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Tuesday, May 26: Today in not getting run over

Vision Zero won’t save you.

It might, if you’re lucky. We hope it does! But as implemented in New York City, Vision Zero leaves a lot to be desired.

Our Mayor likes to call us America’s safest big city. But after years of Vision Zero, thousands of New Yorkers a month are still being injured in car crashes, and aggressive driving is still the order of the day. And our police are doing nothing that will make a serious dent in the problem.

The NYPD doesn’t care if you get hit by a car.

Or maybe that’s unfair! We can’t know what’s going on in their minds. But it’s not difficult at all to see what they do. They park on sidewalks and in pedestrian plazas, and drive across them. They ignore the hundreds of obvious trouble spots where crosswalks and safety zones are continuously blocked by aggressive drivers for hours at a time every day. They obstruct bike lanes and bus lanes with their own cars, forcing people into traffic and delaying thousands of people a day.

When we report cars parked where they shouldn’t be, they lie on the record, close our 311 reports with fraudulent dispositions, and do nothing about it. And worst of all, when we’re injured by cars and trucks, they blame us rather than the 3-ton metal boxes that hit us.

New Yorkers deserve a safety force that actually understands what’s dangerous about this city and works to mitigate it, rather than the police we have, who mostly live somewhere else and drive in every day and park their personal cars illegally so they can sit in their cruisers and bark at us through loudspeakers.

The DOT’s way too timid.

Keeping people from being hit by cars and trucks on the streets of New York City is not actually very complicated. The tactics that work are well known and not at all mysterious! Some of them:

  • Reconfigure our street space so it’s harder for drivers to hit us, even if they’re idiotic, hostile, or foolhardy. Use physical obstructions to make cars slow down, and put physical barriers between cars and people. Address specific conflicts (e.g., drivers turning across a bike lane) in ways that reduce the likelihood of death or injury.
  • Make the experience for drivers worse, so people who have other less unpleasant options for getting around will use them. Bar vehicles entirely from parts of the city, restrict turns, reduce lanes.
  • Make parking expensive; or, to say it more accurately, make people pay what it’s actually worth. Eliminate free curbside storage for private cars; repurpose curbs for loading, plazas, bicycle parking, trash collection, and other human uses.
  • Enforce the law, starting with the laws that keep people from being killed. Ticket drivers who block crosswalks; control speeds; impound vehicles of serial offenders. Don’t let city employees steal parking. Don’t (we can’t believe we have to say this) let police officers park or drive on the goddam sidewalk. (We’re talking to you, Commissioner O’Neill.)

The DOT knows all this. For most of these tactics, it has statistics to prove that they work, which match the data from around the world. And we get, intermittently, great street designs from them! But many of their proposals take forever to be enacted, and often they don’t happen for years, or at all. We’re literally decades behind where we should be, because the DOT isn’t willing to say out loud “street safety is a higher priority than anything else.”

We’re finally getting some vocal support from the City Council. Let’s hope it continues, and in the meantime let’s keep the pressure on.

Cars are the real danger. But nobody will face it.

Last year, 65,000 of us were hurt in car crashes in our city. 241 of us died. Meanwhile, bikes killed almost nobody* and injured almost nobody, and most of the injuries they did cause were not very serious. That makes sense! A bike is small and doesn’t go very fast; meanwhile, any collision with a motor vehicle is likely to send you to the hospital with a serious injury.

Still, each time a truck runs over someone on a bike, the NYPD’s typical response is to look for a reason to blame the dead person, then spend a week performatively harassing some people on bikes. Nobody’s willing to face the real problem: there’s virtually no cost to driving in or through our city, street parking is free or nearly free for hundreds of thousands of vehicles, and the NYPD provides almost no enforcement of fundamental safety laws, even in intersections where there are dozens or hundreds of serious safety violations an hour that put thousands of people at risk of injury or death every day.

*In roughly 150 million bike trips in NYC in the past year, bike riders killed 0, 1, or 2 pedestrians, depending on how you count.

We’re going to build the city we deserve.

In a diverse, creative, vibrant, economically powerful city like New York, we could have streets that are safe, pleasant, and attractive, while also giving first priority to the mobility needs of the overwhelming majority of our population who didn’t arrive here today in their own personal cars — and meeting the practical delivery and service needs of companies and industries.

Instead, we have …this.

We deserve so much better. We’re going to add our voice to those of the dozen grassroots organizations already working to fix our terrible streets, and help make it happen.  Join us, or get out of the way. We’re coming through.

Some big problems

The NYPD harasses people on bikes and lectures people who cross against the light. Meanwhile, they are literally forcing us to walk and ride in traffic. Do they hate the people they serve, or are they just really, really, really oblivious to how much they, personally, endanger our lives?

Every day, thousands of people (many of them NYC employees, but not all) park illegally with parking placards, real and fraudulent. 99.99% of the time, the NYPD looks the other way; much of the time, when the problem is reported, the NYPD commits fraud on the record. Jokers like these block bus lanes, park on sidewalks, clog up pedestrian zones; they’re unsafe, and they’re rude. And it’s all illegal.

When was the last time you saw a driver get a summons for blocking a crosswalk? (Think about it. We’ll wait.)

Some of our best friends are on NYC Community Boards! And some boards are leading the way. But too often, critically needed safety improvements get beaten to death by CBs and self-appointed neighborhood groups.

Make no mistake: when your neighborhood “representatives” vote to obstruct street safety improvements, that may well mean that it’s okay with them if you, personally, die. Enough of this. We deserve better.

What can I do?

Support the people who are fighting for change.

Transportation Alternatives, Bike New York, StreetsPAC, Families for Safe Streets, Streetsblog, and many other organizations and projects like these* are doing the work, and deserve your help. In the media, in every borough across the city, and at City Hall and in Albany, they’re working to turn the dangerous, disappointing streets we have into something we can be proud of (and that we can enjoy without expecting to be run over!).

Join and support every single one of these groups. Donate to them, follow them on social media, publicize their work, and show up at their events. They need your presence, your money, and your voice.

Looking for street safety statistics about your own part of the city? Use crashmapper.org to understand how dangerous things are where you live and work.

*Should your organization be listed here? Tell us.

Hold the city accountable.

The NYPD isn’t enforcing safety laws, the Mayor is in hiding, and the City Council isn’t intervening. It’s time for that to change.

Your neighbors need you to show up at Community Board meetings, NYPD community council meetings, DOT and MTA open houses, and public information sessions about transportation and infrastructure. Many of our community institutions are dominated by people who are decades out of touch. Remind them that it’s not 1973 anymore, and we deserve a better city than this.

Use 311 to make noise. Call your councilmember. Walk into your precinct and tell the  NYPD about the danger zones near you. Make sure everyone understands you expect results!

Need to know what NYC Community District or police precinct you live in? This interactive map brought to you by BetaNYC can tell you.

Is this a nonprofit?

No, it’s a public-interest project of Mintz Communications. (NYC has lots of great nonprofits working on these issues. Support them all!) Content is written by Rich Mintz unless otherwise indicated.

Can I use this content?

Generally, you can quote from our content for any legitimate public-interest, educational, or journalistic purpose, as long as you credit us. More detail here.

Support BetaNYC

Our work depends on BetaNYC, a nonprofit civic organization dedicated to improving lives in New York City through civic design, technology, and open access to data. The tools they develop and the skills they train people with are critically important to making the case for street safety across the five boroughs.