New York City’s pedestrians and cyclists are more at risk on the streets as the city’s traffic fatalities reach record-breaking levels.
The Vision Zero plan, initiated under former Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014, was intended to dramatically improve street safety through comprehensive data and engineering. According to Vision Zero data as of March 31, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx have the highest rates of traffic fatalities and injuries this year. Citywide there’s been a total of 51 deaths and 11,043 people injured so far.
“Behind every crash is a family and community impacted by traffic violence,” said Speaker Adrienne Adams in a statement. “The Council is taking major steps to secure safer streets and neighborhoods for all New Yorkers.”
In a city council hearing on April 27, safer streets legislation sponsored by Transportation Committee Chair and Councilmember Selvena Brooks-Powers, Councilmember Rita Joseph, and Councilmember Amanda Farias, was approved under the Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic-related deaths and serious injuries.
The bill would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to redesign and “daylight” street intersections beginning in 2025, install traffic calming devices to slow or reduce traffic near zones with seniors, and call on the state to invest in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).
“We know that every traffic death is preventable if we make improvements and changes to street infrastructure and pedestrian safety,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams at the hearing. “To meet the critical moment in our street safety landscape we must invest in our communities, especially those in traffic corridors that for years have seen incalculable loss.”
After the package of bills was approved, community groups and elected officials rallied in the rain this past weekend for safety on major roadways, like Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. They demanded additional “traffic calming” legislation and said that 2025 was not soon enough to implement these recent laws since more “preventable” deaths would occur in the interim.
“For too long our city has not prioritized pedestrians,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso at the rally. “This city knows Atlantic Avenue has been a problem for a long time and they drag their feet because they don’t want to do the inevitable–which is we might have to take some lanes from vehicles, we might have to rethink the way we move around.”
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Atlantic Avenue is a 10 mile long “major thoroughfare” that bisects northern Brooklyn and Queens. On April 16, pedestrian Katie Harris was killed by a driver crossing Atlantic near Clinton Street. “Imagine losing the person that means the most to you. The person that knows more than any other person, the person that loves you and all your faults unconditionally,” said a close friend of Harris’ tearfully. “It’s unimaginable until it happens.”
Amy Cohen, co-founder of Families for Safe Streets, also spoke about losing her young son to traffic violence. She said that change should not be so hard. She’s been advocating for a law to be passed named after her late son, Sammy’s Law, that would lower the speed limit.
Some at the rally have been staunch supporters of traffic safety throughout their careers as elected officials. Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon pushed for the city’s first traffic calming study under former Mayor Rudy Guiliani. “In 1997, we finally got the Mayor to give us a traffic calming project,” said Simon. “Then the city DOT sat on the contract for a year and a half.”
The group advocated for the City to also install mid-block traffic lights to slow traffic and create more efficient pedestrian crossings, raised crosswalks for intersections, extended curbs, and redesigned sidewalk and pedestrian spaces near the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE).
“There’s no reason for delay. I think bureaucracy moves too slow and we should be pushing [the] DOT to go faster,” said Councilmember Lincoln Restler at the rally. “Lives are at stake.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.
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