By employing a strategy embracing community outreach, city planning and increased enforcement, New York City has set the ambitious goal of bringing traffic deaths to zero. But can the Big Apple’s plan achieve the same effect in our city?
NEW YORK — Armed with some city traffic data and a small green notebook, it doesn’t take long for Bill Francis to buttonhole the earnest young city engineers with his list of street-level grievances.
Top of mind for Francis, a minister and member of his local community board in the northwest corner of the Bronx, are two new strip-malls planned for the working-class neighbourhood of Kingsbridge.
"Don’t take this as a zinger, but they’re city-approved, so I’m going assume they’re correct," said Francis, thumbing through tables of traffic counts that show congestion at already troublesome levels. "Those two malls will add unknown amounts of traffic."
Across the table, two department of transportation staffers scribble notes. Francis tells them the Bronx needs many more protected bike lanes. But he says the new curb bump-outs are working well for pedestrians, who can use the cement sidewalk extensions to see past parked cars and into busy intersections. Later, the DOT staffers will get Francis to spell the name of a popular Cuban restaurant where takeout customers frequently flip dangerous u-turns.
"On their mind is getting home with their hot food," said Francis. "They’re thinking, I’m gonna make that u-turn."
This conversation, around a table in a shabbily grand college dining room in the Bronx, is the nitty-gritty of Vision Zero, the bold plan by rookie New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to eliminate traffic deaths in a decade.
De Blasio unveiled Vision Zero four months ago, his first big policy move since his swearing-in. He stole the idea from Sweden and Paris. Last week, Toronto mayoral hopeful Olivia Chow stole it from de Blasio, proposing her own, scaled-down version of Vision Zero.
De Blasio has promised a huge menu of projects that rally police officers, city traffic engineers, cab drivers and politicians around traffic safety.
The NYPD will dramatically increase enforcement, focusing especially on speeding and failing to yield to pedestrians, and police will also have a bevy of new photo radar cameras. DOT traffic engineers will redesign 50 of the most dangerous intersections this summer, adding safety features such as new turning lanes, roundabouts, pedestrian bump-outs and even de-synchronizing lights to curb night-time speeding.
More neighbourhoods will be designated slow zones, where the speed limit will shrink from 30 miles per hour to 20 miles per hour. Already, several of New York’s most famous thoroughfares, including Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and 160 blocks of Broadway, have been declared arterial slow zones, where drivers will soon be barred from speeding faster than 40 kilometres per hour. Then there’s the soft stuff — night after night of meetings and workshops like the one in the Bronx, anti-speeding ad campaigns, and new technology being tested in cabs to make them go slower.
"The mayor has been a clarion voice from the top, promoting the message that traffic deaths are preventable and we can’t tolerate them as New Yorkers," said Noah Budnick, the deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, the advocacy group that laid years of groundwork for Vision Zero. "If we make the streets safer for the most vulnerable people, they’re safer for everyone else."
Eliminating traffic deaths seems a crazy promise for a city where 250 people die every year in crashes and another 4,000 are badly hurt, where streets see crushing levels of pedestrians and car traffic and where New Yorkers can talk for hours about close calls, dead friends and dangerous intersections. During a recent visit to Budnick’s chaotic warren of an office in Chelsea, the New York Post left lying on the front bench carried two stories of two separate hit-and-runs in Brooklyn. One story included photos of the driver dangling out his side window as he sped off, unable to see out his shattered windshield.
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