Murder by firearm is an urban threat so terrifying that the Bloomberg administration stopped and frisked hundreds of thousands of people ostensibly trying to find guns, district attorneys ran buy-back operations at local churches to get guns off the street and a nonprofit funded by the former mayor sent undercover private investigators to firearms shops and gun shows to expose the shady dealings that fueled the illegal gun trade.
After all, the threat is real: in calendar year 2012, some 239 New Yorkers were murdered with guns.
But in fiscal 2012, 21 percent more New Yorkers (291 of them) were killed in automobile accidents than were slain by bullets.
Six years ago Mayor Bloomberg—during whose term traffic fatalities dropped significantly—announced a plan to to cut the number of traffic deaths in half by 2030. For a mayor who often set ambitious goals, it was pretty modest. During the 2013 campaign, Bill de Blasio promised something far bolder: eliminating traffic fatalities to zero within ten years. He did so in response to organized lobbying by transportation advocates and families of people killed by cars, many of whom had taken up a goal called Vision Zero, a fatality elimination effort that originated in Sweden in 1997.
On Wednesday, de Blasio took a step toward making good on his promise, announcing a working group composed of the NYPD, health department, transportation department and taxi commission to develop a plan for increasing traffic enforcement, improving fifty dangerous corridors and intersections, making more 20 mph zones and going to Albany to get permission to install more speed cameras. The mayor also said that a small set of traffic cameras recently installed would start generating tickets this week. And his police commissioner, Bill Bratton, increased personnel in the Highway Division by 10 percent on the way to a 50 percent increase.
When Bloomberg left office, there were stark warnings that an era of enlightened, ambitious government—the spirit of leadership that had yielded the smoking ban, PlaNYC 2030 and so on—was over. Life under his class-obsessed successor was going to be some dreary Leninist experiment; think Dr. Zhivago, without the pretty girl. De Blasio’s commitment—assuming it’s genuine—to VisionZero is a big middle-finger-out-the-window-while-leaning-on-the-horn at that notion.
If you think targeting traffic death is political softball, think again. “The critical work of redesigning dangerous corridors and intersections, lowering speed limits and increasing penalties for drivers who kill or maim will doubtlessly meet resistance in certain quarters,” said StreetsPAC in a statement yesterday. “The mayor will need to be firm in his resolve. “
Indeed, it may mean wrangling with some community boards and local interests—including our beloved small businesses—over redesigning streets and intersections to be safer. The whole point of VisionZero is that traffic safety requires moral commitment, not cost-benefit analysis. “Under Vision Zero,” reads material from Transportation Alternatives, “safety is prioritized over all other objectives of the transportation system, including mobility.”