De Blasio Campaign Goal for Traffic Safety: Zero Deaths

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NYC mayoral candidate Bill De Blasio has released the most ambitious transportation safety targets of any candidate: zero deaths in car crashes. 

This stance, pioneered by Sweden, is known as "vision zero" among safety advocates, a demographic delighted by the policy stances in the three-page policy brief issued by the De Blasio campaign this week. 

While it might seem far-fetched to imagine zero deaths or serious injuries in car crashes -- even as pedestrian deaths are increasing nationwide -- but advocacy groups like Transportation Alternatives have long said setting such a target is an important step in changing the perceptions about traffic crashes, shifting public understanding of them from 'accidents' to crashes caused by humans, and thus avoidable. 

Last year, 274 people were killed in crashes in NYC (see chart).

Rival candidates have also proposed increasing traffic safety targets, but not so radically. City Council speaker Christine Quinn has said she'd target reducing fatalities in half. Anthony Weiner included several transportation safety mentions in his most recent policy proposals.

But none endorsed the safety ideal of vision zero until Bill De Blasio.

There is no level of death or injury that New Yorkers should accept on our public streets. The City must take decisive and sustained action to reduce street fatalities each year until we have achieved “Vision Zero” – a city with zero fatalities or serious injuries caused by car crashes on the streets of New York.

To achieve this, De Blasio proposes a mix of design, regulation and enforcement policies, pretty much what safety advocates like Transportation Alternatives and writers at Streetsblog have been proposing for years. In fact, the plan cites TA and Streetsblog seven times in three pages. 

At the top of his list is design.

"If a road feels like a highway, people in cars will drive fast, no matter the speed limit. The City’s Department of Transportation has made progress reducing fatalities on our roadways by redesigning some of the city’s most dangerous intersections — but much more work remains to be done." 

Like redesign 50 dangerous intersections every year.

Then there's regulation.

Because speeding is the top cause of traffic deaths, De Blasio offers a few tools to slow down cars. He calls for the quadrupling of Slow Zones—communities with special lower speed limits of 20 m.p.h.—to 52 within four years. Pedestrians hit at 20 m.p.h. have just a five percent chance of dying, while pedestrians hit at 30 m.p.h have a 45 percent chance of death. He also wants the police to "track and prioritize" speeding enforcement and the other most dangerous violations above things like tinted windows, seat belt use, and cell phone use behind the wheel. While dangerous nationally, those offenses are not the top causes of pedestrian deaths in NYC. 

His final proposal to achieve the ambitious target of zero traffic deaths is cameras. Like just about every NYC politician, De Blasio wants local control over speed cameras. As we've reported before, the power to install speed cameras at intersections rests in the state legislature, which has been less enthusiastic about their use than NYC elected-officials. 

California implemented a vision zero approach in 2005 and within four years had reduced traffic fatalities by 29 percent (PDF). Twelve years after Sweden initiated vision zero in the late 90s, fatalities were down more than 50 percent