Poverty and Progress in New York City XI: Vision Zero and Traffic Safety
Vision Zero is a safe-streets initiative created by New York City’s Department of Transportation in 2014, the first year of mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. The Vision Zero concept and program emerged in the late 1990s in Sweden, which aimed to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries. A number of other countries and cities subsequently adopted similar traffic safety programs; and Vision Zero builds upon safe-street improvements undertaken during the administration of New York’s previous mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
In NYC, Vision Zero consists of reengineering intersections and streets. It simplifies complex intersections, narrows traffic lanes, adds speed bumps and bicycle paths, shortens pedestrian-crossing distances, alters the timing of traffic lights, adds speed-detection and red-light cameras, and installs “leading pedestrian intervals” to give pedestrians a head start at a light before drivers can turn into the crosswalk.
The evidence is clear that Vision Zero has improved street safety:
- Between 2009 and 2016, pedestrian and bicycle deaths at roughly 4,600 intersections receiving at least one safety treatment declined by 34%. By contrast, about 25,700 unimproved intersections saw a 3% increase in bicycle and pedestrian deaths.
- Pedestrian deaths overall increased slightly in 2016 over 2015, but only at intersections that had not received Vision Zero improvements.
- The Vision Zero treatments implemented through 2016 have slightly favored higher-income neighborhoods, especially in Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Upper West Side.
- Lower-income residential neighborhoods have not received intensive Vision Zero improvements relative to their risk, at least partly due to resistance by community boards. The result is that lower-income neighborhoods on average continue to experience higher pedestrian-crash rates than higher-income neighborhoods.