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NYC makes big strides in pedestrian safety, but challenges remain

New York City, famous for its bustling streets and fast pace, has achieved a remarkable feat. 2023 saw the fewest pedestrian deaths on record. 

This accomplishment is largely due to Vision Zero, a city program launched in 2014 with the ambitious goal of eliminating all traffic fatalities.

Engineering a safer city

Vision Zero takes a multi-pronged approach to safety. The city lowered the speed limit to 25 mph and installed speed cameras to enforce it. This discourages speeding, a major factor in pedestrian accidents. 

Intersections, where many crashes occur, got a makeover with features like leading pedestrian intervals, which give walkers a head start before cars get a green light. The Vision Zero initiative helps both drivers and pedestrians understand when pedestrians have the right of way

Raised crosswalks and daylighting, which removes parked cars near corners, improve visibility for both drivers and pedestrians.

Not everyone benefits equally

While pedestrian deaths are down, the picture isn’t perfect. Traffic fatalities overall are still high, with drivers and cyclists more likely to be involved in fatal crashes. The rise of e-bikes is a particular concern, with many e-bike rider deaths linked to collisions with cars.

Scaling up safety is a balancing act

Implementing safety measures can be tricky. Residents sometimes resist changes that might affect parking or traffic flow. The city also has to consider the needs of all who use the streets, from pedestrians and cyclists to drivers and delivery trucks. The sheer size of New York City means there’s a lot of ground to cover, making large-scale changes even more challenging.

The road ahead

Vision Zero advocates believe further progress is possible. They call for bolder street redesigns, like converting some streets to one-way or narrowing lanes. Wider use of daylighting and stricter traffic law enforcement are also on their wish list.

New York City’s experience with Vision Zero is a valuable case study for other cities. It shows that significant progress in pedestrian safety is achievable, but also highlights the challenges involved in creating safer streets for everyone.


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