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05.07.2014
Vision Zero Comes Into Focus
Safety measures implemented in several New York City boroughs.
New York City officials announce a 25mph slow zone on Brooklyn's McGuiness Boulevard.
Courtesy NYCDOT

New York City may have one of the lowest traffic fatality rates of any large city in the US, but every two hours a pedestrian is killed or injured by a motor vehicle. It is the current leading cause of death for children under 14 and the second leading cause of death for seniors.

Under Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero Action Plan the city is ramping up traffic enforcement, redesigning streets, and working to educate drivers about the perils of speeding.

One of the first of the 63 Vision Zero proposals to be rolled out is the Arterial Slow Zone program, which is focusing on 25 major thoroughfares where there have been particularly high rates of pedestrian fatalities and injuries. Thus far, work is underway on three zones: a 5.2 mile stretch of the Grand Concourse in the Bronx and in Brooklyn a roughly 8-mile stretch of Atlantic Avenue and a 1.1 mile stretch of McGuinness Boulevard. On these designated roadway segments, which are targeted for stricter enforcement and marked with distinctive blue and white signs, the citywide speed limit of 30 mph has been reduced to 25, street lights retimed, and pedestrian safety features are being added such as widened medians.

Studies show that at 20 mph pedestrians hit by cars have a 98 percent chance of survival, but the death rate goes up significantly for every one mile per hour increase. At the city’s current 30 mph speed limit, a pedestrian hit by a car has only an 80 percent chance of survival. At 40 mph a pedestrian hit by a car only has a 30 percent chance of survival.

For Vision Zero’s goals to be realized citywide, various state laws need to be changed. New York State Senator Martin Malavé Dilan and Assembly member Maureen O’Connell have both sponsored legislation that would allow the city to determine more of its own traffic regulations. Currently, New York City does not have the authority to lower its overall speed limit without approval from the state legislature. State law even limits red light cameras to use at 150 intersections and the use of speed enforcement cameras to only 20 locations near schools.

“The main event right now is Albany,” said Paul White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “We need the state legislature to lower the default speed limit to 20 mph, and we are also seeking enabling legislation for hundreds of additional speed enforcement cameras.”

Alex Ulam