Mayor Bill de Blasio has signed legislation to lower New York City’s default speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25. The measure was recently passed by the City Council and is one of the central policy pieces of Vision Zero—the mayor’s plan to eliminate traffic fatalities in the city.
“We’re here today to make good on a commitment to save lives in this city,” the mayor said at the top of the press conference, which was held on the Lower East Side near where 12-year-old Dashane Santana was struck and killed by a car in 2012. Dashane’s grandmother, as well as other families who have lost loved ones in traffic accidents, stood behind the mayor as he put pen to paper. According to the mayor’s office, come November 7th, about 90 percent of the city’s streets will have a speed limit of 25 miles per hour or lower. To inform drivers of these changes, the NYC DOT has launched a public awareness campaign and will be installing 3,000 new speed limit signs over the next year. The five mile per hour change may seem minor, but an individual hit by a car traveling 30 miles per hour is twice as likely to die than from one traveling 25.
Citing numbers from “last year” (which actually appear to be from fiscal year 2011–2012) Mayor de Blasio noted that 291 people were killed in traffic accidents in New York City. “That’s almost as many people lost to traffic fatalities that were lost to murder,” he said. Of those killed in traffic accidents, 115 were drivers and 176 were cyclists or pedestrians. In 2013, according to city data, 286 people died in traffic accidents in New York, but according to the New York State DMV, that number is actually higher, 294. “Part of the discrepancy may come from the fact that often people who sustain life threatening or critical injuries may not die for many months after being hit,” said Alana Miller, Transportation Alternative’s policy coordinator, in an email. The NYC DOT did not respond to AN‘s request for more information on the numbers mentioned by Mayor de Blasio.
These recent figures, though, follow about 10 years of dropping traffic fatalities. “The significant decline in traffic deaths over the last decade is not an accident,” said Miller. “It is the result of smart traffic safety policies that have redesigned dangerous streets, installed protected bike lanes, widened sidewalks and put in pedestrian islands, created safer speed limits around schools and slow zones where communities have identified speeding problems, and installed cameras to deter driving behavior.”
Now, thanks to early Vision Zero interventions, Mayor de Blasio said the rate is once again decreasing. “As of last Thursday, citywide pedestrian fatalities were down over 20 percent from the same point last year,” he said. “Overall traffic-related fatalities were down nearly seven percent. Vision Zero has just begun, but look at that progress.” At this point, it’s hard to say if that reduction is from Vision Zero, or if the numbers are reverting to the early-2000’s trends.
Despite this year’s reduction in traffic fatalities, the numbers are still quite grim—especially for cyclists. According to data compiled by WNYC, as of mid-October, 200 people have been killed in traffic accidents this calendar year. The rate is down slightly from last year, but WNYC noted that 17 cyclists have been killed since January 1st, which is more than twice as many were killed last year.