Several hundred people marched from City Hall Park to the United Nations in New York City as part of the recent World Day of Remembrance to honor those killed or injured in traffic crashes. The timing of the event coincided with an alarming spike in traffic fatalities in the city. The march and the 13 pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities highlighted issues around the Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic deaths among pedestrians and cyclists.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has made Vision Zero a centerpiece of his administration, asserted that the city was making progress toward its goals, noting that 92 lives had been saved because of improvements such as lowered speed limits, street redesigns and speed cameras.
One of the reasons for slow progress, however, is that enforcement is still the weak link in the program. There are only 20 officers on the New York Police Department crash investigation team, meaning that only a few are on duty at any given time. Additionally, police often talk to reporters before investigations are completed, in many instances exonerating drivers before the facts are actually known. The media continues referring to crashes as accidents, suggesting that no one is to blame and that such events are unpreventable.
In May 2015, the Daily News reported that results from the year-old Vision Zero program were mixed. At that time, pedestrian fatalities were down slightly, but not even close to the mayor’s goal of zero. Some streets, including parts of Broadway, saw significant decreases in injuries or deaths over previous years. However, some streets had significant increases, making citywide statistics less positive than the mayor would like. Overall, there was no decrease in crashes, and fatalities dropped by only 4 percent.
By July, the numbers had improved only slightly, with a decrease in fatalities of 5 percent as opposed to the 4 percent in May. Some, including a spokesperson for Transportation Alternatives, noted that local community boards frequently want less change in traffic patterns or oppose improvements altogether, making it hard to implement change citywide.
The seemingly impossible goal of eliminating traffic fatalities altogether is a long-term one, according to a city spokesperson. And those marching last week agree that more attention is being given to traffic fatalities.