In 2014, former Mayor Bill de Blasio launched Vision Zero in New York City, an initiative that calls for eliminating all traffic deaths and serious injuries across the five boroughs by 2024.
Vision Zero is an ambitious strategy that fundamentally rethinks why traffic accidents happen and how they can be eliminated. Although New York is nowhere near to achieving its Vision Zero goal, it has made strides. Last year, NYC Mayor Adams committed over $900 million to making Vision Zero a reality.
Vision Zero Believes Traffic Crashes Are Not “Accidents”
The belief behind Vision Zero—that traffic crashes are entirely preventable, and not inevitable—represents a paradigm shift.
Traditionally, we’ve taken for granted that injuries and deaths from traffic collisions are simply a side effect of modern life. But Vision Zero rejects this assumption, proposing that traffic safety measure can eliminate what we previously considered to be “accidents.”
Vision Zero was started in Sweden in the 1990s and is now gaining momentum in U.S. cities. Every year, more than 42,000 Americans are killed in roadway crashes. As most of the developed world reported fewer road deaths over the past decade, the U.S. headed in the opposite direction.
This divergence was particularly stark during the pandemic, when travel declined but deaths still rose. New York City saw a steady decline in traffic deaths from 1990 to 2019. Then the pandemic hit and traffic deaths in the City exploded, largely caused by reckless driving.
The City recorded 274 road deaths in 2021, the most since 2013, the year before Vision Zero was implemented. However, the overall trend in NYC traffic deaths is positive. Last year, they fell to 252—47 fewer than in 2013 and a 6.6% overall reduction compared to 2021, including a 6.3% reduction in pedestrian deaths and fewer cyclist deaths for the third straight year.
Mayor Adams took the news to mean New York City is getting safer, at least from the standpoint of “traffic violence,” a term lifted from Vision Zero thinking that traffic safety is a public health issue requiring systemic changes. He credited measures like intersection improvements and 24/7 speed cameras for reducing traffic fatalities.
The Adams administration has committed $904 million over five years to advance the “NYC Streets Plan,” which builds on Vision Zero street redesign initiatives to curb traffic deaths. Overall, the City has pledged nearly $3 billion to Vision Zero efforts from FY 2022 – 2031.
Is Vision Zero in New York City Working?
Critics say the Adams administration is not moving fast enough to implement the NYC Streets Plan as the City nears the 10-year anniversary of Vision Zero. Yet there is evidence that Vision Zero is working in New York City. And successes elsewhere show that Vision Zero is not a utopian dream.
Some of the strongest data supporting the success of New York City Vision Zero comes from a recent International Transport Forum report. It shows that New York—the only U.S. city included in the report—has outperformed national-level traffic safety measures.
From 2010 – 2020, NYC traffic deaths declined 19%, while across the U.S., traffic deaths increased 7.4% over the same period. The report says that New York and other cities that have outpaced national progress in reducing road traffic deaths have done so “thanks to the implementation of robust and data-driven road safety policies.”
The report singles out New York as a city where progress on this front is “particularly striking.” Other U.S. Vision Zero cities, like Washington D.C., Portland, Houston, Phoenix, and Seattle, have not fared as well as NYC. This could be a nod to the resources NYC has dedicated to Vision Zero. However, New York also has advantages that other major cities lack, such as well-developed public transport and a low car ownership rate.
Mayor Adams says that Vision Zero remains the guiding principle as the City continues to work toward a day when no one dies in car crashes. His optimism may not be so far-fetched. Some towns and cities have already reported zero traffic deaths for multiple years.
These municipalities are identified in an interactive map produced by German company DEKRA. They include Kerpen, Germany and Lake Forest, California, cities that have not recorded a traffic death for 10 straight years. Gothenburg, Sweden, with more than 500,000 residents, is the largest city on the “Zero Fatality” list.
In New York, New Rochelle has achieved zero fatalities once, while White Plains has done it three times and Mount Vernon five times. All three have a “Complete Streets” policy that endorses Vision Zero strategies.
Hurt in a Crash? Call 855-SANDERS
Vision Zero is a commendable goal that’s correct in pointing out most traffic accidents are preventable incidents. A city with fewer car crashes is better for every New Yorker. But as long as there are car accidents in New York City, there will be a need for car accident lawyers.
If you were hurt in a crash, please call or contact us to discuss your rights, including when you may be able to file a lawsuit outside of the New York No-Fault insurance system.