Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

New York’s Next Public Safety Revolution

You’ve probably heard by now of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Vision Zero” plan for eliminating traffic deaths in his city in ten years. While I had some quibbles with the idea of targeting zero, the idea of focusing on street safety is clearly a good one.

Nicole Gelinas has a major piece in City Journal talking about Vision Zero called “New York’s Next Public Safety Revolution” that’s well worth reading. She did a 15 minute podcast on this as well you can listen to here. If the embed doesn’t display, go directly to the MP3 file.

Here an excerpt from the piece:

Too many New Yorkers die every year because of reckless drivers. Thankfully, new New York mayor Bill de Blasio has shown leadership in this area, unveiling an ambitious and workable plan to make traffic safer. Backed strongly by New York Police Department chief William Bratton and the city council, the mayor’s multiagency initiative, called Vision Zero, will seek to reduce traffic deaths in the city to zero, just as the police try to cut murders to zero. The inspiration behind the plan, which reinforces and expands on efforts by Michael Bloomberg’s administration, comes from Sweden’s use of innovative road design and smart law enforcement, which has reduced overall traffic fatalities in Stockholm by 45 percent—and pedestrian fatalities by 31 percent—over the last 15 years. When a child runs after a bouncing ball into a residential street and a speeding car strikes and kills him, the Vision Zero philosophy maintains, the death shouldn’t be seen as an unavoidable tragedy but as the result of an error of road design or behavioral reinforcement, or both. We already think this way about mass transit and aviation. These days, a plane crash or a train derailment is never solely explained by human error (a train conductor falling asleep, say); it also is a failure of a system that allowed a mistake to culminate in disaster. Of course, engineers and regulators can’t eliminate all injuries and deaths; but by applying rigorous, data-based methods, they can cut down on them dramatically.

Topics: Transportation
Cities: New York

3 Responses to “New York’s Next Public Safety Revolution”

  1. Chris Barnett says:

    Reaction to the excerpt: No amount of road design or policing will stop people from driving like idiots or driving drunk/drugged/too tired (subsets of “driving like idiots”).

    It is a fallacy of “technocracy” to think that this is even possible in the world of private automobiles. Rail and air transportation have far fewer random variables to control, strict credentialing for operators, and tight private and government regulation on most facets of operation. Unless we become very strict about testing for drivers’ licenses and wire all cars to make people pass breath and coordination tests prior to ignition, these goals are highly idealistic and impractical.

  2. EngineerScotty says:


    I would disagree. While “zero” is of course not a realistic goal (though an excellent target), CULTURE MATTERS.

    Here in Portland, for example:

    * Motorists actually YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS in crosswalks. In many cities I’ve been in, that simply isn’t the case–cars won’t stop unless there is a traffic control device instructing them to do so, and pedestrians wanting to cross the street without a signal are essentially forced to play Frogger.

    * The police here ENFORCE CROSSWALK laws. The cops run stings here, where plainclothes officers will walk across the street at crosswalks (including mid-block), and officers in police cars will TICKET MOTORISTS who fail to yield.

    * The authorities here also PROSECUTE MOTORISTS who injure/kill pedestrians or other “vulnerable road users” through negligent behavior.

    In NYC, I’m led to believe by much reporting, the police and prosecutors take the line that streets are for cars, and that if pedestrians get killed while crossing, gee, we can’t do anything about that (at least not unless the motorist in question was falling down drunk at the time).

    Changing police culture can be hard, of course. But it can be done.

  3. Doug Weasner says:

    I commend the effort. A question remains in my mind however. With autonomous vehicles on the horizon, does it make sense to make major investments in designing streetscapes for human drivers?

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