Getting to Zero, One Step at a Time

Vision Zero—the idea that no one should be killed or seriously injured in traffic—came into being 16 years ago in Sweden as a radical safety philosophy and made its way to New York City by way of Transportation Alternatives’ tireless advocacy. Now, with the backing of Mayor Bill de Blasio, Vision Zero has moved from the realm of international best practice to a citywide priority. But that doesn’t mean the fight is over.

Despite the Mayor’s impressive plan to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero, a number of obstacles stand in the way of safer streets. None are insurmountable, but they’ll all take more than lip service to overcome. Here’s how Transportation Alternatives’ top talent is ensuring that a once-radical idea becomes a life-saving reality that will benefit every New Yorker.

Find the Money
Although low-cost engineering solutions like painted bike lanes and reclaimed street space have helped save lives, drastically reducing traffic violence won’t be free. Training police officers, hiring urban planners, executing traffic studies and putting more on the plate of already-taxed City agencies will require significant investment. Administration officials have put the figure in the tens of millions. Much of that will be covered by internal cost-cutting measures, but somewhere along the line the Mayor will have to make room in the executive budget for Vision Zero.
Albany’s Influence
Mayor de Blasio can do a lot, but big chunks of his plan to tame New York City’s streets will be decided 150 miles north of the Big Apple in Albany. If that wasn’t tricky enough, Hizzoner’s plan for universal pre-kindergarten and a minimum wage increase are already putting pressure on the Governor and State Legislature. Adding automated enforcement cameras, stronger penalties for driving with a suspended license and a lower speed limit to the list won’t make anything easier.

What Constitutes Consensus?
There’s a lot in the Mayor’s plan that’s wildly popular, but there are also items that—in the interest of saving lives—are going to ruffle some feathers. Whether it’s lower speed limits, street redesigns, ticket blitzes, new rules for taxis or a handful of other proposals in the plan, the Mayor is going to have to decide what kind of consensus constitutes real community input. A robust public process is unquestionably the right way forward, but if anyone at City Hall is expecting unanimity, we’ve got a bridge to sell them.

Cooperation Is Complicated
There’s no simple way to make streets safe. Education, enforcement, engineering and analysis will all be part of the picture, which means dozens of New York City agencies will have to work together to make Vision Zero a reality. The Mayor’s office has said there will be a permanent Task Force in the Office of Operations, but what will that look like? Who will be accountable? How will the public know what’s underway? There are almost as many questions as there are things to do.