StreetsPAC's Testimony to City Council on Improving Street and Vehicle Safety

We were at City Hall today to testify at the New York City Council's Committee on Transportation oversight hearing on improving street and vehicle safety. Our testimony follows below.

Heavy vehicles accounted for a disproportionate share of pedestrian and cyclist deaths on New York City streets in 2019, and have been involved in a handful of deaths already this year, including the cement mixer whose driver struck and killed Judith Wieder on January 7th, and the DSNY truck whose driver ran over Shree Panthee and his mother earlier that day, killing the 10-year-old boy.

While Mayor de Blasio signed legislation in 2015 mandating the installation of side guards on all city vehicles exceeding five tons, with some exceptions, as well as requiring them on private carting trucks, that law granted nine years for implementation. Only a small fraction of private waste trucks have side guards today. The city has done better, but the need to accelerate implementation is clear. Lives hang in the balance.

Of course, side guards won’t save someone if they’re struck head on, which happens often. European and Asian cities are well ahead of New York in implementing life-saving technologies, including warning sensors that alert truck drivers to the presence of people on foot or on bikes, distraction and drowsiness monitors, and even intelligent speed assistance systems that limit engine power to ensure speed-limit compliance.

European and Asian trucks and buses are better designed, as well, with the cabs sitting over the engines to allow for much better visibility. We should be mandating such cab designs for city-owned and operated vehicles. We also need Albany and Washington to do their part to mandate better vehicle design and safety equipment, and we especially need the state legislature and the Governor to make licensing more rigorous, and to pass laws that hold reckless drivers accountable.

But heavy commercial vehicles are far from the only problem. More than 6,000 pedestrians were killed in crashes across the U.S. in 2018, the most since 1990.

The culprits, in many cases, were increasingly large and more powerful SUVs, equipped with big touchscreens and other distractions. NYCDOT has recognized that drivers of SUVs are responsible for an increasing share of deaths in New York, but we need more than awareness efforts and appeals to drivers’ better natures to deal with these deadly machines.

We’re at a point now that it’s time to begin regulating the types of vehicles that can be driven in densely populated areas of New York City. Manhattan is overrun with Suburbans, Yukons, and Expeditions, whose very names underscore their inappropriateness for urban streets. We must give serious thought to restricting the weight and size of the private vehicles that can be operated legally in the city, and we need to look to the EU’s requirement that all new vehicles sold beginning in two years have speed-limiting systems.

The technology exists to make city streets safer. We need the political will to require it. The future of Vision Zero lies in reducing the number and size of vehicles in New York City, and in interventions that will prevent drivers from speeding or operating those vehicles in dangerous and irresponsible ways.

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