As New York nears 5 years since Vision Zero went into effect in 2014, new traffic data shows that pedestrian deaths in the five boroughs increased 6.5% from 107 deaths in 2017 to 114 in 2018.
While overall traffic fatalities are down, a dozen pedestrians were killed in NYC in December alone, turning what should have been a celebratory holiday season into a period of tragedy and grieving for many families. The most recent pedestrian fatality, Kimberly Greer, was only 28 years old when she was struck and killed by a charter bus driver who was arrested for failure to yield to a pedestrian.
The new city data also reveals that, from 2017 to 2018, traffic fatalities decreased in every borough except for Queens, where there was a 14.5% increase from the 62 traffic deaths in 2017.
Taken together, these insights reveal that while Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative has made some progress, there is still a long way to go before meeting the goal of putting an end to traffic fatalities in New York. As mentioned in the original Vision Zero Action Plan, pedestrians, rather than motorists or cyclists, are the demographic of New Yorkers who bear the brunt of traffic accidents and fatalities.
This is not a new trend. Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revealed that 59.6% of 2016 traffic fatalities in NYC were pedestrians, far and away the highest of any other American city. In 2018, pedestrians made up 57% of all traffic fatalities in NYC. To show how high that number is, the city with the second highest rate of pedestrian fatalities, Los Angeles, had a 41.3% rate of pedestrian fatality in 2016.
One takeaway from the latest data, and an overall theme of Vision Zero, is that New York motorists need to be much more careful and attentive behind the wheel. Particularly in New York City, where foot traffic relative to vehicle traffic is so dense, even one moment of inattention behind the wheel can have devastating results, and even cost somebody their life. Data from Vision Zero reveals that 70% of pedestrian fatalities are caused by dangerous driver choices.
Hopefully, the continued efforts of the New York City government to educate drivers will result in fewer pedestrian fatalities. The third annual safety campaign titled Dusk and Darkness encourages motorists to be especially cautious when it is dark out, as it often is in the winter once the clocks have been turned back. One thing New Yorkers should be aware of, according to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says, is that Nov. 1 – March 15 is the deadliest time of year for pedestrians in New York City, especially in the evening.
Another notable safety story from 2018 was the NYPD’s week-long crackdown of private garbage trucks, during which 132 of 142 inspected trucks were taken off the road for dangerous infractions such as malfunctioning brakes and low tire pressure. In just one week, the NYPD issued a staggering 1,070 summonses to private garbage truck drivers and employees, compared to 1,826 summonses issued in the previous 10 months. The enormous disparity between these two numbers suggests that spotlighting the safety practices of the commercial sanitation industry is long overdue. Disturbingly, at least 4 people were killed by garbage trucks in New York City in 2018; meanwhile, the NYPD says that the trucks have killed at least 20 New Yorkers since 2016.
Ending traffic fatalities in New York City and State is a worthy goal which we all play a part in achieving. Whether you are a cyclist, motorist, or pedestrian, it pays to be aware of how different Vision Zero initiatives are subtly beginning to transform our streets into a safer place. But the most important thing will always be to obey all applicable traffic laws and stay vigilant no matter where you are, or what form of transportation you’re using. Because if there is one thing this most recent data set shows, it is that even if our streets are a little bit safer than they have been, it only takes one bad decision from a negligent driver to snuff out a life at a moment’s notice.