Transportation Alternatives is deeply disappointed that City Hall has chosen not to adopt the Vision Zero recommendations the City Council made in response to the preliminary budget. If New York City is going to meet the 2024 goal Mayor de Blasio set for ending traffic deaths and serious injuries, we will need a much greater investment in the DOT’s annual operating and capital budget to redesign the most dangerous streets. Earlier this year, we at Transportation Alternatives showed how, without more resources dedicated to redesigning streets, New York City will not reach zero deaths until 2055 – three decades late. Yet last week, the Report on the Fiscal 2017 Executive Budget made clear that requests for greater funding to accelerate safe street redesigns will not be granted.
This leaves our network of advocates wondering whether Vision Zero is really the priority we were led to believe it would be when it was announced less than three years ago. We would like to know the rationale for denying the City Council’s well-researched requests. Why is there no funding for the Mayor’s flagship initiative, when it is clear that so much more work is urgently needed?
It is not just the City Council that has seen its concerns disregarded, but local Community Boards as well. Contrary to DOT statements that the agency has an adequate budget for Vision Zero, the Register of Community Board Requests in the Executive Budget shows that pleas for safety projects are being denied due to funding constraints or lack of capacity. Some of these projects are for Priority Corridors as set forward by the DOT itself in the Pedestrian Safety Action Plans.
Community Boards called for the improvement or reconstruction of dangerous roads including Fresh Pond Road in Queens; Broadway, Pitkin Avenue, Van Sinderen Avenue, and the western end of Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn; Eighth Avenue, Ninth Avenue, and 14th Street in Manhattan; and Richmond Road in Staten Island. They mentioned specific dangers to pedestrians. These requests were met with replies like, “Due to fiscal constraints, the availability of funds is uncertain,” or, “Capital funding constraints, project capacity and city-wide priorities preclude this project at this time." If Community Boards are clearly making the case for street improvements to protect pedestrians, then the DOT must seek the funding to address them rather than allow needs to go unmet.
These are not cosmetic improvements – they are changes to street engineering that are proven to save lives. Either the DOT truly does have enough money and therefore it can get to work immediately on treating Priority Corridors like true priorities, or it does not have enough money and it needs to request the funding recommended by City Council. It cannot do both at once.
We could not be more disappointed with how Vision Zero has been treated in the Executive Budget. New York City adopted Vision Zero with pride and with every intention of becoming the first city to actually achieve this goal. It was a brave, forward-thinking project with the potential to cause a major culture change. In fact, it still is. But less than three years later, where is the sense of urgency and responsibility? Yes, 2015 was a record low year for traffic fatalities, but not anywhere near low enough. Furthermore, the number of pedestrian fatalities so far in 2016 is on par with this time last year, when we need to be seeing drastic decreases.
Instead, we see New Yorkers like Rougui Kebe mourning her three-year old daughter Mariam Dansoko, killed in the Bronx last week by a driver who failed to yield the right of way, and then blamed for her own death in the media while the driver faced no charges. In 2012, in a pre-Vision Zero New York, Ms. Kebe’s four-year-old brother Ebrahim died in a car crash while playing outside. Neither of these young children needed to die. The difference is that Mariam was supposed to be growing up in a city where the administration would do everything in its power to fix streets and enforce laws in order to stop her meeting the same tragic fate as her uncle. Instead, New Yorkers are being told, and shown, that street safety isn’t worthy of enough funding to do it properly in every neighborhood. The work is not anywhere near done. And the status quo is not anywhere near good enough. We call on the Mayor to reconsider his denial of the City Council’s recommendations to fully fund the DOT’s life-saving Vision Zero efforts.