DOT's Progress in 2017
2017 was New York City’s safest year on record, with 214 traffic fatalities. Since 2013, overall traffic fatalities in the city have declined by over 28 percent and pedestrian deaths have declined by 45 percent. Comparatively, traffic fatalities nationwide have increased by more than 13 percent from 2013 to 2016. However, DOT and its agency partners have much work to do before the City reaches its Vision Zero goal of eliminating all traffic-related fatalities. For a complete list of the agency’s progress on Strategic Plan 2016 Safety Initiatives, refer to nycdotplan.nyc/initiative-table.
In 2017, DOT completed 114 Vision Zero street redesign projects to simplify complicated intersections or corridors, exceeding its annual target of 50 projects. These areas were chosen because they had high rates of crashes in which someone was killed or severely injured, a measure DOT refers to as KSI. The initial changes are implemented with DOT’s in-house forces and on-call contractors, using a tool kit of traffic markings, concrete medians, signal upgrades, and temporary plaza treatments.
An example of a recent Vision Zero project is the reconfiguration of the Lincoln Center Bow-Tie, a complex multi-leg intersection on the Upper West Side with long crossing distances and a history of safety concerns. DOT analysis showed that, between 2008 and 2012, there were 39 injuries and one fatality at the intersection of West 65th Street, Columbus Avenue, and Broadway, placing this intersection in the top five percent of intersections by KSI in Manhattan. By November 2016, DOT had completely redesigned the intersection – extending the median and sidewalk, limiting turns, adding crossings and detectable warning surfaces, and providing accessible pedestrian signals. Now pedestrians and motorists alike can more easily navigate the area.
Another recently redesigned street is Greeley Avenue in Staten Island, where a DOT study found that 98 percent of vehicles traveled above the 25 mph speed limit. DOT installed traffic circles along the avenue as a way to address the speeding issue. Although fairly rare in the city, traffic circles have been found to reduce speeds while also maintaining traffic flow during peak hours.
In addition to implementing full intersection and street redesigns, DOT is looking at ways to use its signal system to make streets safer. For example, the leading pedestrian interval (LPI) is a proven method of reducing pedestrian-vehicle conflicts at high pedestrian crash intersections. Signals with an LPI give pedestrians an exclusive phase before any vehicles, including turning vehicles, receive the green light. As part of Vision Zero, DOT has dramatically expanded the use of this treatment and now there are now 2,074 intersections with LPIs.
DOT focuses particular attention on improving safety for children and older New Yorkers. The agency implemented a school safety project in Bayside, Queens near Middle School 74 in response to safety concerns about illegal U-turns, double parking, and speeding on Oceania and 210th Street from the Horace Harding Expressway to the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway. DOT installed a two-way parking protected bike lane adjacent to Cunningham Park and converted a portion of 210th Street to one-way to eliminate a complicated merge near a popular crossing for students. The three-quarter mile bike connection also improves access to the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway, Alley Pond Park, and the Kissena Corridor Park.
This project illustrates DOT’s efforts to integrate education and awareness into its Vision Zero work. DOT’s School Safety and Safety Education units met with students to describe the agency’s efforts to improve street safety and the protected bike lane project. DOT staff then showed students how to lay out the bike lane with spray paint, use speed detectors, and measure the roadway. In the past year, DOT’s Safety Education teams engaged with 679 schools and 157 senior centers across the City.
At Jewel Avenue and 164th Street in Queens, DOT painted a curb extension near a school to increase pedestrian sightlines and slow turning vehicles.
“My son is five years old and in first grade at PS/MS 200, Magnet School of Global Studies and Leadership. This [safety project] is a great thing. It slows down traffic for us. It’s much safer for us to cross the street. I love having it here. A lot of parents like it. It’s the best thing that ever happened to us here.
Before this there was a lot of traffic, double parking, and cars would come up near the curb, close to the children. Traffic - as they were turning - it would just be a faster right turn. One of the staff members was hit.”
-Danielle, parent at PS/MS 200
Some streets and intersections require changes that are beyond the capability of DOT’s in-house teams. In these locations, DOT partners with the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) to implement capital reconstruction projects, which often include upgrades to both underground utilities and the design of the street. DOT has identified four Vision Zero Great Streets across the five boroughs where the agency is working with DDC to implement full capital reconstruction projects. The goal of these major corridor projects is to prevent crashes, enhance mobility, increase accessibility, and bolster neighborhood vitality.
In the past year, DOT and DDC made significant progress towards the completion of the Grand Concourse Great Street project. The Grand Concourse, a distinct and historic boulevard running through the Bronx, had a rate of 13 pedestrian KSI per mile from 2009 to 2013. The street also had long crossing distances and narrow medians, making it difficult for pedestrians to cross. This fall, DOT and DDC completed Phase 2 of this multiple-phase project. Phase 2 included planted and widened medians and raised crosswalks from 166th Street to 171st Street, enhancing pedestrian safety and access while integrating amenities that make it a more pleasant place to walk, bike, and drive.
Research and Analysis
DOT is constantly evaluating new ways to make our streets safer. In a 2016 study, the agency determined that left turn maneuvers by vehicles pose a higher risk to pedestrians and cyclists, with KSI due to a left-turning vehicle occurring at over three times the rate (19 percent) of pedestrian and cyclist KSI by a right-turning vehicle (6 percent). Based on these statistics, DOT committed to implementing left turn safety improvements at 100 key intersections each year.
DOT has now tested several left turn safety improvements that aim to induce drivers to slow down and make turns at an angle that increases the visibility of pedestrians and cyclists. An evaluation of these treatments found that median left turn speeds decreased by 24 percent. The rate of crossing the double yellow line while turning also dropped by 98 percent. These relatively inexpensive treatments are just one way that DOT is designing its streets to prevent serious crashes. Moving forward, the agency will continue to implement at least 100 left turn safety improvements each year.
Effective enforcement is an essential component of Vision Zero. As speeding is a leading factor in fatal crashes in the City, DOT has advocated for the expansion of its speed camera program. Speed cameras are a proven tool to reduce dangerous driving behavior: an agency analysis found that speeding violations dropped on average by 63 percent at locations where a camera was installed. However, the effectiveness of the speed camera program is limited by state law. Most young New Yorkers walk and take transit to school, but under current law speed cameras can only protect them along the street that is adjacent to their school building. Between 2010 and 2014, 85 percent of traffic deaths or severe injuries occurred at locations or times where speed cameras are prohibited.
Given the effectiveness of speed cameras, the City advocated for the expansion of the program during the most recent legislative session in Albany. Assembly Member Deborah Glick and Senator Jose Peralta introduced legislation (A7798/S6046) to allow automated enforcement in a total of 290 school speed zones, adding authorization for fifty new zones annually over a three year period. Importantly, this legislation also expanded the area speed camera enforcement is permitted to within a radial quarter mile from a school building, entrance or exit. While the legislation did not pass in the most recent session, DOT will continue to work with elected officials and advocates to push for the expansion of speed cameras in the City.
Safety has always been a critical priority for DOT. In February 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio reinforced the City’s commitment to safety by introducing the Vision Zero Action Plan. Vision Zero is a cooperative effort among City agencies, led by the Mayor’s Office, to eliminate traffic fatalities and crash-related serious injuries. It reflects the philosophy that serious crashes are preventable. The Action Plan includes safer street designs and engineering, effective enforcement and deterrence of traffic safety violations, and education and outreach efforts to encourage safer choices by drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. DOT has a leading and critical role in the City’s Vision Zero efforts.
Traffic fatalities in the City have fallen significantly over the past two decades—from 701 in 1990 to 271 in 2010. With the City’s renewed efforts, traffic related fatalities fell further from 249 in 2011 to an all-time low of 232 in 2015—and New York is now internationally recognized as a leading innovator in safe street design. Indeed, New York City has one of the lowest traffic fatality rates in the nation. However, the fatality rate in New York City still exceeds the rates in many of our peer cities around the world, including London and Hong Kong.
Vision Zero and our Global Peer Cities
The Vision Zero approach started in Sweden and has now been adopted by cities across Europe and the United States. The chart below shows how New York City compares in terms of street safety to its U.S. and global peers. Domestically, New York is leading the pack, with a significantly lower rate of fatalities from traffic crashes than American peer cities and the U.S. overall. The international comparisons with Hong Kong, London, and Stockholm, however, show how far cities have advanced toward eliminating traffic fatalities. Stockholm, a city of one million residents, has achieved a rate of .4 traffic-related fatalities per 100,000 of population, an amazing accomplishment. DOT will continue to look to our peer cities around the country and the globe for strategies to achieve Vision Zero.
* Peer Cities include all U.S. cities with populations over 500,000, and either 5,000 residents per square mile, or 20% non-car commuting: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington D.C. Source: NHTSA Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS), U.S. Census Bureau Population Estimates, American Community Survey (2014)
London - Transport for London (2015). Travel in London: Report 8.
Hong Kong – Transport Department, The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (2015). “Traffic Accidents.” 2015 Annual Transport Digest.
Stockholm - Trafik Analys (2016). Vägtrafikskador 2015 (Road Traffic Injuries 2015).
To advance towards the City’s Vision Zero goal, DOT has:
- increased the pace with which we deliver street redesigns, simplifying complicated intersections and providing safe space for pedestrians and bicyclists at priority locations throughout the City;
- expanded the rollout of Leading Pedestrian Intervals (which give crossing pedestrians a head start in advance of turning vehicles), installed brighter streetlights, and retimed traffic signals on high-crash streets;
- led the effort to lower the City’s speed limit;
- expanded the City’s speed camera program; and
- led the City’s efforts to inform New Yorkers of the consequences of their actions through outreach and anti-reckless driving advertisements.
A full description of the multi-agency Vision Zero effort can be found here.
These initiatives, and others, have contributed to the safest year in New York City since 1910. However, the agency recognizes that any fatalities at all means we have more work to do.
Speed Camera Program
Speeding is a leading factor in fatal crashes: Nearly one in three traffic deaths in New York City involves a speeding driver. Pedestrians struck by vehicles traveling at 25 MPH are half as likely to die as those struck at 30 MPH. Deterring speeding on New York City streets is a major component of Vision Zero, and in 2015 the City secured authorization from New York State to install speed cameras in 140 school speed zones.
The results have been dramatic: At locations where speed cameras were installed, speeding violations have plummeted by an average of 50 percent. The program is effective at deterring dangerous speeding, but is limited in scope. State law only allows for the use of speed cameras during school hours and within school speed zones. As a result, cameras cannot be used in nearly 85 percent of the locations and times where people are killed or seriously injured. DOT and the City will continue to advocate for changes to New York State law to expand the use of this life-saving technology.