NYC roadway

Five years since the city’s Vision Zero initiative to reduce traffic deaths and injuries went into effect, overall traffic fatalities are down, even if pedestrian deaths are slightly higher. The program is the brainchild of Mayor de Blasio and involves a bundle of safety improvements aimed to eliminate “all traffic deaths by 2024.” And though that “zero” death objective may not be realistic anytime soon, progress has been noticeable and, for the most part, unwavering.

Named by the mayor after a similar Swedish plan, Vision Zero’s 200 overall traffic deaths in 2018 are the lowest since the city began tracking such traffic deaths in 1910, according to preliminary data from the city. It represents a virtual 1/3 drop from the 299 traffic fatalities in 2013, the year before the program was established. Also, 2018’s traffic fatality counts were lower than the previous year in every borough except Queens, which experienced a 14.5 percent rise.

Vision Zero’s well-publicized kickoff in 2014 involved initiatives such as lowering citywide speed limits from 30 to 25 mph, stricter enforcement of taxi and rideshare drivers, redesigning intersections to offer pedestrians safer crosswalk times, and a dramatic increase in traffic law enforcement, especially the city’s redefined “yield to pedestrians” ordinances.

The program’s initial vision was to better protect pedestrians, which represents the largest percentage of fatalities each year. But an overall decrease of pedestrian deaths (114 in 2018 compared to 180 in 2013) is the only category of NYC traffic fatalities which have seen astounding improvement. All others bump along at similar amounts every year, with virtually no trends either way. It must be noted that pedestrian crosswalks were the first to receive significant attention, and it showed with 40 fewer fatalities in Vision Zero’s first year.

But 2018’s pedestrian fatality count was flirting with double digits until a flurry of 10 such deaths happened in December, turning what should have been a celebratory holiday season into tragedy and grieving for many families. “Drivers haven’t taken their responsibility to yield very seriously,” Mayor. de Blasio said. “There has been a lot of enforcement, and there will be more.”

Up until the early 1970’s it was not unusual for NYC to consistently report 1,000 or more traffic deaths annually, And as recently as 1990, there were 701 traffic deaths, which make today’s fatality counts pale in comparison. Yet still, the totals show there is room for improvement, especially if your goal is “zero.”

Breakdown of NYC Traffic Deaths Since 2013

Year Total Pedestrian Bicyclist Vehicles Motorcycle
2018 200 114 10 37 29
2017 222 107 24 58 33
2016 229 148 18 48 19
2015 234 139 14 59 22
2014 248 140 20 51 37
2013 299 180 12 65 42


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