A casualty of a politician’s fickleness
It started in typical de Blasio fashion, a save-the-world, first-in-the-nation — “transcendent,” to use a word the mayor loved saying at the time — program that would end all traffic fatalities, no less.
It ended, too, in typical de Blasio fashion. Vision Zero, the grandiose program he established in 2014, died on the rocks of some forgotten shore. Cause of death: neglect by manager.
Not, however, if you ask the mayor. Like so many other problems that plague de Blasio’s New York — from soaring homicide rates and plummeting arrest levels to chaos in the jails and falling school attendance — it is Covid’s fault.
“All of that,” de Blasio claimed last week, “is because Covid set a whole series of things in motion.”
There are few worse feelings than having a loved one leave the house and not return — the victim of an errant driver. Vision Zero aimed to cut traffic fatalities down to zero through a mix of targeting deadly roads, placing sidewalks in middle of boulevards, aggressive ticketing, and hoisting speed cameras near intersections. In Sweden, where the parliament introduced a similar program in 1997, traffic deaths went down from 541 that year to 273 in 2019.
Coming in a year that saw 258 people killed in traffic accidents, the introduction of the program to New York City’s streets in 2014 was relatively popular. He made enemies of half of Boro Park by reducing the speed limit to 25 mph, and raised fines for speeding. When he held his sole town hall in Boro Park in 2018, the biggest applause of the evening came when he was asked to raise the speed limit on Ocean Parkway.
But the program appeared to be working. Traffic fatalities dropped, even dipping below 200 for one year. But like so many de Blasio initiatives, it took a back seat to the politics of the day. He simply lost interest. Enforcement levels fell. The number of resources devoted to it dropped. So far this year, 275 people — including 133 pedestrians — were killed in traffic accidents. It’s as if Vision Zero never happened.
Reining in New Yorkers ain’t simple. The people here have the wonderful ability to make split-second decisions on a three-dimensional battlefield. They rapidly assess the length of the crosswalk, the speed of the oncoming car and how far away they were from an accident last time. This strategic talent has trickled down to kids as well. I’ve seen children as young as eight or nine dart across a busy street, spawning an acoustic competition between the brass symphony of car horns and the yells of the men behind the wheel.
It is a sad lesson in governance that such a credible, time-tested plan is a casualty of a politician’s fickleness.
Mr. de Blasio, you fought the fight to lower speed limits, blanket the city in cameras, raise fines. Don’t leave us with the mess but not the meal.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 880)
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