StreetsPAC's Testimony to City Council on Vision Zero Oversight, Cycling Safety

StreetsPAC earlier today gave the following testimony at the New York City Council's join Committee on Transportation and Committee on Public Safety oversight hearing on Vision Zero and cycling safety:

2019 has been a very tough year for Vision Zero. We all knew, or should have known, that progress on Vision Zero would not be a straight line, but the increase in traffic deaths this year, especially among people on bikes, has been painful. It’s also important to remember that when we’re talking about Vision Zero, we’re talking about the lives of our fellow New Yorkers, so a tough year for Vision Zero is a tough year for New Yorkers, and one death among us is one too many.

We take a little bit of issue with the subject line of today’s oversight hearing – Vision Zero, Cyclist Safety, and Police Department Enforcement – because as we’ve testified at previous hearings, we believe that enforcement, especially by police officers, is the weakest, and frankly, least reliable aspect of Vision Zero.

As we’ve stated in past hearings, our ability to achieve Vision Zero lies first and foremost in redesigning our streets. Vision Zero is predicated on the fact that people make mistakes, and that those mistakes should not cost someone life or limb. Preventing those mistakes is best done through street design, and as we’ve seen, many of the more than two dozen people killed on bikes this year were struck in places that had little, if any, cycling infrastructure.

That is why we urge the speedy passage of Speaker Johnson’s Intro 1557, which would create a five-year Master Plan for the city’s streets, sidewalks and pedestrian spaces. Key to the master plan is accelerating the building of protected bike lanes, the single best way to keep cyclists safe. Intro 1557 should be brought to a vote ASAP.

The same goes for the Reckless Driver Accountability Act, Council Member Lander’s bill that would impound or boot vehicles that accrue a significant number of dangerous camera violations. Automated enforcement is the one means of enforcement that does make a real difference in Vision Zero. We saw a surge in speed-camera violations when expansion of the program began earlier this year, but violations quickly started to drop after each round of new camera deployments, as many drivers soon changed behavior. Getting the most dangerous drivers off the road will greatly reduce the dangers faced by cyclists and pedestrians.

These two bills, the Streets Master Plan and the Reckless Driver Accountability Act, will help get Vision Zero back on track, and we urge their passage and enactment without any further delay.

Lastly, in regard to the specific pieces of legislation before the Committee today, we support Intro 0769-2018, which would allow people to cure bicycle equipment violations within 48 hours by producing the required equipment.

We also support Intro 1435-2019, which would require use of back seat safety belts in motor vehicles, and should help reduce injuries in crashes to rear-seat passengers.

Likewise, we support Intro T2019-5286, which would accelerate the existing timeline for required side guard implementation on city vehicles and commercial waste-hauling trucks, as well as require their implementation on large vehicles contracting with the city.

We support Intro 1354-2019, which would require all cement-mixing trucks operating in the city to be equipped with spill guards of some sort, to prevent accidental spills, which can create hazards on city streets.

And finally, we also support Intro 1763-2019, which would require a minimum three-foot passing distance for drivers overtaking people on bicycles. We don’t know how enforceable such a rule might be, but three-foot passing laws are commonplace around the country, and the legislation would help in educating drivers about safe passing distances while setting a firm standard.

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StreetsPAC supports candidates for public office who will champion Safe, Complete and Livable Streets.