Saving Lives on New York's Streets

January 6, 2015
This open letter originally appeared in City & State on January 5, 2015. You can join the Coalition to End Traffic Violence here.

An Open Letter from Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives on Year Two of Vision Zero

New York City has arrived at a pivotal moment on traffic safety. There is now unprecedented consensus that we can prevent crashes like the ones that killed three-year-old Allison Liao and nine-year-old Cooper Stock, leaving countless families devastated. Mayor Bill de Blasio has declared a policy of Vision Zero, an initiative to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries over the next decade.

Traffic deaths were down considerably this year, but we still have a long way to go. The City ended 2014 with more than 260 traffic fatalities, and each year 70,000 people are injured on our streets. Now the mayor, governor and other city and state officials must prove that they can be lifesavers by establishing clear goals, timetables and benchmarks for Vision Zero in 2015.

The Road to Vision Zero

After several children were struck and killed by drivers in late 2013, their parents came together with other survivors to form Families for Safe Streets. The group compelled Mayor de Blasio to take immediate action on one of his campaign pledges: to adopt a policy of Vision Zero.

The mayor moved more quickly than anyone expected, forming an interagency task force after only weeks in office. The City Council rose to the challenge, approving a slate of implementation bills. At the urging of Families for Safe Streets, Mayor de Blasio, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and key Council members partnered with Albany lawmakers to win a safer 25 mph speed limit for New York City, with Governor Andrew Cuomo signing the legislation in August.

2014 was about commitment to Vision Zero. 2015 must be about accountability, as the de Blasio administration works to rebuild the city’s most dangerous streets and improve traffic enforcement.

Mayor de Blasio, the DOT and the City Council

“Arterial” streets like Atlantic Avenue, the Grand Concourse and Queens Boulevard are the site of 60 percent of fatal crashes in New York City, even though they make up only 15 percent of our road network. Mayor de Blasio and Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg must move to rebuild these hazardous multi-lane speedways with wider sidewalks, pedestrian refuge islands and more split-phase signals to give pedestrians dedicated time to cross. “Complete Street” redesigns must also include protected bike lanes and dedicated bus lanes.

The mayor and the City Council under Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Transportation Committee Chairman Ydanis Rodriguez must secure the funding necessary to begin work on a citywide arterial transformation plan no later than 2017.

District Attorneys, DMV and the NYPD

Transportation Alternatives, Families for Safe Streets and our allies will work to ensure that NYPD traffic enforcement is consistent across the precincts and is focused on the most deadly violations – speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. We call on Police Commissioner William Bratton to build Vision Zero education into the Police Academy, and to bring the high standards of the NYPD Collision Investigation Squad to the precinct level.

The city’s five district attorneys, Richard Brown, Daniel Donovan, Robert Johnson, Ken Thompson and Cyrus Vance, must begin prosecuting drivers whose reckless behavior causes death or serious injury. They have a new tool to do this: section 19-190 of the city’s administrative code empowers the NYPD and district attorneys to apply criminal charges when a driver hits a person who has the right of way. Unfortunately, the city only has a 2 percent prosecution rate in crashes that do not involve DWI.

At a City Hall Rally for Traffic Justice on January 11th. we will be calling for Council oversight hearings on the role of D.A.s in the Vision Zero effort We need legislation similar to the NYPD TrafficStat law, which requires regular public reporting from district attorneys about their cases. The D.A.s in the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island are seeking re-election next year, and we will press the issue of driver accountability with all the candidates.

We also demand prompt and meaningful action from the successor to DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala and the agency’s courts. That means a mandatory three-month license suspension for serious offenses like hit-and-run, aggravated unlicensed operation and failure to use due care. We also want to see a reform of the DMV’s point system, so higher point values apply to violations that cause death or serious injury.

Along with the DMV and the D.A.s, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Thomas Prendergast must make the agency part of the Vision Zero Task Force, given the number of fatal crashes involving MTA buses. And the city’s Department of Education must also become a full partner and bring its resources to bear on the effort to raise awareness about street safety.

Safer Streets in 2015

2014 brought inspiring progress toward ending the silent epidemic of traffic violence on New York City streets. In 2015, we must harness the momentum we’ve built up at the grassroots and in the corridors of power, and apply that energy to projects that will make our city a safer and better place for every resident, commuter and visitor.