Brigid Bergin is the City Hall reporter for WNYC. She covers city politics including the 2013 mayoral race and transition.
Speaking outside a Queens school where an eight-year-old boy was recently struck down by a truck, Bill de Blasio says New York City will take immediate steps to stem traffic fatalities.
"The goal is literally to reduce fatalities on our roadways to zero. That is our singular focus," he said.
In recent days, the mayor has been urged to move forward on his "Vision Zero" traffic safety goal, especially since eleven people—seven of them pedestrians—have already been killed in traffic in the first 15 days of this year.
De Blasio said starting Thursday, New York City's speed cameras—finally assented to by Albany—will begin issuing tickets instead of warnings.
Because speed cameras require state approval, the city can only install 20 of them. But the mayor says he wants more.
"We're going to fight for the home rule right to install speed cameras and red light cameras wherever data shows they will make our street safer," he said. "Look, this is a right our city needs to have. We need to be able to protect our people...we should not have to constantly go to Albany."
De Blasio also said he's creating an interagency working group that will report back to him by February 15th. The group, which he said touches on every agency but especially the NYC Department of Transportation, the NYPD, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and the city's health department, is charged with figuring out a plan to deter and enforce dangerous driving behaviors, improve at least 50 dangerous corridors, expand the number of 20 mph zones across the city, and pursue a "traffic safety legislative agenda."
In the immediate future, the NYPD will increase the number of personnel dedicated to serious traffic violation enforcement, adding 60 officers to a squad that currently stands at 210. A police officer will also be stationed on Northern Boulevard in Queens, the site of the crash that killed eight-year-old Noshat Nahian.
Families of traffic fatality victims attending Mayor de Blasio's press conference (photo by Brigid Bergin/WNYC)
Police commissioner Bill Bratton said the department had also recently expanded both the number and type of collisions it investigates, and had had harsh words for a previous NYPD policy. In the past, he said, "many, many serious accident investigations, involving serious injuries, were not seriously investigated." Bratton added that the NYPD's goal would be to investigate all serious accidents.
Bratton said the NYPD would be cracking down on driving behaviors that lead to crashes, such as disobeying signs, improper turns, failure to yield to pedestrians, distracted driving, and speeding. At the precinct level, more officers will be trained on newer-technology laser speed measurement, and precincts will be required to submit pedestrian safety plans.
This is "an effort that the police department is committed to," Bratton said. "A life lost is a life lost, whether by murder or by traffic accident."
De Blasio campaigned on "Vision Zero," an approach to traffic fatalities that treats every death as preventable. He's been meeting with the families of traffic crash victims, many of whom were in attendance at the press conference. "They, to me, are moral arbiters in this fight," he said.
Advocates praised the announcement. Paul Steely White, the head of Transportation Alternatives, said de Blasio's commitment to this issue is "heartening," as is his willingness to work with victims' families. "No one speaks with such moral authority as New Yorkers who have lost loved ones, and that will make all the difference as we need to change the law in Albany and as we continue to keep this issue on the front burner," said White.
Audrey Anderson is the mother of a victim.
"My loss is with me everyday," said Anderson, who lost her 14-year-old son Andre Anderson in September 2005. She says he was riding his bike on Shorefront Parkway in Queens when he struck from behind by an SUV and killed. "There are days that I just cry like that, walking, on the subway, on the job, at home. I can't even attend family functions and not think about him. It's deep and it's personal and everyone processes it differently. When it hits me, I don't care where I am, I'm going to cry and if you want to look at me and think I'm crazy, that's fine. That's my grief, my pain, and I'm going to handle it whatever way suits my soul," said Anderson.
Audrey Anderson (photo by Brigid Bergin/WNYC)
But after de Blasio's announcement, she still had a question. "What constitutes criminality in reckless driving and accident investigations?" said an exasperated Anderson. "We have no idea what that is. I tried to pursue that angle when Andre died and I ended up with a blank wall. I really want to know."
Anderson didn't feel like any of the new proposals would have prevented her son's death. But she did call it a step in the right direction.