New York

The Next Big Vision Zero Victory is Up to Governor Cuomo

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After Mayor Bill de Blasio made peace with street safety watchdogs by announcing new Vision Zero funding, advocates are turning to Governor Andrew Cuomo for the first boost to school zone speed cameras in nearly three years. To force the governor’s hand, they’ve unveiled polling data showing widespread support for their plan.

The big Vision Zero news this week belongs not to Cuomo, but de Blasio, who yesterday announced an additional $1.6 billion over five years to hire more crossing guards, freshen up street markings, buy more radar guns, and install safer street designs.

At today’s City Council hearing, a panel of city agency officials, including Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, touted the new money, trumpeted last year’s record low number of traffic fatalities, and delved into the details. When will all city-owned trucks get side guards? (2021, three years ahead of schedule.) How many NYPD collision investigators are there? (Twenty-six, a slight increase from the beginning of the de Blasio administration.)

The new funding buys political peace, not just new traffic safety tools. Advocates and the City Council had been pushing the mayor to allocate more Vision Zero funding for the past two years. This week’s announcement puts everyone on the same page.

Now, the focus turns to a much tougher fight in Albany, which holds a tight grip over the city’s speed camera program and rarely sings the same tune as City Hall.

Speed cameras, which issue a $50 ticket for each violation, are the closest thing Vision Zero advocates have to a silver bullet. DOT says they’ve reduced speeding by about 50 percent where they’ve been installed in New York — an important stat, since speeding is the city’s leading cause of traffic fatalities.

“One of the single biggest factors to saving lives on the streets is controlling speed,” Trottenberg said. “If drivers are traveling at a safe speed, they’re less likely to have a collision, and if they do have a collision it’s less likely to have severe consequences.”

But Albany caps speed cameras to 140 school zone locations, has strict limits on which streets near schools qualify for cameras and requires the city to shut them off outside of school hours. As a result, 85 percent of deaths and serious injuries occur when and where the cameras are prohibited, Trottenberg said.

Even with those restrictions, the cameras issued 1.37 million tickets last year, dwarfing the 137,000 speeding tickets NYPD issued during the same period.

“Obviously there are a couple of ways we would like to expand that program,” Trottenberg said. “The city is committed to going back to Albany this year.”

Her boss agrees. “We definitely need more speed cameras, and they have had a very positive impact,” de Blasio said yesterday, mentioning advocates like Families for Safe Streets, a group of crash victims and their loved ones organized by Transportation Alternatives. “They’re going to be going up with us this legislative session to try and win the right for the City of New York to put more speed cameras in, particularly around our schools.”

But efforts to expand the speed camera program have stalled in Albany since 2014, when the legislature increased the number of cameras from 20 to 140. This time around, advocates are focusing on Cuomo.

“We’re really asking the governor to take action,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “The legislature is so dysfunctional now, really the surest route to victory, the surest route to saving kids’ lives, is if the governor takes this on.”

To help coax the governor into backing its effort to allow speed cameras at every city school, TA released poll numbers showing that New Yorkers overwhelmingly back the idea.

A poll of 880 likely city voters, conducted by Penn Schoen Berland in November, showed 64 percent strongly support speed cameras around city schools for Vision Zero, 20 percent somewhat support the idea, and only 15 percent either somewhat or strongly oppose the cameras. The support is consistent across all demographics, including car owners, Republicans and outer-borough residents.

“The conventional wisdom is that these are controversial,” White said. “What we found was supermajority support for Vision Zero.”

Cuomo’s office did not reply to a request for comment before press time.

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