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How Vision Zero Made New Yorkers Safer and Saved Money

LocalHow Vision Zero Made New Yorkers Safer and Saved Money

Good morning. It’s Thursday. Today we’ll find out how the Vision Zero initiative, introduced 10 years ago, reduced more than injuries from traffic accidents. We’ll also get details on a first step toward more secure on-street parking places for bicycles.

Vision Zero, a package of initiatives introduced when Bill de Blasio was mayor a decade ago, is often credited with bringing down traffic deaths in New York City. A new study concluded that it had done more than that: It saved Medicaid more than $90 million in its first five years in reimbursements for treating people with traffic-related injuries.

The study, published in The American Journal of Public Health, said that there had been a 30 percent reduction in traffic injuries from 2014 to 2019, the first five years of Vision Zero.

The study also found that low-income New Yorkers had fewer injuries from crashes involving automobiles, bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians. The sharpest drop in traffic-related injuries, the study said, was among Black New Yorkers.

Vision Zero promised changes from several city agencies, not just the Department of Transportation or the Police Department. The initiative reduced speed limits to 25 miles per hour, from 30 m.p.h.; introduced physical modifications to streets, including protected lanes for bicycles; and stepped up traffic enforcement.

The authors of the study — Kacie Dragan, a doctoral candidate at Harvard, and Sherry Glied, the dean of the Wagner Graduate School of Public Service at New York University — said that their findings had local and national implications, because other cities have based programs on Vision Zero in the years since de Blasio modeled it on a program from Sweden that dated to the 1970s.

Dragan and Glied noted that one question about traffic policies was whether they “affect only the low-hanging fruit” like fender-benders “while having little influence on severe crashes.” Their data indicated otherwise.

They compared injury treatments covered by Medicaid in the first five years of Vision Zero with similar cases involving Medicaid recipients in six counties surrounding New York that did not have “traffic-calming initiatives.” Dragan and Glied said that the Medicaid data let them assess longer-term consequences of traffic accidents, including follow-up care like physical therapy and prescriptions, that police statistics compiled immediately after a crash could not take into account.

The researchers calculated that Medicaid expenses would have been $762 million from 2014 to 2018 without Vision Zero. Medicaid spent $671 million during that time. The researchers worked with the Medicaid data under protocols that removed the recipients’ names before they did their analysis. The city’s Department of Transportation does not use Medicaid data but said that it had found that the sharpest declines were in nonwhite neighborhoods.

Dragan and Glied found that traffic-related injuries had been trending in the same direction in the city and the other jurisdictions before Vision Zero began. In 2013 — the year before de Blasio announced the program — there were 296 injuries per 100,000 people in the city and 286 in the other six counties.

After Vision Zero began, the rates in New York City dropped more than in the other areas: In 2016, the second full year of Vision Zero, there were 286 injuries for every 100,000 people in the city and 367 in the other jurisdictions.

Traffic-related injuries among low-income New Yorkers, and Black residents of the city in particular, fell in comparison with the surrounding counties. “Given that low-income and Black Americans are more likely to live and work in places with unsafe roadways and face injuries,” they wrote, “these findings suggest that Vision Zero-style reforms are promising for reducing disparities.”

Despite the overall decline in the five-year period, injury numbers did climb in the city and the suburbs in 2017 and 2018. “Cars were bigger, and drivers were using cellphones,” Glied said. A spokesman for the Department of Transportation said that the city recorded the second-fewest pedestrian fatalities last year since the agency began tracking them in 1910 despite the growth of the city “and modern cars being bigger, faster, heavier and generally deadlier,” particularly sport-utility vehicles.

He said that a key element of Vision Zero had been speed cameras and red-light cameras that the police use to issue tickets. The state authorization for red-light cameras will expire this year unless the State Legislature reauthorizes the program. The city has asked to expand it, noting that the cameras have reduced red-light running by 73 percent.


Expect showers that will continue through the evening, with temperatures climbing to the low 70s during the day and dropping to the low 50s in the evening.


Suspended today (Solemnity of the Ascension).

The city’s Department of Transportation calls them “secure bike parking locations.” In sketches of possible prototypes that the agency prepared, they look like storage units. One is the length of a parking space for a car. Another is somewhat larger and is tucked under elevated subway tracks.

Today the agency is taking the first step toward installing 500 of them on city streets. It is beginning the process of finding a company to operate what it envisions as a “groundbreaking bike storage network.” The idea to provide parking places for bicycles that are more secure than trees or telephone poles — or the 56,000-plus bike parking spots on streets, sidewalks and plazas. The 56,000 does not include thousands of spaces for Citi Bikes at the company’s 1,100-plus docking stations.

The transportation commissioner, Ydanis Rodriguez, said in a statement that providing safe parking for bikes “will support continued growth in cycling by addressing a key barrier to bike ownership: the lack of access to secure bike storage.”

That became a concern during the pandemic, when more people bought bikes — and more bikes were taken from sidewalks, garages and basements. In the first six months of the pandemic in 2020, the number of bicycles jumped 27 percent from the same period the year before, according to the police.

The department acknowledges that the structures that end up on streets may look nothing like the ones in its sketches. It envisions “small-capacity units” at the curb in residential areas and larger units near transit hubs and major destinations, including some that could charge e-bikes. The agency is also looking to install open, self-locking racks that could accommodate bikes of any size and configuration. The racks could also double as charging stations for e-bikes.

One company has already installed bike storage units at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Midtown and in Downtown Brooklyn. The company, Oonee, has also installed a network of facilities in Jersey City, said Shabazz Stuart, its founder and chief executive.

But Oonee had to remove one of its pods in Lower Manhattan in 2019 in a dispute with the city over advertising and financing issues.

“My life for seven years has been trying to prove the city is ready for this,” Stuart said on Wednesday. “Seven years ago, people would laugh me out of their offices. Whatever the city decides to do, the fact that we’re having this conversation, that is a dream come true for me.”


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