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Vision Zero made NYC’s white neighborhoods safer from cars, but not Black or Latino: Report

An analysis by safe streets advocates found that traffic fatalities have fallen 16% since the city’s major push to make streets safer, but most of the gains have been concentrated in majority white neighborhoods.

Advocates with Transportation Alternatives said the benefits of Vision Zero infrastructure meant to protect people from cars has not made it to all parts of the city. At the same time, fatalities among cyclists and motorists have increased citywide.

“It’s not only that they’re not seeing the benefits, but the levels of fatalities are increasing there,” Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said in an interview. “It’s a program that works, it’s just not implemented equitably, and we don’t have the political leadership to roll it out to every corner of the city. “

The report shows major gains in safety for pedestrians by lowering speed limits, adding speed safety cameras and increasing the number of intersections with traffic signals that give pedestrians and cyclists a head start. The report also says there were 29% fewer pedestrian fatalities in 2023 compared to 2014, when Vision Zero was first implemented.

However, these benefits stopped when the group looked at majority Latino neighborhoods, which saw a 30% increase in traffic fatalities when comparing the first five years of Vision Zero to the last five years, the report says. Majority Black neighborhoods saw a 13% increase in traffic fatalities while majority white neighborhoods saw a 4% decline, according to the report.

“It is deeply concerning that communities of color are experiencing fatalities at higher rates,” said Selvena N. Brooks-Powers, who chairs the City Council’s transportation committee. “I’m further alarmed by the fact that 2023 was the deadliest year for cyclists in this century.”

Harris said local community boards have been the main obstacle to bringing car-protective infrastructure to low non-white neighborhoods.

“We don’t go to a neighborhood and say, do you want a fire station here or a fire hydrant,” Harris said. “But with Vision Zero, we’re still forced to go to a neighborhood and say, do you want the street safe or not? And then getting everybody’s feedback as if every neighborhood resident and every councilmember is a traffic engineer.”

The city Department of Transportation said it is working to bring more car-protection to low-income neighborhoods. The department also said it has an explicit equity formula to prioritize projects in part based on a neighborhood’s demographics.

“We’ve seen the greatest decreases in pedestrian fatalities both in neighborhoods with high poverty rates and the highest levels of non-white residents,” Anna Correa, a city Department of Transportation spokesperson, wrote in an email. “Our commitment to equity influences where we prioritize our work, weighing neighborhood race and income, density, and history of past projects.”

Cyclists also fared worse under Vision Zero, according to the report.

In 2014, there were 20 cyclist deaths, the report says. That number rose steadily into 2023 which was the deadliest year on a bike since 1999. Nearly all of them were killed on streets without a protected bike lane, according to the report.

Even though 2023 was a record year for building protected bike lanes, Harris faulted City Hall for not moving faster to build more protected bike lanes.

“The mayor has fallen so incredibly behind in meeting those goals,” Harris said. “While Vision Zero is a nice slogan, there actually are legal mandates that this mayor is falling behind on to get there.”

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