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Queens Chronicle

The European way is better, study says

New traffic safety report backs the push for bike lanes and pedestrian plazas

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Posted: Thursday, June 16, 2011 12:00 pm | Updated: 5:09 am, Wed Dec 24, 2014.

Speed kills — and not just on Queens Boulevard, the notorious Boulevard of Death, but all over the city. The right policies, however, could cut down the number of fatalities greatly.

That’s the main message of a new study conducted by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives and the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, a liberal think tank.

Entitled “Vision Zero: How Safer Streets in New York City Can Save More Than 100 Lives a Year,” the extensive study reports that more New Yorkers are now killed in car accidents than by gunfire, though the number of traffic fatalities has been falling for years and continues to do so.

In 2009, the last year for which figures were cited, 268 people were killed by crashes on the streets of the city, the study said, citing Department of Motor Vehicle records. That marked a decline of 30 percent since 2001, when the number was 381.

But the total is still far higher than it has to be, according to the report.

“One New Yorker is killed every 35 hours in a traffic crash,” the study says. “And for every eight traffic fatalities, New Yorkers suffer one hundred life-altering serious injuries — nearly 34,000 over the past eight years — including the loss of limb, immobility, traumatic brain injury or chronic pain.”

It continues, “These facts are all the more alarming because most traffic deaths and injuries can be avoided. Many of our peer cities in western and northern Europe have traffic fatality rates half of New York City’s.”

The key, according to the report, is for the city to continue implementing more traffic-calming measures like lower speed limits and narrower lanes, as well as better accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians. Transportation Alternatives has been the leading non-governmental force behind the city’s expansion of bike lanes and increasing restrictions on motor vehicles in recent years.

Among the study’s other key findings were these:

• On average, 317 New Yorkers are killed in traffic every year. In addition, New Yorkers suffered 34,000 life-altering injuries over the past nine years, or 3,774 a year.

• Being struck by a car is the most common cause of injury-related death among children 1 to14 years of age and the second-most common cause among those aged 15 and older.

• The city has made tremendous progress in terms of street safety over the past decade, but New York is still behind our peer cities in western and northern Europe.

• New York is the safest U.S. city in terms of traffic fatalities, but the U.S. has a dismal record on street safety overall, with fatality rates comparable to countries in the former Soviet Republics, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

• Over 100 lives could be saved every year if New York’s traffic fatality rate was the same as many of our peer cities. Paris, Berlin, Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki have fatality rates half of New York City’s.

• In 2009, traffic incidents cost the city and its residents over $4 billion. In comparison, the city dedicated less than one percent of that amount to its street safety programs in fiscal year 2009, or $33.4 million in capital commitments and $3.9 million in operating expenses.

The study advocates for lower speed limits, specifically 20 miles per hour on city streets where the limit is now 30, and more European-style features like bike lanes, roundabouts and pedestrian plazas.

It also acknowledges that such changes are controversial, and adds that the city should do more to convince skeptics that they have concrete positive benefits.

The full study is posted on the Drum Major Policy Institute and Transportation Alternatives websites.

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