From the Assignment Desk: Open Plans Helps Get You Ready for Tuesday’s Council ‘Vision Zero’ Hearing

File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, the City Council Transportation Committee will hold a broad-ranging hearing on strengthening New York’s nine-plus-year Vision Zero effort. The agenda [PDF] doesn’t specifically say what Chairperson Selvena Brooks-Powers hopes to focus on, but in addition to several bills to be discussed, the first Council hearing on Vision Zero under a new mayor has the potential to at least show the direction into which the Council wants to head. As such, we’re previewing the hearing by allowing our colleagues at Open Plans, an over 20-year-old non-profit dedicated to safe and livable streets as well as the parent company of Streetsblog, to offer its agenda:

Sara Lind

Lind said she will focus her testimony on seven pending bills:

  • Intro 415 (Requiring a study of dangerous driving)
  • Intro 555 (Installing safety signs near schools)
  • Intro 679 (Requiring the installation of traffic calming devices adjacent to senior centers and naturally occurring retirement communities)
  • Intro 805 (Pedestrian safety reporting)
  • Intro 854 (Requiring the department of transportation to annually implement new daylighting measures)
  • Intro 879 (Installation of bollards at reconstructed sidewalks, curb extensions and pedestrian ramps)
  • Intro 441 (Authorize New York City to set a five mile per hour speed limit on streets participating in the Open Streets program)

While we appreciate this hearing today, we believe much more needs to be done to truly make our streets safe.

We support Intro 854 because we know that daylighting is a critical safety improvement. However, we also know that with this city’s culture of drivers parking wherever they please, daylighted spots are likely to become parking spots without enforcement. Self-enforcing streets are best: hardening daylighting with things like bollards, boulders, bike racks or planters would ensure that vehicles cannot park there.

Intro 501 (which has 27 sponsors and should get a hearing) would allow civilians to help do the enforcement that we know NYPD is not doing. Even better — more objective and so reliable that it would create a culture shift — would be automated enforcement. Two bills at the state level — to give New York City home rule for automated enforcement of bike lanes and bus lanes — would dramatically increase street safety.

Sara Lind
Sara Lind

This Council should pass home rule resolutions supporting both of those bills, and automated enforcement at the curb more generally. So many of the trucks that are double-parked on our streets, creating dangerous conditions, do so because there are not enough loading zones and the ones we have are so often blocked by illegally parked cars that they may as well not exist at all. Automated enforcement would help regulate these spots and reduce double-parking.

Additionally, while we appreciate Intro 441, what we desperately need is a home rule resolution supporting Sammy’s Law, which would allow New York City to lower its speed limit to 20 miles per hour. The bill also would allow lowering the speed limit to 5 mph on Open Streets.

Finally, I must address electric vehicles, a greenwashing of the car industry that utterly erases the safety impacts. Electric vehicles are heavier and accelerate more quickly, and they’re quieter so people don’t hear them coming, all of which creates especially dangerous conditions for pedestrians and other road users. The only way to truly make cars safer and greener is to get them off our streets. New York must do all it can to reduce car dependency, to reduce driving and to provide New Yorkers with better alternatives.

Sara Lind is chief strategy officer at Open Plans. Open Plans is the parent company of Streetsblog.

Jackson Chabot

Jackson Chabot
Jackson Chabot

This conversation is not abstract, nor pie in the sky. The reality is the overwhelming majority of our streets and sidewalks are neither safe nor livable right now.

Thus far, this year alone, we have lost two people biking, five people walking, and nine people in vehicles, including a 62-year-old Tamara Chuchi Kao in Astoria, Sarah Schick, a 37-year-old mother of two in Gowanus, and Young Kwon, an 84-year-old whom Curbed writer Justin Davidson said “was killed for being too small and walking too slowly.”

So I’m here today to remember the lives we have lost and reiterate that we have an ongoing traffic violence epidemic that is largely shrugged off. We need urgency, from a policy perspective and a street redesign perspective. Elected officials need to lead tough conversations, including reallocating curb space dedicated to parking to ensure crossing the street is not a life or death activity. I urge:

  • Electeds:
    • Champion street redesigns, including protected bike lanes, bus lanes, and curbside reform locally and at community boards.
    • Hear and pass Intro 417, which has 39 sponsors, to get safety improvements on the ground. [The bill would “consolidate the community board and council member notice requirement for bike lanes with the requirement for major transportation projects. This would create a single, uniform process for the department of transportation to provide notice of any street project.”
  • DOT
    • Think big and futuristically by expanding Summer Streets to Queens/Brooklyn this year
    • Encourage and promote micromobility by implementing two-way, wider mobility lanes for bikes, scooters, etc.

We continue to feel the severe consequences of waiting, delaying, and inaction. A few weeks ago, I met with state lawmakers alongside Kala Santiago’s mother and sisters who remain heartbroken following her horrific death near Prospect Park in October. Her mother showed me pictures of her two infant children who will grow up with no memory of their hardworking mother who was biking to work to support them when she was crushed by the driver of a tractor-trailer.

We have the anecdotal and statistical data to show which streets, intersections, and neighborhoods are unsafe. We need action now; we cannot delay.

Jackson Chabot is the director of Advocacy and Organizing at Open Plans. Open Plans is the parent company of Streetsblog.


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