At least 221 people died in traffic crashes last year – five years after Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to eliminate all traffic deaths. The mayor’s safety plan, Vision Zero, had been showing signs of having an impact. Then the death toll rose abruptly last year. This year is already off to a deadly start.
Part of fixing the problem is understanding why people died.
In an effort to identify patterns, The New York Times analyzed city crash data on both injuries and deaths. The examination showed that much of the problem comes down to careless driving, including driver inattention, failing to yield and speeding.
Despite a perception that pedestrians are darting into traffic and cyclists are flouting the rules, police cited errors by pedestrians and cyclists in less than 5% of fatal crashes last year. There were also three fatal crashes that did not involve a vehicle, in which a pedestrian and cyclist collided.
When someone is killed in a traffic crash, a police officer files a report and assigns a contributing factor for the crash based on preliminary information. Four contributing factors were listed on those reports in about half of crashes that killed pedestrians and cyclists last year: driver inattention or distraction, failure to yield, disregarding traffic signals or signs and unsafe speed. Five crashes involved alcohol, and five resulted from vehicles backing up unsafely.
Mr. de Blasio said that in addition to redesigning streets and expanding speed cameras, the city must find a way to educate drivers.
Only four drivers were arrested in 28 cyclist deaths last year – about 14% of those crashes, according to the police. Eight other drivers received a summons for violations, including speeding, unsafely opening a door into traffic and unsafe passing.
Brooklyn is the most dangerous place to ride a bike. The borough had the most cyclist deaths – 17 of 28 fatalities, or about 60%, though it has a third of the city’s population. Across the city, pedestrian and cyclist deaths were clustered in neighborhoods like Chelsea in Manhattan and Sunset Park in Brooklyn along corridors that are known to be dangerous. Six people were killed along Third Avenue in Brooklyn, a notoriously deadly road that does not have a bike lane south of the Gowanus neighborhood.
The city’s transportation commissioner, Polly Trottenberg blamed gentrification in previously industrial areas for part of the problem – a deadly mix of trucks and new residents who like to walk or bike. She reduced the speed limit on Third Avenue but did not push for protected bike lanes this year.
Pedestrians made up the greatest share of the city’s 221 traffic deaths – there were 124 last year, along with 44 people who died in motor vehicles and 25 motorcyclists who were killed. More than 60,000 people were injured in traffic crashes in 2019, up from about 50,000 in 2014, according to city crash data.
City officials said one factor behind the recent uptick in injuries could be how the police collect data – the department switched from a paper to electronic system in the summer of 2016, making it easier to submit reports, so more were filed.
Source: The New York Times