 2015, Governor Cuomo had let a full 365 days pass without appointing a commissioner to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.
Recommendations for Governor Andrew Cuomo
- Immediately appoint a new, permanent and Vision Zero-minded commissioner at the DMV.
- Endorse the Move NY Fair Plan as a tool for enhancing road safety.
- Lead on safety by asking the legislature to pass bills expanding speed camera usage, hit-and-run penalties, and driver accountability.
New York State Legislature
2015: Grade C
Previously: Grade C
While a few legislators stood up for safety in 2015, they are a minority in a legislature largely unconcerned with ending traffic deaths in New York City.
In June, the State Senate and Assembly passed a bill to expand automated bus lane enforcement in New York City, making public transit more efficient and deterring lawless driving.
In the same month, the Senate passed a bill that would have gutted the Right of Way law, making it legal for bus and taxi drivers to strike people in the crosswalk. From New York City, Senators Brad Hoylman, Liz Krueger and Daniel Squadron stood up for Vision Zero by voting against the bill. The legislation was not taken up by the Assembly.
Also in June, the Senate and Assembly passed a flawed bill to penalize hit-and-run drivers that failed to eliminate incentives for leaving the scene. The Senate passed four bills that would have furthered road safety: to legalize e-bikes; to disincentivize drunk drivers leaving the scene of a crash; to further penalize unlicensed drivers who injure or kill a person; and to add information about cyclist and pedestrian safety to the driver’s education curriculum. The Assembly failed to take up any of these Vision Zero bills.
In October, despite complaining months before that safety improvements scheduled for 111th Street had been made without community consultation, Queens Assembly Member Francisco Moya hosted an unpublicized, last-minute town hall meeting against the redesign of the dangerous corridor.
In the same month, Assembly Member Deborah Glick, Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, and Senator Brad Hoylman called for the complete redesign of 5th and 6th Avenues in Manhattan with protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety features.
In November, Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. asked his Queens constituents to oppose plans for Select Bus Service that would make walking safer on Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards, one month after 62-year-old Vispi Mukajam was killed crossing Woodhaven Boulevard in Addabbo’s district.
Recommendations for the New York State Legislature
- Greatly expand the number of speed cameras allowed in New York City so that every school zone can install them, and lift restrictions as to when and where they can operate, so that the cameras can have the greatest safety impact.
- Refuse to entertain any bills that weaken the Right of Way law, on the grounds that this law is essential to pedestrian and cyclist safety.
- Pass a strong bill that increases driver accountability in cases of reckless driving and hit-and-run.
New York City Council
2015: Grade A-
Previously: Grade A-
In 2015, several Vision Zero-minded Council members raised the bar for safe streets leadership in New York City government. But in every borough, community board leaders appointed by City Council members were permitted to regularly override the expertise of the DOT and block Vision Zero initiatives and other necessary corrections for dangerous conditions.
When the TWU attempted to weaken the Right of Way law in the spring of 2015, Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez refocused the conversation on safety, calling for better bus design and technology to reduce blind spots and audibly warn pedestrians and drivers.
In June, Council Member Corey Johnson led the passage of a bill to install side guards on every vehicle in the New York City fleet over 10,000 pounds by 2024. In the same month, Council Member Margaret Chin led the passage of a bill that requires the City of New York study pedestrian and cyclist safety on truck routes.
In August, the Council’s Committee on Transportation, led by Council Member Rodriguez and Public Advocate Tish James, made a motion to install left-turn signals to protect pedestrians in the crosswalk. In September, the committee proposed installing curb extensions at dangerous intersections. In November, they made a motion to define pedestrians’ right of way in the countdown phase of a crossing signal.
In October, the City Council’s Progressive Caucus endorsed the Move NY Fair Plan.
In December, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer led the passage of two bills, to penalize repeat offenders found guilty of hit-and-run crashes, and to require the NYPD to expand reporting on hit-and-run crashes.
Also in December, following the death of 17-year-old Ovidio Jaramillo in Jackson Heights, Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland led DOT Queens Commissioner Nicole Garcia on a tour of dangerous intersections in her district and requested a study of Northern and Junction Boulevards.
Recommendations for the New York City Council
- Codify Vision Zero in city law by passing bills that strengthen pedestrian right of way and enhance street safety improvements.
- Push for expansion of the DOT operating budget.
- Hold DOT to strict standards of street redesign that are equitable among different neighborhoods and which do as much as possible to enhance pedestrian safety.
Public Advocate Letitia James
2015: Grade A
Previously: not evaluated
Public Advocate Letitia James office led a proactive effort to directly address what’s killing people on New York City streets, and vocally demanded solutions that defend New Yorkers’ right of way.
In July, Public Advocate Letitia James wrote an open letter decrying the lack of transparency and delays in bike lane installation, calling on the DOT to integrate protected bike lanes into street resurfacing projects and to outline the decision-making process for when officials do and do not install a new lane.
In the same month, after cyclist Alejandro Moran-Marin was killed by a driver in Downtown Brooklyn, Public Advocate James made a series of public statements demanding the expansion of laws that penalize reckless drivers. She attended the Vigil for Vision Zero, meeting with the families of traffic crash victims.
In August, Public Advocate James introduced a bill to enact a left-turn signal pilot program that would protect pedestrians in the crosswalk.
In November, Public Advocate James introduced a bill that would codify the pedestrian right of way to include the signal phase when a “don’t walk” sign is flashing or a countdown is in action. She attended the World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims, pledging to eliminate the word “accident” from her office.
In December, Public Advocate James attended and spoke at a vigil in memory of Victoria Nicodemus, who was killed on a Brooklyn sidewalk by a reckless driver.
Recommendations for Public Advocate Letitia James
- Publicly call for community boards to prioritize safety in street redesign, and draw attention when special interests derail Vision Zero goals.
- Oversee the DOT’s distribution of street improvement resources to ensure equity, and fight for greater allocations for street redesign in the city budget.
- Continue to attend events in memory of New Yorkers killed by traffic violence and pressure city agencies to keep their Vision Zero promises.
Comptroller Scott Stringer
2015: Grade C
Previously: not evaluated
The holder of New York City’s purse strings is in a prime position to publicize the clear financial case for Vision Zero, but in 2015 Comptroller Scott Stringer made a lackluster effort to make himself heard.
In July, Comptroller Stringer made public statements emphasizing the need for a more fair and equitable transportation system, inserting Vision Zero into the conversation about for-hire vehicle licensing.
In August, Comptroller Scott Stringer reported that traffic crashes where people are injured cost taxpayers $87.3 million in fiscal year 201411. The report still uses the word “accident” instead of “crash.”
In November, Comptroller Stringer publicly called for retrofitting of New York’s sanitation vehicles with crash avoidance technology using a $20 million grant from U.S. Department of Transportation.
Recommendations for Comptroller Scott Stringer
- Publish a report detailing the cost of upgrading the city fleet to Vision Zero standards and the savings it would represent over court settlements for injuries and deaths.
- Publish a needs-based assessment that makes the case for granting New York City control over automated enforcement and increasing the size of each program.
- Publicize the cost-effectiveness of city agencies’ Vision Zero programs to show that safety makes good fiscal sense.
Offices of the Borough Presidents
2015: Grade C
Previously: not evaluated
While some borough presidents launched innovative Vision Zero programs this year, others failed to meet the challenge. But in every borough, community board leaders appointed by borough presidents were permitted to regularly override the expertise of the DOT and block Vision Zero initiatives and other necessary corrections for dangerous conditions.
In January, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz made public statements encouraging the the redesign of arterial roads as crucial to pedestrian safety.
In February, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. urged Governor Cuomo to convert the Sheridan Expressway into a safe boulevard with pedestrian crossings.
In March, Borough President Katz unveiled new safety measures for downtown Flushing, including traffic enforcement agents and improved street markings.
In April, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer called an increase in funding for school crossing guards in the city budget a Vision Zero necessity.
In June, Brooklyn Community Board 3 blocked plans for new bike lanes that would have linked local streets to the neighboring network of bike lanes and made walking and bicycling safer in the community.
In July, after cyclist Alejandro Moran-Marin was killed by a driver, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams held a press conference demanding the expedited redesign of dangerous streets.
Borough President Brewer’s Accessible Manhattan report, released in July, pointed to Vision Zero as a tool to enhance safe access for disabled people.
In August, a DOT proposal for a Neighborhood Slow Zone was overridden by Staten Island Community Board 2.
In September, Borough President Adams unveiled a $1 million plan for sidewalk extensions at high-crash intersections.
Also in September, Manhattan Community Board 10 rejected a proposal to convert the Macombs Place slip lane to a pedestrian plaza.
Borough President Brewer’s public hearing on traffic congestion gave advocates for the Move NY Fair Plan a forum in September.
After two people were killed crossing Hylan Boulevard in October, Staten Island Borough President James Oddo’s public statements on traffic crashes blamed distracted pedestrians and cyclists “riding aggressively.”
In December, Eleonora Shulkin was killed at an intersection that would have been protected by a public plaza if Brooklyn Community Board 15 had not rejected the plan six months prior.
After an increase in traffic fatalities on Staten Island in December, Borough President Oddo met with advocates and made a public call for greater enforcement of traffic laws and denounced “a growing prevalence of selfish, ignorant and reckless driving.”
By the end of 2015, Queens Community Board 4 had repeatedly rejected and stalled a wealth of needed safety improvements to dangerous 111th Street, despite requests for these improvements by community representatives like Make the Road New York, Immigrant Movement International, the Queens Museum, and Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.
Recommendations for Offices of the Borough Presidents
- With an eye to ensuring community board members are representative of their areas, require them to report on whether members own vehicles or are transit-dependent.
- Allocate greater discretionary funding toward street redesign in places where the greatest number of injuries and fatalities are happening.
- Hold an oversight forum in each borough annually focusing on what the role of the community board should be in Vision Zero, what are their responsibilities regarding street safety improvement projects, and updates from agencies and advocates.
100 Person Poll: New Yorkers on Vision Zero
With Vision Zero officially two years old, TransAlt stopped 100 random New Yorkers on the street to talk about whether or not their streets look and feel safe.
In-Depth Look: Redesigning Streets for Vision Zero
Central to achieving Vision Zero is the wholesale redesign of our streets. Statistically, this is the most effective tool to reduce injuries and fatalities, a tool that only New York City’s Department of Transportation can wield.
The Department of Transportation worked on only 22% of the streets that they indicated were dangerous priority corridors.3
Today, we see the redesign of dangerous streets progressing too slowly, and the greenlighting of redesign plans that fall well below the DOT’s own safety and accessibility standards. In many cases, DOT officials are encouraging a process where the lifesaving potential of a street redesign is governed by the whim of unelected community board members with no training in safe streets engineering. There is no timeline or budget set for achieving these goals.
Of the 154 dangerous priority corridors identified by the Department of Transportation, only three had changes made to their entire length.
In their own borough Pedestrian Safety Action Plans, the DOT identified 154 “priority corridors,” the most dangerous to pedestrians citywide. This year, only 22% of these dangerous hotspots underwent any construction or planning for it. Even then, the DOT only made piecemeal changes, fixing as few as two consecutive intersections on some of these wholly dangerous corridors. Only three of 154 priority corridors had changes made to their entire length.
*Have been redesigned or are slated for redesign by the DOT.
According to international best practices and local data about what works best to protect New Yorkers’ lives, Transportation Alternatives worked with PlanningCorps, a group of accredited urban planners, to define a Vision Zero complete street:
- Safe for everybody, regardless of transportation mode, age or physical ability
- With a better experience, with features like green streetscape improvements, street furniture and wayfinding
The “Great Street” designs released by the DOT include less than 30% of the required safety features
In the four Great Street projects launched by the DOT in 2015, none include all 10 safety and accessibility design elements of a “complete street.” On two of the streets, only two of these safety features are included. Queens Boulevard includes only three of the 10 requisite safety features.
In Depth Look: The Near-Destruction of a Lifesaving Law
In 2013, a group of parents whose children were killed crossing New York City streets banded together on a common thread of injustice: each of their children were killed despite their legal the right of way, and none of the drivers were prosecuted for a crime. They called themselves Families for Safe Streets.
By June 2014, Families for Safe Streets convinced the New York City Council to pass the local law ADC 19-190, the Right of Way law, to address this injustice. Mayor de Blasio immediately signed the bill into law. The Right of Way law allows police to bring a misdemeanor charge when a driver injures or kills a pedestrian or a cyclist with the right of way.
In February, after a bus driver was arrested for striking a teenage girl who was in the crosswalk with the right of way in Brooklyn, severely injuring her legs, the law came under attack by the bus driver’s union, Transit Workers Union Local 100, which campaigned for bus operators to be exempt from the law. Since then, the Right of Way law has been used in only 3% of the 1,157 cases where it could have been applied.
The History of the Right of Way Law
Eight pedestrians who had the right of way are killed by MTA bus drivers.
The Right of Way law goes into effect and applies to taxi, bus and private vehicle drivers.
New York City Council Member I. Daneek Miller proposes a local law that would exempt bus drivers from the Right of Way law. It does not get out of committee.
Assembly Member Walter Mosley introduces A6048B to exempt bus, taxi and livery cab drivers from the Right of Way law. Senator Martin Malave Dilan introduces similar legislation (S4494B).
TWU Local 100 launches a campaign against the Right of Way Law. Union President John Samuelsen encourages MTA bus drivers to yield to pedestrians.
S24494B is passed by the New York State Senate. Families for Safe Streets meets with Assembly members in Albany, who then halt advancement of the bill.
TWU Local 100 is paying two lobbying firms a total of $15,500 per month.10 An aggressive campaign against the Right of Way law continues through October.
TWU Local 100 settles a lawsuit against the City of New York. Leyla Enukashvili, 69, and Carol Bell, 70, are killed in Queens and Brooklyn respectively, both by MTA bus drivers while in the crosswalk with the right of way.
Senator Dilan expresses regret for introducing S4494B and vows not to reintroduce it or pursue any further action. He admits that his efforts to create exemptions to the Right of Way law were misguided.
End of 2015:
A total of three pedestrians, all of whom had the right of way, are killed by MTA bus drivers in 2015.
Transportation Alternatives is a 501(c)3 non-profit charity, and New York City’s leading advocate for safe streets. This 2015 Vision Zero Report Card is endorsed by Families for Safe Streets, a group of people who have survived a crash or lost loved ones in traffic, and more than 150,000 New Yorkers who stand with Transportation Alternatives.
The letter grades, accolades and noted failures contained herein are based in part on policy analysis drawn directly from the City’s Vision Zero Action Plan, the Department of Transportation’s Pedestrian Safety Action Plans for each borough, but primarily reflect the on-the-ground results we have documented citywide. This is not a compendium of every Vision Zero-related action of 2015, but a review of the most important and relevant activities. Grades are not a permanent approval or condemnation but a jumping-off point for all New York decision-makers to wholly take up their role in saving lives.
All statistics come from NYPD data. While Transportation Alternatives research has shown that NYPD data under-reports crashes, injuries, fatalities and lawless driving in general, theirs is the only full-year data available at publication time.
1Source: Moving Violations Summonses Data, 88th Precinct, through November 2015. Data available to public through the online portal at http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/html/traffic_reports/traffic_summons_reports.shtml
2Source: ECB Notice of Violations, NYC Open Data
3Figure is derived from comparing the lists of priority corridors in each borough’s Pedestrian Safety Action Plan with the DOT’s publicly available details of construction projects since 2014, as available through their website.
4Alexander K Epstein, Ph.D., Sean Peirce, Andrew Breck, Coralie Cooper, and Eran Segev. “Truck Sideguards for Vision Zero: Review and Technical Recommendations for Safe Fleet Transition Plan Pilot Deployment.” Volpe Center, Prepared by U.S. Department of Transportation John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center for Department of Citywide Administrative Services, City of New York, December 2014.
6New York City Child Fatality Review Advisory Team. “Understanding Child Injury Deaths.” New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (2013). http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/downloads/pdf/ip/ip-nyc-inj-child-fatality-report13.pdf
7New York State Department of Motor Vehicles For MV-104, “Report of Motor Vehicle Accident.” http://dmv.ny.gov/forms/mv104.pdf
10 New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) records reported that TWU had on retainer the MirRam Group at $13,000 per month and Pitta Bishop DelGiorno and Giblin at $2,500 per month.
11“Claims Report: Fiscal Years 2013 and 2014.” Office of the Comptroller, City of New York. http://comptroller.nyc.gov/wp-content/uploads/documents/Claims_Report_FY13_and_FY14.pdf