City unveils new phase of Vision Zero while critics call for more safety

NEW YORK — The mayor, police commissioner and other city leaders on Tuesday touted recent significant gains made in reducing traffic fatalities on New York City streets and roads. They also unveiled a new online tool that gives detailed, frequently updated statistics on traffic hazards and casualties that can further help people protect themselves.

Still, some people who have very personal attachments to the issue of traffic safety are saying the city needs to do a lot more.

At a mid-morning news conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O'Neill described the city's intensified effort to reduce traffic dangers as a further improvement of its Vision Zero traffic safety program. Specifically, the two men reviewed the results of another initiative the city took recently.

The Dusk to Darkness campaign was aimed at making drivers, pedestrians and cyclists more aware of the increased risk of traffic-related fatalities as the nights have gotten longer with daylight saving time having ended.

Dusk to Darkness also featured an increase in road checkpoints, accompanied by tens of thousands of more summonses for everything from drivers not yielding to pedestrians to bicyclists not obeying traffic signals.

The results, said de Blasio and O'Neill, were encouraging. While every death is tragic, they pointed out, in the four weeks from October 27th to November 27th of this year, the city saw 13 traffic-related fatalities. That's a significant reduction from the same period last year, when 30 people lost their lives in traffic-related situations, according to the NYPD.

The initiative that resulted in the improvement is just beginning, according to Mayor de Blasio. "You ain't seen nothin' yet," he said to reporters.

"It's what we do," said Commissioner O'Neill. He said that the NYPD has, for more than two decades, closely analyzed traffic injury, collision and fatality data in order to figure out the best ways to enforce traffic laws that can help save lives. That's why, he added, "we're getting such a significant decrease in that one month period."

It's also why, he and the mayor announced, that the data the NYPD uses is now being made available to the public. TrafficStat 2.0 is not only powered by the same software that the NYPD uses to compile the Compstat numbers that it's used to reduce crime significantly over the last 30 years, TrafficStat 2.0 is also updated weekly, a day before city police and transportation officials meet to analyze the data themselves.

"No other police department in the world provides the public an analytic like this one," said Jessica Tisch, the NYPD deputy commissioner for information technology, at the news conference.

Still, the rollout was not without critics.

"It's a good start," said Dulcie Canton, a member of Families for Safe Streets, a traffic safety advocacy organization made up of people who've been in traffic-related crashes and the family members of people who've been killed in crashes.

"We need more and infrastructure and education to make Vision Zero work," said Canton, in an interview. More specifically, she called for more "protected bike lane[s]. That's where you see the difference being made."

She was speaking from life-threatening personal experience. Two years ago, a speeding car ran over her at night on a street in Bushwick, Brooklyn. "I suffered a concussion," she said, "a fractured shoulder and a fractured ankle."

She and her organization are affiliated with another advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives. It's also calling on the city to do more.

Even though there are fewer traffic deaths overall this year, said Traffic Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White, "the numbers for the year are terrible. The mayor needs to do more to get Vision Zero on track."

White said that in specific traffic-related fatality categories, including those for pedestrian and cycling fatalities, the numbers are up this year over last, and could increase.

Overall, traffic-related fatalities from January to late November of this year dropped to 214, down from 225 over the same period last year.

Traffic Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets are both calling on the mayor to propose larger city budget spending on changing traffic infrastructure to be more pedestrian and bicycle friendly.