Transportation advocates heated over spate of traffic deaths

Cars speed down 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
Cars speed down 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
Ryan DeBerardinis/Shutterstock
Cars speed down 5th Avenue in Manhattan.

Transportation advocates heated over spate of traffic deaths

Eric McClure, the executive director of StreetsPAC, spoke to NYN Media about the recent traffic death and Vision Zero’s shortcomings.
September 17, 2021

Last weekend, six people were killed in traffic-related incidents in New York City and five were injured. Among those killed was a three-month-old baby, who died following a hit-and-run. 

"We're furious and heartbroken by the deadly and daily occurrence of traffic violence on Mayor de Blasio's streets," Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, told ABC 7. "The deadliest year under Mayor de Blasio's tenure shows no sign of letting up after crashes killed six people, including a three-month-old baby, over the weekend."

On Tuesday, advocates for safe streets stationed eight white strollers outside of City Hall to call attention to the tragic infant death that occurred over the weekend, mimicking the white “ghost bikes” that are used to memorialize the deaths of bikers killed by cars across the city. The driver believed to be responsible for the hit-and-run had incurred 160 traffic violations since 2017.

At the demonstration on Tuesday, Harris questioned why de Blasio’s administration has yet to launch its Reckless Vehicle Abatement Program, which is expected to hold reckless drivers accountable for their actions and take safe driving courses and impound certain vehicles. The mayor signed the Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Bill in February, 2020 to create the program.

At a press conference that occurred later in the day, de Blasio said the program is “something that I believe in fundamentally.”

“I want to get clearer answers on that too,” the mayor said, when asked about the program. “I want to find out why this didn’t happen on a timely basis and then give you a sharp clear answer. I’m a strong believer in more stringent penalties.”

As of Sept. 12, 188 people have died from traffic violence. In 2020, about 243 people died due to traffic crashes – the highest number of deaths recorded since the launch of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan, aimed at reducing traffic-related deaths, in 2014. Now, traffic advocates are pressing de Blasio’s administration to take greater action to prevent any future deaths.

Eric McClure, the executive director of StreetsPAC, a political action committee aimed at increasing street safety, spoke to NYN Media about the predictability of traffic deaths in the city and Vision Zero’s shortcomings. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

This past weekend was a fairly violent one, when it came to vehicle crashes, what were your initial thoughts as you learned of the six fatalities and five injuries that occurred?

It's obviously deeply concerning and painful to see these things continue to happen on the city streets, particularly when it's a small child on the sidewalk, presumably out of harm's way, who is struck down by somebody doing something incredibly dangerous and reckless. It's additionally painful that after almost two terms of the mayor's time in office to see Vision Zero, basically back where we started, when he got sworn in January of 2014. The whole idea behind Vision Zero is to get to zero vehicular deaths. While we made progress for a few years, we're now sort of back to square one and that's both disappointing and frustrating.

That leads me to my next question, which is how effective do you think the city’s Vision Zero plan has been thus far? How could it be improved?

I mean, we made gains there for a while. We've redesigned some streets but it feels, in a lot of ways, like there's just not a willingness on the part of the administration to inconvenience drivers in any meaningful way. And the bottom line is that we need to have less people driving cars and certainly fewer people driving cars in a dangerous manner than we have now. The deaths are predictable. You have people driving around fast and in large numbers, and you just know that these things are going to happen. We're not willing to take the steps to really reduce driving in New York City or at least it seems that we haven't been willing to do that. 

(Council Member) Brad Lander devised and passed the Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program. It (the creation of the program) got slowed down by City Hall for a while, finally got passed and signed into law and then the mayor didn't fund it last year. That should have been in place already – it's certainly not going to be the catchall to put an end to these kinds of incidents but somebody like the driver, Tyrik Mott, who killed the child on Saturday, would not have been on the street behind the wheel of the car if this had been fully in place. His car would have been impounded a long time ago, if he had not wised up and changed the way he drove after taking the mandated safety course. So we need to really prioritize the implementation of that law. If it's not going to happen under this mayor, it certainly needs to happen under presumed Mayor (Eric) Adams as early as possible in his administration. 

Do you have a sense of where Adams stands currently, when it comes to safe streets and Vision Zero?

I think he's very much supportive of policies that will move us in the direction of achieving Vision Zero. He's been an outspoken advocate for these things for quite some time. He will mention, regularly, the walk that he and I, and a handful of other advocates, took in Park Slope, in 2010, with Rod King, who started the 20’s Plenty for Us effort in the UK and was in New York. 

I think he is committed to really taking steps to make streets safer in New York City and to get dangerous drivers off the road and to redesign streets at a more aggressive pace than what has been done to this point to make it more difficult for people to drive fast and dangerously.

Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is the editor of NYN Media.