This is the second post in a two-part piece about how Vision Zero will have to change attitudes toward streets and driving in order to succeed. Read part one here.
New York City is known for its hustle, its people perpetually in a hurry, trying to make good time. It is almost a point of pride for New Yorkers, who view themselves as tougher, faster, and cannier than other people.
But when it comes to driving, hustling to beat the green light or press through a crosswalk can be deadly.
Too many New Yorkers view speeding as normal or even necessary. Even Council Member Mark Weprin, who was moved by his interactions with victims’ families to support Vision Zero initiatives, recently defended drivers in his district who are accustomed to speeding and getting away with it. “I don’t want to be too pie in the sky about this, but we’re going to take law abiding citizens and turn them into law breakers,” Weprin said at a recent council hearing, implying it is unreasonable to expect New Yorkers to obey the speed limit.
“We’re going to be asking New Yorkers to slow down in places where they don’t necessarily want to,” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “When you get into the more difficult areas of enforcement, education, and culture change… there’s no question, there are a lot of challenges ahead.”
Speeding is rampant in New York City, but enforcement is notoriously lax. NYPD only catches a fraction of the city’s speeding drivers, as data about the city’s speed cameras proved. Twenty cameras — operational only when school activities are happening — issued 48,500 speeding tickets this June, more than five times as many as NYPD officers wrote that month.
“With speed cameras you can see the exact cultural obstacle when you go to Albany,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “Legislators are saying ‘Let’s not be unfair to motorists.’ Why are we still having this conversation when we know they’re saving lives?”
The de Blasio administration will make an impact on safety if it continues to redesign streets and step up enforcement, but in the end it will always be up to drivers whether or not they choose to speed. Likewise, the city’s shared culture will determine whether or not these behaviors are still seen as acceptable or normal.
“I think we’ll have been successful in the culture when speeding is perceived as anti-social as drunk driving,” says Steely White.
Beyond Blaming the Victim
Police Commissioner William Bratton was by de Blasio’s side when the mayor announced the Vision Zero initiative in January. “We will be just as aggressive in preventing a deadly crash on our streets as we are in preventing a deadly shooting,” Bratton said. His commitment was an encouraging sign following years of stasis in NYPD’s approach to protecting the public from traffic violence.