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We need to slow down, and fast

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There is nothing more fundamentally important for this city than the safety of its people. As a 22-year veteran of the New York City Police Department, I have been able to speak to the variety of public safety issues facing the five boroughs, from police-community relations to the protocols protecting our key officials and institutions. As an elected representative of Brooklyn, first as a four-term state senator and now as borough president, I have broadened this dialogue to advocate on addressing the full range of dangers facing New Yorkers, including those on our highways and byways.

Traffic safety, for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike, has finally become a hot-button issue in our municipal discourse. Frankly, it’s taken too long. Statistics show that, on average, a vehicle on our streets seriously injures or kills a New Yorker every two hours. Close to 4,000 of our neighbors are seriously injured and over 250 more are killed each year in crashes. This crisis has become the leading cause of injury-related death for youth under the age of 14, as well as the second-leading cause for our elder population.

In the last month alone, Brooklyn has mourned the senseless losses of Stanislav Chernyshov, Min Lin, Gedalia Gruntzweig and, just this Saturday, Marisol Martinez. These tragic accidents are taking place in every neighborhood, from Brighton Beach to Bushwick, from Sunset Park to Starrett City. This crisis reflects the undeniable fact that previous administrations have not regarded these accidents with the weight they have deserved.

Thankfully, we have a team of elected officials across this city that, united with our passionate advocates and community leaders, is prioritizing this pressing issue. A couple weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration unveiled his comprehensive blueprint to enact Vision Zero, a plan to prevent traffic fatalities, improve pedestrian safety and protect our most vulnerable populations, particularly young children and seniors. For context on this approach, efforts similar to this in states like Minnesota, Utah and Washington have reduced traffic fatalities by over 40 percent. New York City’s set of common-sense ideas includes expanding neighborhood slow zones, teaching safety in classrooms and advertisements as well as increasing precinct-level enforcement against speeding and other moving violations.

To build on this, I recently convened an initial meeting of transportation stakeholders at Borough Hall, including City agencies, elected officials and community members, in order to prioritize traffic safety in Brooklyn. The group included representatives from the Department of Transportation (DOT), the NYPD, New York City Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, Transportation Alternatives, Park Slope Neighbors and Neighbors Allied for Good Growth (NAGG). The ideas and action items we shared will be part of our borough’s plan to ensuring Vision Zero is a success, and I look forward to engaging the activists and experts in every community to further this essential dialogue.

Traffic safety is at the top end of our food chain here at Borough Hall, and we are hungry for solutions. Some will be on the local level, such as the constant education for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists on how to change poor behaviors and be safe on our roads. We will also look forward to working with the DOT, community boards and local leaders on their borough planning to address dangerous locations as well as how we can redesign our intersections and corridors. Other necessary fixes require the support of our legislators in Albany. For example, it was Brooklyn that started the conversation about dropping the speed limit to 20 miles per hour, an action that would significantly reduce the likelihood of a fatal crash. To enact that, as well as a broader authorization of red light enforcement cameras and stiffer penalties against dangerous driving, will take the votes of our State Legislature and the signature of our governor.

Every New Yorker’s voice must be heard loud and clear in this struggle for safe streets. The lives of our families and friends cannot hang in the balance of the political trade winds or be trapped by the bureaucratic red tape of the past. Traffic safety reforms must be fast-tracked, both those we can start on here at home and those that we need Albany to approve. We need to slow down, and fast.

Updated 3:05 am, July 10, 2018
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Reader feedback

Lee from Ft. Greene says:
Accidents?? No.
Negligence is not an accident.
These are crashes. We don't know if they are accidents without an investigation.
Calling them "accidents" leaves the impression that no-one is responsible for them.
March 6, 2014, 4:09 pm
Virginia from Staten Island says:
I agree with Lee completely. These are not accidents but crashes. How I wish people would stop calling them accidents when they are actually caused by law-breaking drivers with an "anything goes" attitude on the road. These crashes are preventable if people would obey the traffic laws and speed limits. By the way, I wish the NYPD would change the name of their "Accident Report" forms to "Crash Report". Even the word collision is too mild!
March 8, 2014, 9:55 am
Ace from New Utrecht says:
We really need Police to actively address reckless driving. Not only will this save lives but I bet that it would work much like the "broken window" approach to crime. They will end up pulling over uninsured, unlicensed, and many who've illegally registered their cars out of state to save money on insurance.
March 10, 2014, 11:23 am
Daniel from Flatbush says:
I'm very excited to see Eric Adams talk about this issue. Like Eric I'm a recent convert and while I make a conscious effort to say crash or collision rather than accident and I still do it all the time.

The DOT, police, and TLC can do a lot to make our streets safer, and our legislators in Albany can reform our laws and driver education system. But that won't happen unless we as New Yorkers make it happen. Other cities and counties that have chosen to tackle this problem have reduced deaths and serious injury year over year at enviable rates. This was done in London and Rome in the last two decades, cities which were more chaotic than Brooklyn at the start. There is every reason to believe we can do this.
March 10, 2014, 9:32 pm
Samantha Davis from Park Slope says:
The public and most of its elected officials agree that the time has come to deal with this issue once and for all. Reckless driving needs to end.

However, the NYPD doesn't appear to be on board. Even after their purported increase in enforcement, I still see at least a dozen of cars exceeding the speeds limit every minute. The few times enforcement happens, it's only when the speed limit is exceeded by a 10-20 MPH margin. Perhaps the fact that many police officers and their superiors commute by car and don't live with their children in the areas they work is the cause of their complete negligence on the issue. A few weeks ago at City Hall a representative of NYPD revealed that the department has no more than 56 speed guns for the entire 5 boroughs. How many of them are in working order is not known. NYPD knows or should know that the #1 killer in traffic in NYC is speeding and that numerous serious injuries like paralyses and amputations could have been avoided by police enforcement.

Any discussion of vision zero must begin with changing the culture at NYPD. Ace makes a great point - the broken windows theory must be applied to driving.
March 11, 2014, 8:02 pm

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