Reducing Traffic Deaths


with Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Transportation


Dec 31, 2018

In 2014, New York City became the first American city to adopt Vision Zero, an initiative to end urban traffic deaths and injuries. This effort is now underway nationwide, transforming transportation planning in more than 30 U.S. cities.

Polly Trottenberg of the New York City Department of Transportation discusses the impact of adding major safety improvements to streets – including new protected bike lanes, additional crosswalks, and expanded medians.

Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Anderson: In 2017, New York City experienced its safest year on record, when it comes to traffic fatalities. 222 deaths were reported, and that´s the lowest number since the city started counting, in 1910. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Tetiana Anderson. With the coexistence of people and vehicles on city streets, public safety is a top concern. Joining me to discuss an initiative that strives to eliminate traffic deaths and injuries in the Big Apple is Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. She is with the New York City Department of Transportation. Commissioner Trottenberg is an honoree of Governing magazine´s 2018 Public Officials of the Year. Commissioner Trottenberg, thank you for being here.

Trottenberg: Thank you for having me.

Anderson: So, you have this grand plan called Vision Zero in New York City. It deals with a number of things, including Queens Boulevard, which is a major thoroughfare. It was once known as the Boulevard of Death.

Trottenberg: Mm-hmm.

Anderson: What was the problem there, and how did you fix it?

Trottenberg: And as you said, Tetiana, Vision Zero is a plan for the whole city to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries on all our roadways. Part of what that encompasses is re-engineering some of the biggest, toughest arterials we have, like Queens Boulevard, which in places is 10 or 12 lanes wide and had a tragic history of many, many people being killed. And in its most fatal year, 18 people were killed on Queens Boulevard. And our administration, the de Blasio administration, and our predecessors have done a lot of engineering work, but particularly in the past few years, we´ve done a whole redesign, adding bike lanes, safer pedestrian crossing areas, rationalizing the traffic. And we have seen, in the past few years, no pedestrian or cyclist fatalities on Queens Boulevard. We´re very proud of that.

Anderson: That´s amazing -- absolutely amazing. It´s not just Queens Boulevard, though. I mean, the city has like 8 million-plus people. Many of them take the L train, which was --

Trottenberg: 8.6 million.

Anderson: 8.6 million. Many of them take the L train, which we know was severely damaged in 2012 by Superstorm Sandy.

Trottenberg: Mm-hmm.

Anderson: How do you manage that fix while also providing alternate transportation -- big job.

Trottenberg: It is a huge challenge. The L train carries hundreds of thousands of riders every day, including 225,000 between Brooklyn and Manhattan. If it were a standalone subway system, it would be the ninth-largest in North America. And so we´ve been working very closely with our partners at the MTA -- New York City´s transit agency -- to beef up all the other alternative subway routes in Brooklyn and to create, basically, busways -- to get a whole bunch of buses from Brooklyn and across Manhattan. We´ve also are working to create a protected cycling network to encourage people to bike where they can. That´s gonna be a terrific mode. And providing a lot of ferry service. But it´s going to be an epic challenge. There´s no question.

Anderson: Lots of challenges for the Big Apple, including climate change. We are in an age where more severe storms are wreaking havoc, specifically on coastal communities, and it impacts transportation. How do you sort of stay ahead of that game?

Trottenberg: It is very challenging. I mean, the city is looking at doing some big climate projects -- the kind of things that you´ve seen, you know, for example, in some of the European countries -- coming up with barrier systems to try and prevent storm surges and damage. But we´re also looking at really hardening all our infrastructure. We have been working with the MTA on subway entrances, on bridges and tunnels. How can we seal them up in the case of big storm surges? Recently, we had a big snowstorm in the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania region. It came very early in the snow season and wreaked a lot of havoc and was something that wasn´t predicted and clearly, it´s one of the things we think we´re starting to see the effect of climate change, which is weather patterns which are very, very unusual. And the city´s gonna need to plan for those in the future.

Anderson: And what kind of advice do you have? What kind of information do you share with other major communities across the country about some of the things that you have implemented, that you´ve seen work in such a massive city?

Trottenberg: We are very proud of what we´ve done with Vision Zero. You mentioned 2017. We´ve seen roadway fatalities go down in New York City now, almost five years in a row. And that has very much bucked the national trend. At the national level, roadway fatalities, unfortunately, have been going up. And we have learned a lot of lessons about, really, the need for mayoral leadership and for engagement with a whole bunch of agencies. We work with our police department, our Taxi and Limousine Commission, our Citywide Administrative Services, the MTA. So there´s a lot of partnership and teamwork and putting real resources on the table to redesign streets, to do enforcement and education. It´s a real team effort, but we have seen in New York, it has saved a lot of lives.

Anderson: Fantastic. Commissioner Trottenberg, thank you.

Trottenberg: Thanks for having me.

Anderson: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, visit I´m Tetiana Anderson.

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