This year, New York City Mayor Bill de Balsio rolled out Vision Zero, an ambitious plan that aims to end traffic-related deaths. As the year comes to a close, the results of the action plan's first year will largely boil down to two key statistics: the number of deaths and the number of injuries.
Sadly, both these numbers remain high. According to the data from the city, which can be viewed here on a handy interactive map, fatalities and injuries for 2014 are trending slightly downward compared to 2013. As of October 29, there have been 209 traffic-related deaths and 36,461 injuries. That compares to 291 deaths and 47,755 injuries in 2013.
Yet more than half of the people killed by cars in New York City are pedestrians and cyclists. City data reports 101 pedestrian fatalities in 2014, compared to 178 in 2013. According to a city report, bad driver choices are responsible for or contribute to 70 percent of pedestrian deaths.2014 has already been a more deadly year for cyclists than 2013, with at least 18 deaths. That's up from 12 last year.
One major change introduced by Vision Zero was to lower the citywide speed limit from 30 to 25 miles per hour. The decrease was hailed as a life-saving measure. The change went into effect on November 7, so it’s unlikely we will have seen its full benefit borne out in the 2014 crash data.
The Vision Zero action plan proposes a number of measures aiming to curb reckless driving, such as more Department of Motor Vehicle points for hitting a biker or pedestrian and higher penalties for drivers who leave the scene of a crash. However, these proposals have yet to be put in effect, and few drivers who kill bike riders or pedestrians are charged with homicide. According to Streets Blog NYC, one driver has been convicted this year and two were convicted in 2013.
A number of street safety advocates argue that some of the initiatives misplace responsibility, essentially blaming the victim. For example, Brad Aaron at Streets Blog writes that new PSAs that warn about the dangers of texting and walking “reinforce the misconception that people killed by drivers are responsible for their own deaths.” (There is little data showing that texting and walking results in accidents, unlike texting and driving.) This August, an initiative called Operation Safe Cycle left many bike riders with the impression that they were being disproportionately targeted for tickets as police vehicles blocked their bike lanes.
Perhaps the best hope for reducing the number of traffic deaths lays in future street design improvements. For example, the introduction of protected bike lanes in New York City has already shown a reduction in rider and pedestrian injuries along the affected streets. Vision Zero proposes more bike paths, new left turn lanes, added crosswalks and more speed bumps.
But the year isn’t over yet. In a 10 day period at the end of November, five pedestrians and one cyclist were killed in collisions with motorists, deaths that likely aren’t yet counted in the city data cited above. So, while we may see a drop in total fatalities for 2014, we still have a long way to before we reach zero.