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Thursday, Oct 06: 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 isn’t working.

Politicians like 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 do not seem to take the problem seriously — in fact, they make it worse.

The NYPD won’t save you.

Some precincts tweet about Vision Zero, and hand out flyers. That’s fine. But look at what their officers behave. They park on sidewalks and in pedestrian plazas, and drive across them. They turn the blocks around their own precincts into auto junkyards. 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 personal cars, forcing people into traffic and delaying thousands of people a day.

When we report cars parked where they shouldn’t be, our police lie on the record and don’t take action. 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 drive in from somewhere else and behave like they don’t respect the people who live here.

The DOT has good ideas. But change is slow.

How to keep people from being hit by cars and trucks on the streets of New York City is not complicated. The tactics that work are well known and not at all mysterious!

  • The need: Reconfigure our street space so it’s harder for drivers to hit us, even if they’re idiots or angry. 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.
    The reality: Our DOT does some of this. But not nearly enough.
  • The need: 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.
    The reality: For all the carping from drivers, we’ve done proportionally very little of this. Even in Manhattan, there have been no significant changes on more than 80% of our street mileage.
  • The need: Make parking expensive: 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.
    The reality: Propose removing 2 parking spaces for a safety island, and see what happens at the next public meeting.
  • The need: Enforce the law, starting with the laws that keep people from being killed. Ticket drivers who block crosswalks; control speeds; impound the 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 sidewalk.
    The reality: Individual police officers personally benefit from the status quo. This system won’t change itself.

The DOT knows all this. For most of the tactics that increase safety, 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 the great things we get take forever to happen. We’re decades behind where we should be, because no one in city government will say “street safety is a higher priority than anything else” — and then back it up.

For two City Council sessions in a row, we’ve gotten some vocal Council support. But last session it pretty much came to nothing: the NYPD lied to Corey Johnson’s face in a City Council hearing, and the DOT pushed back against a major change that would give it authority to tackle the problem. If we keep the pressure on, things may be different this year.

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

Last year, 50,000 of us were hurt in car crashes in our city. 272 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 at places 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 2019, bike riders killed 0, 1, or 2 pedestrians, depending on how you count.

Let’s 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. Let’s use our voices to support good ideas — from inside and outside city government — and help make them happen faster.

Join us, or get out of the way. We’re coming through.

Some big problems

The NYPD hassles 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 dangerous it is to park in a bike lane or on a sidewalk?

Every day, thousands of people (many of them NYC employees, but not all) park illegally with parking placards, real and fraudulent. Almost always, the NYPD looks the other way; they close 311 tickets every day with no action. 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 the NYPD issue a summons to a driver for blocking a crosswalk? (Take your time. We’ll wait.)

Some of our best friends are on NYC Community Boards! And there are progressive boards in every borough. But too often, critically needed street design improvements get beaten to death by community review, or held up for years.

If your neighborhood representatives obstruct street safety improvements, they are directly contributing to traffic violence. 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 out on a junket, and the City Council isn’t intervening. It’s time for all 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 local institutions are dominated by people who are decades out of touch. Remind them that it’s not the same city it was 50 years ago.

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 private project in the public interest. (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 open access to public data. Their tools and training help make the case for street safety across the five boroughs.