NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg came to the Saul Weprin and Eleanor Roosevelt Democratic Clubs in Hollis Hills last Thursday night to talk about the Vision Zero plan, Mayor de Blasio’s effort to try and eliminate pedestrian fatalities in traffic accidents throughout the city.
Every year 4,000 people are injured and 250 are killed on city streets.
Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said he was horrified by video footage of one such incident in the area, a small child and her grandmother who were struck by a left-turning car, while they were crossing with the light in Fresh Meadows.
Trottenberg sympathizes with New Yorkers who have died in crashes and said she’s also seen the tape.
“A lot of families have come out of this tragedy and decided to channel their grief into really trying to make change happen and they’ve been really inspirational for us and our work,” she said.
Trottenberg said the DOT has successfully made some of the city’s streets more pedestrian-oriented by putting in crosswalks, pedestrian islands, slowing down traffic speeds, and banning left turns.
“In some intersections where we’ve done work we have reduced fatalities by somewhere between 20 and 88 percent, so really we have learned that good engineering work can make a big difference,” she said.
Warren Gardner, a DOT employee, explained that Vision Zero aims to change the mindset of New Yorkers, as motorists, cyclists and pedestrians all play a role on the streets.
“A lot of the times we call these accidents, but they’re not accidents, they’re preventable: Someone just wasn’t doing what they were supposed to be doing on the street and caused this crash,” Gardner said, noting that 70 percent of fatalities are caused by poor driver choices.
Bernard Hamisch, an audience member, said he had an issue with bicyclists, explaining that he finds them unpredictable and fears that he will hit them while driving.
Trottenberg said that the DOT is working to give bikers safe lanes to keep them from weaving through traffic and added that a lot of cycling groups in the city are responsible and ensure that members obey traffic laws.
One major initiative will be to lower the default citywide speed limit to 25 miles per hour, from the current 30 miles per hour.
“We control our speeds,” Trottenberg said. “That doesn’t mean it’s a one size fits all for every street, but it means they can target the appropriate speed to the appropriate neighborhood to the appropriate intersection. To lower the city’s default speed limit, we still would go neighborhood by neighborhood and corridor by corridor and make sure we’re taking a good look at traffic flow and the populations that are there.”
Speed is a huge factor in fatal crashes, Trottenberg said, as pedestrians hit at 20 miles per hour are far more likely to survive than pedestrians hit at 80 miles per hour.
De Blasio just gave the DOT an additional $52 million, which the agency plans to use for a variety of projects.
One initiative is creating arterial slow zones on some of the most dangerous roadways in the city. Major roads, such as Northern Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue, represent about 15 percent of the roadways in terms of mileage in the city, but 60 percent of the serious crashes and fatalities.
Lavelda Davis, a board member of the Hyde Park Garden Apartments, was at the meeting to pitch a stop sign or speed bump she has been trying to get on 68th Street in 2009 because cars speed there to beat the Jewel Avenue traffic light. Davis said the DOT has rejected her request, stating that the street is not a high-traffic area.
In addition to slow zones and speed bumps, the DOT will also improve the lighting at 1,000 intersections, as poor lighting is a key factor in many nighttime crashes.
Trottenberg said that theDOT is “looking forward” to deploying the 120 speed cameras the city secured through funding from the state and finding specific locations near schools to install them.
However, the law stipulates they can only be used during school hours and many crashes occur at night, she said.
The DOT is doing educational outreach at 500 schools and at senior centers around the city, as well as working with disability groups to ensure that any design changes account for their needs. They’ve launched ad campaigns targeting dangerous behaviors like drunk driving and texting while driving with slogans like “It can wait.”
As part of Vision Zero, the NYPD will ramp up enforcement of traffic laws and the Taxi and Limousine Commission will train drivers in safety.
Both agencies are working on finding better ways to investigate crashes to help law enforcement figure out the causes. In some cases, they will use speed guns and black boxes.
The DOT will also seek significant input from communities and host workshops in various neighborhoods.
While some have criticized the Bloomberg administration for favoring “trophy” projects while neglecting basic maintenance, Trottenberg, an early appointment of the de Blasio administration, said she respects the work of her predecessors.
She cited a report from The Center for Urban Futures, which estimates that in the next 10 years the city should spend $57 billion on infrastructure including subways, roadways, bridges and school buildings.
“We are trying to invest in some of the basics, road maintenance, bridge maintenance, surfacing, roadway reconstruction, pothole filling,” Trottenberg said. “It’s also true that we’re doing things that can have a really nice impact on quality of life and that can be plazas, bike lanes and a lot of those projects are actually pretty low cost and we enjoy them.”