The first decade of Vision Zero in NYC is officially in the books.

Ten years after it was implemented under Mayor Bill de Blasio as the foundation of the New York City road safety policy, Vision Zero has failed to meet its goal of zero traffic deaths by 2023. But that doesn’t mean the policy has been a failure.

At the ten-year anniversary of Vision Zero, evidence abounds that New York’s streets are safer, although there is still plenty of room for improvement.

City Officials Take a Victory Lap

New York City traffic deaths have fallen significantly in recent decades. In 1990, 701 people died on the City’s streets. By 2018, that number had fallen to 205.

How much of this progress can be attributed to Vision Zero? It depends on who you ask.

The City Journal says former Mayor Michael Bloomberg deserves the most credit for expanding pedestrian areas and protected bike lines—efforts that Mayor de Blasio promised to build on under the banner of Vision Zero, a science-backed approach to road safety from Sweden that was first adopted in the U.S. by New York City in 2014.

Mayor Eric Adams, who took office in 2022, launched a three-pronged effort last year to accelerate Vision Zero efforts, with initiatives aimed at intersection improvements, expanded safety technology in City vehicles, and better traffic violence data reporting.

“As we reach 10 years of Vision Zero in New York City, I want to commend DOT, and its partner agencies, for their unwavering commitment to the critical mission of protecting our fellow New Yorkers,” said Mayor Adams in a NYC DOT press release from February 15, 2024.

According to the release, NYC traffic deaths declined more than 12 percent overall from 2013 (the first year before Vision Zero) to 2023, including a 45% decrease in pedestrian deaths. The City references the completion of more than 1,200 safety projects, over 200 miles of new bike lanes, 24-hour speed camera implementation, and a citywide speed limit reduction to 25 mph as Vision Zero-era successes.

“Through Vision Zero, we’ve saved lives and made our streets safer for everyone,” said NYC DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez.

Transportation Alternatives Takes More Nuanced Vision Zero View

Non-profit Transportation Alternatives, an early promoter of NYC Vision Zero, is one of the organizations that has most closely scrutinized the program, issuing regular progress reports and analysis.

Its data assessment of the first ten years of Vision Zero finds that, while New York City’s streets are undoubtedly safer than a decade ago, the program’s outcomes are overall a mixed bag.

First, the successes: NYC traffic fatalities were 16% lower in the last 10 years compared to the decade prior to Vision Zero, resulting in approximately 450 lives saved. In addition, from 2014 to 2023, the City’s pedestrian fatalities fell 29%.

But it’s not all good news. Notably, 2023 was the deadliest year for cyclists in the City since 1999. And traffic crashes killed the exact same number of New Yorkers in 2023—259—as they did in the year Vision Zero was launched. To date, 2018 was the safest year of Vision Zero. Since then, New York’s traffic fatalities have crept back up.

Vision Zero progress also hasn’t been spread evenly across NYC. Fatalities in majority-white areas have fallen 4% but increased 15% – 30% in majority-Black and Latino neighborhoods, reports Transportation Alternatives.

“While whiter, wealthier communities have safer streets than ten years ago, lower-income communities and communities of color have experienced an increase in traffic violence,” the study states.

-Transportation Alternatives

In an accompanying report, Transportation Alternatives offers several lessons from the last ten years for achieving Vision Zero. They include broader implementation of proven safety measures like speed cameras, the use of low-cost interventions at scale such as reprograming traffic signals, prioritizing street redesigns over police enforcement, and targeting interventions to changing conditions on the ground.

“By taking initiative today, learning lessons from our shortcomings, replicating our successes system wide, and adapting Vision Zero to meet the reality of New York City streets in 2024 and beyond, New York City can save lives, inspire more cities to follow suit, and reassume its role as the U.S. leader in traffic safety,” the report concludes.

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