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Opinion: Let’s get behind Vision Zero

OPINION

May 4, 2014 John O’Reilly

The Sunnyside community, north, south, young, old, hip and unhip, must get fully involved and engaged with the Vision Zero Action Plan.

This ambitious and historic effort launched in the opening days of the de Blasio administration and newly constituted City Council, seeks to address and systematically eliminate serious injuries and fatalities resulting from traffic accidents. This endeavor entails a full scale crusade by City Hall, the City Council, the Police Department, the Department of Transportation, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the Department of Health, and several other agencies to transform our attitudes about City streets and sidewalks to a culture of safety, the “Vision Zero” mindset, which holds that no traffic fatality is inevitable, accidents can be eliminated and prevented.

Sunnyside, bisected by the “Boulevard of Death, is no stranger to a pervasive sense of danger and fear on our streets. Should we as a community think it’s inevitable that fatalities will occur on our streets, situations like the death of Noshat Nahian, a third-grade student at PS 152, walking with his 11-year-old sister and carrying a gift for his teacher on the last day of school before the Christmas break, being struck and killed at 61st St. and Northern Blvd. by a truck making a left turn into the cross walk, or the two fatalities that happened the next day, when a 31-year-old motorcyclist hit a 78-year-old woman at the intersection of Queens Blvd and 58th Street, are bound to take place in the course of life? There are so many horrible traffic tragedies and the enormity of the impact on family members of victims is difficult to put into words, perhaps only comprehended by viewing their presentation at the City Council hearing on Vision Zero legislation on April 30th.

In addition to 22 items of legislation under consideration by the City Council, dedicated and specific enforcement efforts by the Police Department, DOT and TLC are underway. Already concrete action on the Vision Zero Plan is being implemented: the speed limit will be lowered beginning in May from 30 to 25 miles per hour on the stretch of Northern Boulevard between 40th Road and 114th Street, and starting in July the lower speed limit will govern the stretch of Queens Boulevard between Jackson and Hillside Avenues. Major changes are being made to the intersection where Noshat Nahian was killed, including the installation of two pedestrian safety islands, maximizing crossing time for pedestrians and school crosswalks, and removal of the westbound left turn bay and signal on Northern Boulevard.

The Vision Zero Plan is also remarkable for the unprecedented high level of engagement with the public and opportunities for participation in the formulation and implementation of the program. Details are well presented in an easily understood format on the Vision Zero web site: http://www.nyc.gov/html/visionzero/pages/home/home.html . Starting in March, Town Hall meetings for the public to ask questions and have front line input in the development of the plan with the City Council Committee on Transportation, Commissioners of DOT and TLC, and high level officials of the NYPD and other City agencies, have been held, most recently at LaGuardia College. Work shop forums with the relevant agencies and the Mayor’s Community Affairs unit are being conducted at the neighborhood level to design specific pedestrian safety strategic plans; the next in our area will be conducted at Bohemian Hall 29-19 24th Avenue, in Astoria on May 21, 2014 6:30-8:30 pm.

Early this week, the Vision Zero Interactive Map was launched by DOT, NYPD, and the Taxi and Limousine Commission, in conjunction with OpenPlans, to provide a way for individuals to identify dangerous driving and other street safety conditions that need attention, which will be used “to create a traffic safety plan for each borough that will describe how to make each borough’s streets safer for everyone, whether walking, biking or driving,” The map can be viewed at http://www.nyc.gov/html/visionzero/pages/home/home.html and is already well populated with reports concerning the streets and sidewalks of Sunnyside.

There can be no question that the primary top level focus of Vision Zero has to be on fatalities resulting from traffic accidents. As the plan and its proponents recognize, achievement of Vision Zero heavily depends on a culture where safety is the norm, respect for and adherence to traffic laws and regulations is the usual behavior by everyone.

Unfortunately, the Vision Zero Action Plan so far does not address a widespread fact of life in Sunnyside directly contrary to the “culture of safety” and the cause of unsafe conditions on streets and sidewalk: unsafe and reckless bike riding by food delivery services. Laws applicable to use of pedal bikes for food delivery (and other commercial services) and the laws banning use of e-bikes for food delivery (and other commercial enterprises) are routinely ignored and not enforced. It’s hardly surprising that if the business owner doesn’t find it necessary to follow the basic obligations of the law, the workers who operate the bikes will not feel it’s important to follow the basic rules of the road, such as don’t drive against the traffic and don’t drive on the sidewalk.

In October 2012, the City Council passed and the Mayor signed a law that, at the time, was promoted as bringing an end to the wild west of commercial bike operations, which reached a low point with the death of Stuart C. Gruskin in Midtown in 2009 after being struck by a wrong-way bicyclist. In addition to personal safety equipment and identification for the bike operator and required equipment such as lights, reflectors and bells on the bike, recordkeeping and reporting requirements for the business and bike operator, the law mandates that a commercial pedal bike have a 3” by 5” plate on the bike identifying the business and state an identification number. I extensively walk the streets of Sunnyside virtually every day, and I have yet to come across a commercial bike that fully complies with the law. I’m so interested to see if any Sunnyside business is complying with the law that I’m willing to buy a soft serve ice cream cone from the truck outside Lodati Park playground for the first identification of a compliant commercial bike and business shown by picture to my Tweeter account ([email protected]) or specifically identified in the comment section below which I can verify.

The law pertaining to e-bikes is more direct: they are banned on City streets and in May 2013, the City Council passed and the Mayor signed laws authorizing police officers to impound an e-bike and increasing fines for e-bike drivers and their employers, effective November 11, 2013. Among many other Sunnyside locations, a stroll along 43rd Avenue, between 45th and 42nd Streets, suggests that time has stood still in the enforcement of the e-bike law.

Adding enforcement of rules of the road for bicyclists and laws pertaining to commercial bikes and the ban on e-bikes to the Vision Zero Action Plan will in no way detract from the main focus to eliminate traffic fatalities and will not require additional resources since the program already calls for more cops on the street and increased DOT resources to enforce existing traffic and safety laws. Taking action to make adherence to existing bicycle laws the accepted norm and inculcated into the culture of safety will bring about a greater sense of well-being on our streets and sidewalks. With a bow to Emily Dickinson, it’s taking care of the small things that help the big things to happen. I encourage every Sunnysider to participate in the Vision Zero program and make your views known.

These are the opinions of John O’Reilly.

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