After death of Kelly Hurley, Mayor’s Vision Zero Task Force Must Upgrade Traffic Signals and Cease Uninformed, Blameful Enforcement

Intersection and traffic signal design must be upgraded to compensate for New York City’s persistently lawless driving culture

Statement of Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives:

New York City’s bicycling, traffic safety and fitness communities are deeply saddened by the death of Kelly Hurley, a 31-year-old woman struck by an unlawfully turning truck driver one week ago as she rode her bike up Manhattan’s First Avenue.

The crash happened in one of the so-called “mixing zones” where drivers are allowed to make careful left turns from First Avenue as cyclists are going straight through intersections with the green light.  

Mixing zones only work when motorists yield. Time and again, New York City motorists have proven incapable of exercising basic care, with deadly results. As with pedestrian crossing phases that similarly rely on the hope of motorist compliance, this deadly traffic signal design flaw must be corrected so that there is a clear unambiguous right-of-way signal phasing for bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists alike.

The NYPD is making a mockery of the data driven principles that undergird Vision Zero. As they have done in the wake of other recent tragedies, the NYPD unleashed a ticketing blitz on cyclists shortly after the preventable crash that killed Kelly. Yet data show the majority of bikers and walkers are killed not by their own mistakes, but by speeding, unyielding and lawless motorists. Of the 18 cyclist fatalities in 2016 for which details of the crash are known, 13 were caused directly by the criminal or reckless actions of a driver -- including failure to yield, driving while intoxicated or under the influence of drugs, speeding, and ignoring red lights. As the DOT upgrades design to account for widespread lawless driving, the NYPD must redirect enforcement towards the real killers on our streets.  

The Mayor’s Vision Zero Task Force, an interagency panel appointed by Mayor de Blasio, led by Geraldine Sweeney and comprised of DOT, NYPD and other relevant city agencies, must act swiftly to prevent future loss of life.

Just weeks ago, a fast-turning driver making a right turn in East Elmhurst, Queens failed to yield and struck and killed 1-year-old Skylar Perkins as her mother was pushing the baby girl across the avenue in her stroller, in the crosswalk with the right of way. Since Vision Zero began in New York City, more than 110 people have been killed as the result of drivers failing to yield the right of way. This is a persistent, recurring, predictable issue.

Though the Right of Way law has made such lawless turns a misdemeanor, and has helped reduce casualties, it cannot by itself guarantee that hurried, distracted drivers will yield. The solution is to systematically change traffic signals citywide so that cyclists and pedestrians are given their own signal phase that is fully protected from turning motorists.

It is imperative the City install more crosswalk signals that give pedestrians dedicated time to cross safely. The City Council and City Hall must act quickly on a bill that would mandate the study of installing “Barnes dance” signals at more intersections around the city, so pedestrians could cross in all directions before drivers are allowed to proceed. The DOT should also prioritize the installation of more “split phase” signals, which help to eliminate conflict between crossing pedestrians and turning drivers. A 2013 study by City College’s Li Chen found that at locations where split-phase had been installed in New York City, pedestrian crashes decreased 39 percent, while at Barnes Dance crossings, these crashes actually halved. In the nation’s leading Vision Zero city, intersections with these types of traffic signals should be the rule, not the exception.