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A Relook at Vision Zero Amidst Spike in Pedestrian Deaths

EMILY PISACRETA, HOST 1: Mayor Bill de Blasio wants New York City to get to a point where no one dies from traffic-related incidents by 2024. For the first few years, his plan, Vision Zero, saw a reduction in the number of deaths.

TAY GLASS, HOST 2: But last year there was a spike. And so far this year there have been 22 pedestrian fatalities. Just yesterday, a 7 year old boy was struck and killed by a car in East New York. Peter Kostmayer runs the Citizens Committee for New York City, which aims to improve the quality of life for New Yorkers in low-income neighborhoods. I asked him why Vision Zero seems to be backsliding.

GLASS, BYLINE: And what do you think is stopping New York City from achieving Vision Zero?

PETER KOSTMAYER: The most basic and most important impediment is really an unwillingness on the part even of the people who live in the city, and its political leadership to do something about automobiles in New York City. We have just adopted, not very long ago, something called traffic congestion or congestion pricing, which will charge people a fee to drive into the central business district of Manhattan, which will reduce traffic somewhat. But that's been a long time coming. And it's something that should have been done a long time ago. Some of this actually is taking place in New York. And I think we need to give credit to the mayor and political leadership for doing it. 14th Street, from river to river has now been turned into a major road across the city where there's much less traffic, traffic is essentially banned except for public buses, emergency vehicles, and a few exceptions like that.

GLASS: Two of these recent deaths involved young children, how can we make the streets safer for children specifically?

KOSTMAYER: All of us who do drive from time to time, know that there are things that kind of naturally slow us down - the way the street is designed, the way intersections are designed. All of these are things that can be done. So we need to make sure that all the traffic lights are working, we need to make sure that we have much better street design, not only where there are lots of kids, but especially where there are lots of kids.

GLASS: Why do you think these two incidents involving children happened in the same neighborhood?

KOSTMAYER: These are neighborhoods where there are lots of kids. They are areas also where we hadn't taken a number of the steps. I think that should be taken in terms of redesigning intersections, making sure that all lights are working. One individual involved in one of these accidents had a driver’s license in fact removed, so that raises the whole issue of enforcement.

GLASS: Do you think it has anything to do with the fact that East New York is a low-income, predominantly black neighborhood?

KOSTMAYER: Well, I think it's hard always to rule that out. The fact of the matter is that in neighborhoods which have less political power, and are less heard, and they're less seen, and are more invisible to the power structure, you're going to have more problems, whether it's the kind of things we're talking about today in terms of the safety of children crossing the streets. I think that's something that's, that's sadly, and unfortunately, almost always true, here in New York and everywhere.

GLASS: Are there any cities that do this especially well, and how do they achieve that goal?

KOSTMAYER: Well, there are cities that do this very well. London, for example, some years ago, long before New York, adopted congestion pricing to reduce the level of traffic in central London. This plan, Vision Zero, actually comes from a plan in Sweden, and has been adopted in many cities in Scandinavia, small and large as well, and is working quite effectively.

GLASS: Thank you so much.

KOSTMAYER: You're very welcome. Have a good day.

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