Making Vision Zero Work for New Yorkers

Vision Zero is a citywide initiative to eliminate all traffic-related fatalities and injuries by 2024. First enacted during the 1990s in Sweden, many cities have adopted the model due to the plan’s success. Vision Zero’s model is to understand that while most traffic accidents are accidents, they are preventable through better traffic safety. It aims to integrate the idea that human failure is inevitable with street planning and policies to ensure that these mistakes do not lead to severe injuries or death. In 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that Vision Zero would be the city’s official policy. Since then, agencies have prioritized safety laws to reflect the urgency of this matter. All new city transportation employees receive extensive training on Vision Zero strategies. One of the most notable and effective projects has been the speed cameras implemented on city streets. Speeding has been reduced by 60% in school zones with speed cameras. Unfortunately, 2021 has seen the highest number of traffic-related death tolls in New York City since the introduction of Vision Zero in 2014. It is obvious that the city needs to do more to protect pedestrians, bikers, and other micro-mobility users.

This past week, the Committee on Transportation held a city council meeting to overview Vision Zero. NYLCV’s program associate Carlos Castell Croke presented testimony at this hearing to argue for faster implementation of the Streets Master Plan. Although reports confirm that bike usage has increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is on the path to being the deadliest year for vehicular-caused fatalities during Mayor de Blasio’s term. This is due to aging infrastructure in New York City which gives precedence to cars over greener forms of transportation, such as biking or walking. In addition, adding speed cameras to streets that are known to have frequent accidents will discourage reckless driving. A prominent plan for how to be less reliant on cars is Transportation Alternatives’ 25×25 Plan whereby the city reclaims 25% of public space allocated to cars and converts it into space for people by 2025. Although Vision Zero was a necessary step towards a safer and more sustainable city, it is not doing enough to face the problems of 2021 and beyond.

The meeting also included representatives from all over the city, including loved ones of those who have been affected by traffic accidents. There were many ideas to make streets safer for everyone. Some ideas that were introduced include reducing parking, a carpooling mandate, and encouraging bicycles. For some, it is hard to reimagine safer streets in New York City. The makeup of the city just doesn’t seem to support these ideals. Although many plans are still in the works, it is evident that this is no longer taking the back seat in transportation policies.