DOT’s ‘Vision Zero Partner’ Dermot Shea is More Afraid of Bikes Than Cars — Despite His Own Agency’s Data

Here is what is going on inside Dermot Shea's head.
Here is what is going on inside Dermot Shea's head.

He’s the Vision Zero partner with zero vision.

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea told reporters on Wednesday that he is more afraid of cyclists and e-bike riders than he is of car drivers, a shocking statement that flies in the face of his own agency’s statistics documenting the extraordinary death toll racked up by car and truck drivers this year and the staggering number of crashes caused daily by four- to 18-wheeled motor vehicles as well as the agency’s supposed commitment to making streets safer.

The comment came after radio reporter Juliet Papa asked Shea and Mayor de Blasio about the supposed — though impossible to document because it’s not true — danger represented by the surging number of electric bikes and mopeds that have joined New York City’s transportation mix as a result of the pandemic.

“I’ll tell you personally, and this will probably annoy some people, but I worry more when I step off the street at what’s coming left and right and it’s not cars at this point in time,” Shea said. “And I think a lot of people share that view.”

Shea is certainly right that many people believe the roadways are less safe right now and, in fact, statistics show that they are. But those very same statistics have consistently demonstrated where the danger is coming from. So Streetsblog followed up with a question of our own for the commissioner:

Earlier in this session, you said you are more worried about bike riders than car drivers causing violence on the streets of New York City. That’s a very odd comment for a Vision Zero partner to make, given that drivers have killed more than 190 people this year and have caused more than 50,000 crashes so far this year, which is roughly 200 crashes every day. At the same time, the NYPD’s effort to rein in drivers has weakened: Even as the mayor has called for more enforcement against reckless drivers there is actually less enforcement: In June, 2021, cops citywide wrote just 39,777 total moving violation tickets, which is down 51 percent from the 82,229 moving violations cops wrote in June 2019. Failure-to-yield tickets are down 55 percent, speeding tickets are down 35 percent, tickets for improper turn are down 72 percent. So can you explain this fear of bikes, which is not borne out by city stats or your own weakening NYPD enforcement effort?

Shea merely reiterated his position: “What I said was when I step off the curb, I am more concerned right now, and this is a fact, with what’s coming from the left, the right, and every different direction, seemingly disobeying all manner of traffic control devices. What I am seeing is more bicycles, scooters, dirt bikes, skateboards with engines on them … that are not stopping at stop signs, going the wrong way in bike lanes. I could go on and on.”

And the mayor, after referring to Streetsblog’s question as a “speech,” also jumped in with a series of platitudes about his NYPD that are simply not accurate:

“The Department clearly, strongly, vehemently believes in Vision Zero,” the mayor started, despite evidence to the contrary. “The facts are quite clear. We had massive disruptions from a global pandemic that did take focus away from certain types of enforcement. Unquestionably. And we want to get it back. We’re dealing with some other issues that are profound. We need to get more and more energy back to Vision Zero enforcement. … More enforcement will be coming.”

The mayor has long said that his NYPD treats reckless driving with more intensity than prior administrations, but when it comes to writing summonses against drivers who endanger the public, there is no evidence of a shift between the Bloomberg administration and the de Blasio administration (see chart below):

For an interactive version of this chart, click here.
Numbers for 2021 are a full-year project based on six-month stats. For an interactive version of this chart, click here. Chart: Streetsblog

During the last three full years of Bloomberg’s tenure, NYPD officers wrote roughly 2,850 moving violation tickets per day, citywide. During the six pre-pandemic years of the de Blasio administration, cops wrote roughly 2,840 moving violation tickets per day — a decrease. And that decrease came even though de Blasio promised in his February, 2014 announcement of Vision Zero, that “the NYPD will increase precinct-level enforcement of speeding violations by adding additional personnel.”

And in 2019, which was not affected by the pandemic, de Blasio cops wrote just 2,699 tickets on the average day, a 5.3-percent decrease from the Bloomberg average. And if you add in the pandemic years of 2020 and the first half of 2021, the average number of tickets written by de Blasio’s NYPD drops to 2,552 tickets on the average day, or 10 percent lower than Bloomberg’s average.

Shea’s comments could not have come at a less-opportune moment: 2021 has been the bloodiest full year of Mayor de Blasio’s seven-plus-year Vision Zero initiative. So far this year, 200 people have been killed on the streets, virtually all of them by drivers. Drivers have also caused tens of thousands of crashes, injuring more than 35,000 people so far this year.

According to stats kept by Transportation Alternatives, this summer was the deadliest of any summer during Mayor de Blasio’s two terms. A total of 77 people were killed. Through the end of September, crashes killed 199 people citywide, making the first three quarters of 2021 the deadliest first three quarters of any year in the de Blasio-era.

The group also shared other, granular findings with Streetsblog:

  • Brooklyn has had more fatalities in the first nine months of this year than it did for all of 2020, 2018, 2017, and 2016.
  • In the first nine months of this year, crashes have killed 10 delivery workers on bikes, e-bikes, or mopeds – more than the seven delivery workers killed in all of 2020.
  • So far this year, 13 cyclists have been killed — nearly half in the Bronx, where protected infrastructure is virtually nonexistent, as Streetsblog has long reported.

Indeed, on Monday night, Shea’s own officers responded to the scene of a horrific crash on the Upper East Side, where 81-year-old Elizabeth Hyman was killed by the operator of a school bus as she crossed 72nd Street within the marked crosswalk and with the light, according to police. The driver of the bus remained at the scene of the 2:45 p.m. crash and was not charged, though he clearly violated Hyman’s right of way. It’s the kind of fatality that can only happen under the wheels of a car or truck, with their thousands of pounds of metal giving drivers the feeling of vulnerability yet creating what safe streets advocate Mark Gorton recently dubbed in Streetsblog, a “wave of danger that propagates from their car.”

Advocates were as appalled as the Streetsblog publisher.

“Mayor de Blasio and the NYPD have been proven wrong many times over on this subject, including when they cracked down on immigrant working cyclists on e-bikes, re-creating the unconstitutional and disproven stop and frisk policy while citing the same incorrect reasons Commissioner Shea is giving now,” Transportation Alternatives’ Deputy Director Marco Conner DiAquoi, said in a statement.

“One look at the data shows just how wrong they are about the real danger on New York City streets: In the past two decades, more than 6,000 New Yorkers walking, biking and driving have been killed by car drivers. And this epidemic is deepening — traffic deaths, caused by car drivers, are breaking records for the Vision Zero era as we speak, on Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Shea’s watch. What’s worse, it is e-bike riders and delivery workers who are often the victims.”

But DiAquoi pivoted to the other flaw of NYPD’s weakening enforcement effort — it didn’t work when the agency cared, either.

“As we have said repeatedly, Vision Zero is not achieved through police enforcement,” DiAquoi said. “Commissioner Shea’s comments make it even more clear that the NYPD traffic budget must be shifted to create self-enforcing streets. We need 24/7 engineering solutions for unsafe streets and reckless driving — not policing that ignores the data about the real dangers on our roads.”

Chart: DOT
Chart: DOT

Former Bloomberg DOT official Jon Orcutt said efforts to get the NYPD to be a true partner in street safety began under Mayor Bloomberg, but Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero announcement was a clear display that the NYPD would have to take a stronger role in street safety.

“Yes, the mayor said that cops would be involved in the policy discussion, but it just hasn’t happened from the police side,” Orcutt said. “They don’t get it and they don’t want to get it. And they actively manage to thwart management from City Hall on Vision Zero. Look at the city now: there’s a complete surrender to illegal parking, bad driving and placard abuse. The mayor is completely non-responsive on this issue. And it’s worse than it was a few years ago.”

Shea’s comments became fodder for the Twittersphere, too: