Summer 2004, p.16-17

Lessons from London
Speak English! When Will the DOT to Learn London’s Transportation Vocabulary?

London is the city most like New York City. It is an international city very similar to New York in its travel habits, population and industry. Technically, we even speak the same language. But when it comes to talking about transportation goals, though Mayors Michael Bloomberg and Ken Livingston and the London transportation agency are all fluent in the language of street safety and decreased car use, the New York City Department of Transportation has but a rudimentary understanding of the tongue. In London, Transport for London (TfL) has made great strides towards realizing its mayor’s progressive vision on a citywide scale. In New York City, the City DOT has only implemented strong traffic calming and safety measures on a tiny percentage of city streets and intersections.

A comparison of performance indicators and targets of the two transportation agencies suggest that the difference between New York and London is not one of Mayoral leadership or vision, but of implementation. To work towards realizing its mayor’s vision, London’s transportation agency has written and regularly updated thorough policy documents, devised clear outcome-based performance indicators and set date-bound targets—all designed to place safety and livability firmly in front of motorized traffic flow. In contrast, the New York City DOT’s performance indicators are all input-based, and targets nonexistent.

Mastering the Language of Safety and Decreased Car Use

Back in 1984, London actually had more pedestrian deaths than New York: 300 versus 293. Yet, by 1997, London had reduced its pedestrian fatalities to 150, compared to 249 here. And, most importantly, London did not stop there. In 2000, the city’s transportation officials seized the opportunity to further reduce pedestrian fatalities and injuries; responding to Mayor Ken Livingston’s strong mandate to make the city’s transportation system safe, fast, sustainable and accessible, the agency set goals for making Livingston’s vision a reality. In 2003, London’s pedestrian fatality total was 111 and motorized traffic delays in Central London are down 30%; congestion levels in the zone are now the lowest they have been since the agency began tracking congestion in the mid-1980s.

Meanwhile, though New York City enjoyed an historic low in pedestrian fatalities in 2003, the City DOT has yet to articulate targets for reducing or even maintaining this important improvement. Instead, the DOT’s performance indicators merely reflect maintaining the status quo; for example, the number of traffic signals repaired and tort cases commenced. And though the agency does track the number of pedestrians and bicyclists killed, it does not set targets for reducing those numbers.

The City DOT should be proud of its role in reducing pedestrian fatalities in 2003, but it should not be satisfied. New York City still has a long way to go to make streets safer for walking and bicycling. The DOT should figure out how it helped reduce pedestrian fatalities in 2003, set targets for further reducing fatalities and injuries for both pedestrians and bicyclists, and implement a detailed action plan for reaching those targets. Tracking the number of signs replaced is not a meaningful indicator of the agency’s performance; the agency should not strive only to respond to public maintenance requests, but to pro-actively improve the transportation system.

“Move towards a bike and pedestrian friendly environment to foster alternatives to motor vehicles.”
Mayor’s Accountability Statement February 10, 2003

“You don’t want anything that encourages people to drive.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, heard on WNYC-AM, March 5, 2003

Vision Zero: Are Any Traffic Deaths Acceptable?

In New York City and across the United States the traditional approach to reducing traffic fatalities and injuries is to use legislation or education to change the behavior of the road user. It is the users of the roads and not the design of the roadway system that is to blame in the event of crashes. Yet this blame the victim mentality ignores the larger setting in which the crashes occur.

In October 1997, the Swedish parliament passed a national road safety bill based on what is known as Vision Zero, a goal that noone be killed or seriously injured within the road transportation system. Vision Zero rejects the prevailing approach to street design, which makes the cost of individual human error death or injury. Instead, Vision Zero explicitly states that the responsibility for street safety is shared by the system designers and the street user; it charges street, traffic and vehicle engineers to scrutinize speed, mobility and vehicle design in streetscapes to follow the principle that “… the speed limits within the road transport system should be determined by the technical standard of vehicles and roads so as not to exceed the level of violence that the human body can tolerate.”

Vision Zero is not so much a goal as a new, dynamic way of approaching street use. As the New York City DOT slowly begins to embrace traffic safety strategies of the 21st century, it should emulate London’s goal oriented transportation policy and keep a close eye on Sweden’s provocative Vision Zero.

Translating English: The Basic Vocabulary of Safer Streets and Fewer Cars

What if the City DOT made efforts to realize Mayor Bloomberg’s vision by adopting London’s language of safety and decreased car use? What if the DOT both set targets and articulated a detailed plan for achieving these targets similar to London?
T.A. has translated London’s performance indicators into New Yorkese. And no matter how you say it, it sounds good: A safer, less congested city with more people walking and bicycling than ever before.

Street Safety Performance Indicators

  • Reduce the total number of people killed and
    seriously injured by 40% by 2010 compared with 1994-1998
  • Reduce the number of pedestrians killed and
    seriously injured by 40% by 2010 compared with 1994-1998 for pedestrians
  • Reduce the number of bicyclists killed and seriously injured by 40% by 2010 compared with 1994-1998
  • Reduce the number of children killed or seriously injured by 50% by 2010 compared with 1994-1998
  • Reduce the slight casualty rate by 10% by 2010 compared with 1994-1998
  • 100% of primary schools to have 20 mph speed
    limits on appropriate surrounding roads by 2011.
    (Previously introduced 20 mph school zones saw a 60% reduction in fatalities and serious injuries.)

  • City Traffic signals installed within six months of approval
  • Traffic signal defects responded to within 48 hours of notification
  • Priority regulatory signs repaired or replaced within nine days of notification
  • Signalized intersections with Light Emitting Diode lenses/international pedestrian signals
  • Streetlight defects responded to within 10 days of notification
  • Citywide traffic fatalities: The number of pedestrian, motorist, bicyclist, and passenger deaths resulting from traffic accidents.
  • Change in average number of Notices of Liability issued per red light camera
  • Attendance at Safety City educational centers
  • Tort cases commenced
  • Tort dispositions
  • Total tort payout

If New York City adopted London’s street safety goals and tactics,

Pedestrians fatalities and injuries would decrease
from an average of 12,829 per year (between 1995 and 2001) to 7,697

Bicyclists fatalities and
injuries would decrease
from an average of 4,561 per year (between 1995 and 2001) to 2,737


Mobility and Congestion Performance Indicators

  • Increase the journeys made on foot per person per year by at least 10% between 2001 and 2015
  • Increase the journeys made by bicycle per year by at least 80% between 2001 and 2011.
  • Maintain or increase the share of personal travel in London made by means other than personal car
  • Improve the access to the public transportation
    system of targeted groups that are currently under represented in the system, particularly disabled people and women traveling at night

  • Ensure accessibility of streets and sidewalks
  • Maintain and improve the Staten Island Ferry
    operation, including by monitoring the percent of
    on-time trips during peak travel times
  • Ensure the quality of the franchise bus program.
  • Expand the bicycle network

If New York adopted London’s goals and tactics to increase bicycling trips,

Daily bicycle trips would increase 80% from 390,000 to

Performance indicators drawn from New York City’s “Preliminary Fiscal Year 2004 Mayor’s Management Report” and London’s “Mayor’s Proposed London-wide Transport Strategy” for 2004.

The DOT should figure out how it helped reduce pedestrian fatalities in 2003, set targets for further reducing fatalities and injuries for both pedestrians and bicyclists and implement a detailed action plan for reaching those targets.