Last week was a gruesome one for New Yorkers on the streets: six people killed in car crashes in just two days.
Their deaths were part of a bloody summer for walkers and bicyclists — one that should make New Yorkers wonder: How seriously is Mayor Bill de Blasio taking his campaign pledge to cut road deaths to zero by 2024?
The end-of-August death toll included:
- 81-year-old Gen Zhan, hit in a Manhattan crosswalk by an FDNY ambulance driver
- 80-year-old Arline Smeal, struck in Queens by a van whose driver left it in reverse instead of park
- Michael Fabre, 25, Giovanny Sanchez, 24, and Christina Formato, 24, all killed in Fabre’s car on the LIE in Queens
- A 65-year-old man killed by a hit-and-run driver in The Bronx.
The week before, a 25-year-old driver killed 78-year-old Michael Schenkman as he rode his bicycle on Northern Boulevard in Queens.
Yes, the city is continuing to make Bloomberg-era improvements that will save lives... but de Blasio isn’t doing enough of these projects, and he’s not doing them fast enough.
Though the city hasn’t released August’s full body count yet, the earlier summer months weren’t good.
In June and July, 46 people died on the streets, up from 39 the year before. Five more pedestrians died, as did one more bicyclist and one more motorist. In the first seven months of the year, 129 people lost their lives, three more than last year.
But give the mayor some credit.
During de Blasio’s first two years, traffic deaths fell to an annual average of 245, down from an average of 274 during the last four years of the Bloomberg administration. (Annual traffic deaths averaged 390 in the four years before Bloomberg took office.)
Even one fewer death is better.
But it was de Blasio who said he’d end traffic deaths by 2024. He can’t do that even with the progress he made in 2014 and 2015, followed by the depressingly flat numbers coming in this year.
So let’s set a more realistic goal for the mayor: Cut traffic deaths in half, to 123 annually. And let’s be nice and assume he’ll have until the end of a second term to do it: 2021.
Even then, the mayor needs to cut traffic deaths by 11 percent this year — not see them increase, or even stay flat. That’s especially true if he’s going to continue to encourage New Yorkers to ride bikes.
Indeed, the pedestrian death count is actually flat for 2016 so far. It’s cyclists who are in greater danger: 15 killed this year through July, up from nine during the same period last year.
Twelve of the dead cyclists were riding outside of midtown and downtown Manhattan, which has the city’s best bicycle infrastructure and the slowest traffic. That’s not a good sign, as Citi Bike continues to expand into Queens, Brooklyn and northern Manhattan.
Yes, the city is continuing to make Bloomberg-era improvements that will save lives: adding protection for bicyclists and pedestrians to Queens Boulevard.
But de Blasio isn’t doing enough of these projects, and he’s not doing them fast enough. Plus, without better enforcement against speeding and other unsafe driving, there’s no guarantee this infrastructure works.
In June, a hit-and-run driver making a right turn killed a woman riding on the Hudson River’s bicycle lane, the busiest bike lane in the country. (An MTA cop caught him.)
And with the goal he set for himself, the mayor certainly can’t afford to go backwards.
But that’s what he’s doing.
Last December, the city installed pedestrian islands along Brooklyn’s dangerous Eastern Parkway to help schoolchildren cross the street more safely. The project was explicitly for Vision Zero.
But ahead of the past weekend’s West Indian Day Parade, the city ripped the islands out, without telling anyone.
The mayor seems unsure why he spent taxpayer money on this infrastructure only to tear it up months later. After all, the parade is not a surprise.
De Blasio first told the Streetsblog website that the tear-outs were the NYPD’s fault. But the police are not independent — they report to the mayor.
Then he blamed elected officials in Brooklyn.
Either way, it looks like the mayor sacrificed street safety because parade supporters wanted a wide roadway.
This destruction of infrastructure undid “years of street-safety advocacy work on the part of local residents . . . with no public process, and no one in the de Blasio administration is taking responsibility,” wrote Streetsblog’s David Meyer.
Last week’s road carnage shows who really pays for such sloppiness — and if the mayor wants to get even close to his Vision Zero goal, he can’t afford to lose more lives.
This piece originally appeared in the New York Post
Photo by Spencer Platt / Getty
Photo by Getty Images / Spencer Platt