Vision Zero – NYC

free essayThe following policy memo focuses on the analysis of the actions taken by the authorities of New York City with the view of resolving the problem of safety of the roadways for pedestrians. To eliminate the possibility of fatal crashes, the government has implemented the Vision Zero program, which provides for a complex approach to the issue. It involves a reconstruction of the city’s infrastructure (e.g. roads, intersections, sidewalks, etc.), as well as the introduction of the new laws and regulations. Due to its pedestrian-focused nature, the program has gained a considerable amount of supporters, among which are the human rights activists. On the other hand, it is opposed by those that feel their rights are being violated, namely the representatives of the organizations providing various forms of transportation services. As a result, it is quite difficult to recommend it for the implementation in the other cities – at least in its current state.

Problem Description

New York City is the most important economic and cultural center of the United States and the world as a whole. The gross regional product of the city region exceeds one trillion dollars, putting it in the first place among the big cities of the U.S. Moreover, the financial institutions located in the city control at least 40% of the world’s finances (Simeon 66). Additionally, these aspects are not the only ones that determine its leading position in the country. Unfortunately, New York City is one of the national leaders in the terms of pedestrian fatalities, with their share accounting for 32% of the total number of road accident victims (Clark 13). The reasons for continuous growth of pedestrian deaths encompass not only the driver’s negligence and lack of discipline but also the urban infrastructure that does not match the needs of those moving on foot. Moreover, the problem of road safety in the city has become even more relevant in recent years. In particular, the constant growth of the number of vehicles on the streets, along with the other factors, has led to a sharp increase in the number of road traffic accidents, the severity of the consequences of which is comparable to a city-wide disaster. They cause socio-economic damage to the city and its residents as the injuries obtained by the people absorb the material resources that could have been used for the development and implementation of the new projects. There are no precise estimates of the economic impact of accidents involving pedestrians, but the losses that are associated with them are around 2% of the municipal budget (Rubinstein 32). At the same time, pedestrians that survived the crash, as well as the members of their families, friends, and caregivers, often suffer from adverse social, physical, and psychological traumas, which do not contribute to their integration in the society.

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There are several factors that define the outcome of an accident. First of all, the speed at which the vehicle moves while in the city affects both the risk of occurrence of an accident and its consequences. The risk of a road accident is primarily related to the existence of a correlation between the speed of a given car and its stopping distance. The higher the velocity of the vehicle, the less time a driver has to stop it and prevent a calamity from happening, include those involving pedestrians. By taking into account the time it takes a driver to respond to an emergency situation and press on the brake pedal, it is possible to say that a car traveling at a speed of 30 miles per hour (normal driving speed in New York City) will cover the distance of 118 ft. before stopping completely. Nevertheless, at a rate of 25 miles per hour this figure is only 88 ft. (Johnston, Muir, and Howard 65), meaning that it may not reach a pedestrian in danger.

The risk for pedestrians is greater in those cases where the road projects and land use plans do not provide for the construction of objects such as sidewalks or neglected pedestrian access at crossroads. As a general rule, roads are designed to meet the needs of the drivers, ignoring those of pedestrians. Consequently, the objects such as sidewalks or pedestrian crossings are often absent there, do not meet the standards, or are in poor condition, thus providing for an increased risk to those moving on foot. The construction of main roads, intersections, and high-speed lanes without proper attention to the objects of the pedestrian infrastructure increases the likelihood of death or injury to the people walking along the road or crossing it. As in many metropolitan areas of the U.S., the streets of New York are primarily designed for the convenience of vehicle owners, which results in considerable difficulties for the pedestrians (Rubinstein 25). For example, Queens Boulevard, with its significant width, dense traffic, and many commercial enterprises along the roadway is one of the most dangerous streets in the whole of metropolis. The accidents there claim the lives of at least ten people per year, not counting the countless injuries sustained by the victims. More specifically, the elderly city residents simply do not have time to cross the wide roadway during the permitting traffic light (Clark 33). Furthermore, such situation is common for the other streets of the metropolitan area.

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Thus, it is clear that the urban planning, namely in terms of roads construction, is among the primary factors that affect the safety of the city roads for its residents. However, there are many other variables to be taken into account, including the human factor, the specifications of vehicles, the weather conditions, etc. All these facts help come to a conclusion that the problem requires a complex approach in order to be addressed in a proper way.

The Policy of the Municipal Authorities

To ensure the safety of the pedestrians and reduce the number of fatalities on the roads, the municipal authorities of New York City have started the implementation of the initiative known as the Vision Zero. It is a concept that was initiated in Sweden in 1995, being based on a fundamentally new approach to the problems related to road safety, as well as the ways of solving and addressing them (Sadik-Khan and Solomonow 18). At its core lies the principle of zero tolerance, according to which the deaths on the road cannot be perceived as a necessary evil associated with the motorization of the global society. The Vision Zero program considers the road transport system as such, with its components (i.e. vehicles and pedestrians) being in cooperation to guarantee each other’s safety. In other words, no one should risk their lives to get from point A to point B. By the same token, the ideology of the concept also puts the onus on the road and urban planners rather than the participants of the road traffic alone (Sadik-Khan and Solomonow 20). Thus, the participation in this initiative provides significant opportunities for rapid and positive reforms. However, the necessary reorganization to make the roads safer requires a lot of work. Still, it should be noted that a large number of cities that adopted the concept of zero tolerance occupy the highest position in the ranking of the places with the highest quality of life.

The municipal authorities of New York City started the implementation of Vision Zero program in 2014. Ever since then, the number of traffic accidents has decreased by 22% (Clark 23). The initiative involves a number of components, with first of them being the introduction of new laws and regulations. Shortly after the adoption of the program, Bill de Blasio, the mayor of city’s mayor, has introduced a law that limited the speed of vehicles within the metropolitan area to 25 miles per hour (Clark 19). In the populated areas, this figure was set even lower, with the drivers not having the right to exceed the speed limit of 18 miles per hour. It should be noted that these figures were not chosen on a whim – according to the results of the scientific research scientists, the speed of 18 miles per hour is the boundary, below which the majority of pedestrians survive the road traffic accidents (Johnston, Muir, and Howard 69). Such a fact implies that an accident will involve a vehicle traveling at a relatively low speed, resulting in the injury of the people rather than their death.

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At the same time, the municipal authorities are yet to establish favorable conditions for the prosecution of offending drivers, the fault of which affects pedestrians and cyclists in a negative way. In particular, the law enforcement agencies of the city often lack the legal instruments to perform such activities. Thus, in order to make the streets of New York City even safer, the authorities had to apply more stringent sanctions to the offenders. Consequently, in November 2015, due to an increase in the number of pedestrian deaths, they have created more than 12,000 traffic rules in lower Manhattan alone, and introduced tough penalties for speeding, talking on the phone while driving, and violation of pedestrian priority rights (Sadik-Khan and Solomonow 47). A set of similar penalties throughout the entire city have proven to be rather efficient in the terms of bringing down the number of accidents. Moreover, a detailed investigation of the cases of fatalities by a special commission has become a common practice (Clark 39). The results of such process are used to offer solutions that would allow avoiding such incidents in the future.

The next component of the Vision Zero program is a so-called cultural shift. It implies the development and implementation of numerous educational programs in schools, colleges, and universities of the metropolitan area. The municipal authorities have also launched a media campaign that promotes respectful behavior on the road (Clark 47). They believe that these measures should gradually change the minds of people, ensuring that road traffic accidents are not perceived as an integral part of the motorization of the society.

At the same time, the reconstruction of the city’s infrastructure is the most significant element of Vision Zero initiative, with the authorities of New York City making significant financial investments to make the streets safe. The list of measures includes the creation of roundabouts. Despite the fact that the ordinary crossroads regulated with traffic lights are relatively safe, the accidents that occur on them tend to have more serious consequences than those on the roundabout intersections (Clark 29). Additionally, many avenues in the city are being equipped with separation barriers, which is an efficient way to prevent accidents involving the collisions with oncoming vehicles. The territories adjacent to the roads are being cleaned on a constant basis to minimize the effects of accidents. Such a measure requires the removal of potentially dangerous objects, such as rocks and trees, as well as the installation of fences (Clark 30). In particular, the municipal authorities made a decision regarding the allocation of funds for the reconstruction of Queens Boulevard, that was mentioned above, which includes the creation of the enclosed bicycle paths and pedestrian zones (Clark 33). As a result, the above-mentioned street is much safer now.

It should be noted that the municipal authorities expect to eliminate fatal accidents on the roadways of New York City by 2024. However, to achieve such impressive results, it is imperative that the reduction in the number of deaths on the roads reaches 40% per year (Sadik-Khan and Solomonow 82). Considering that the Vision Zero initiative was launched only two years ago, one may assume that it requires more time to demonstrate significant achievements. Moreover, a continuous investment in the reconstruction of urban space is also imperative for its success in the long run. In turn, the ultimate effect of Vision Zero program is yet to be assessed.

Supporters

The Vision Zero initiative has received considerable backing after being launched in the New York City. Naturally, the primary supporters of the program are pedestrians and cyclists of New York City themselves. They act in alliance with the human rights activists of the metropolis, thus, promoting and defending their right to safety through peaceful means. In particular, recently, the alliance has introduced the idea of placing cameras on the crossroads and in the places where the traffic lights are located. Its members believe that it will be an efficient preventive measure. In particular, their installation on the most accident-prone road sections will lower the amount of cases of speeding, and, therefore, the accidents.

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At the same time, pedestrians and cyclists are not the most significant of the supporters as the Vision Zero initiative is also helped by several governmental agencies and public organizations that act in alliance with the municipal authorities, and have a significant effect on the process of its implementation. The most important of them are the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). The first one is a large transport company that carries out transportation operations in twelve districts in the southwest of the State of New York. The MTA’s area of responsibility is the provision of support and development of the transport network of the New York metropolitan area, including the five boroughs of New York and the Districts of Dutchess, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk, and Westchester. It serves more than 11 million people and its vehicle park exceeds 800,000 units, making it the largest transport operator in the Western Hemisphere, which contributes to the significance of its impact on the measures taken by the municipal authorities (Evans and Maloney 28). With regards to the Vision Zero initiative, the organization is primarily responsible for the control over the local, express, and high-speed buses, ensuring that their drivers comply with the new rules, laws, and regulations (Clark 31). At the same time, the TLC is a governmental agency that regulates taxicabs, commuter vans, and paratransit vehicles (Clark 41), which account for a significant part of the city traffic.

The proponents of the Zero Vision program believe that the initiative will highly enhance the safety of the pedestrians on the streets of New York City due to the following reasons. First of all, the new program focuses on improving the road infrastructure configuration to mitigate the consequences of the accident, as well as the measures to reduce the transfer of energy during the collision, mainly due to the lower speed of a vehicle. In turn, the established restrictions result in the emergence of new design solutions for the roads that ensure safety and mobility of both the pedestrians and drivers (Clark 32).

Furthermore, despite the fact that the Zero Vision initiative imposes significant responsibility on road builders and their managers, it still recognizes the importance of other approaches and focuses on the improvement of overall vehicle safety, along with the legislation that regulates the traffic-related aspects of the city’s life. In turn, the new program presumes collaboration between the municipal authorities, automotive enterprises, providers of the transportation services, and construction companies (Clark 31), which provides for a complex approach to the solution of problems.

The final reason for the potential success of Vision Zero in New York is the fact that this initiative is being implemented in several other big cities in the U.S., including San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles. As a result, such situation provides significant opportunities for knowledge exchange between the cities (Sadik-Khan and Solomonow 74). For instance, the municipal authorities and construction companies are able to study the experience of each other, as well as visit and explore the unique technical objects, to receive answers to their questions from the developers, contractors, and managers. They can also become familiar with the ways of solving similar problems in practice, such as the use of unique equipment, standardization of the urban infrastructure, and so on.

Opposition

Considering that the restrictions imposed by Vision Zero initiative primarily affect the vehicle owners, it is clear that many of them will be dissatisfied with the measures taken by the municipal authorities. However, the opposition has emerged in a rather unusual way, i.e. from the ranks of those that support the Vision Zero program. The most significant of the opposing groups includes the workers and representatives of the organizations that provide public transportation services to the residents and guests of the city of New York, including those of the bus division of the MTA that was mentioned above. The key rationale behind their dissatisfaction is the the notion that the focus on pedestrians makes the work of the bus drivers more difficult (Rivoli, Crane-Newman, and Badia, n. pag.), especially during the rush hour when the streets are overflowing with people.

To address the issues that threaten their health and safety on the workplace, the bus drivers are becoming members of the Transport Workers Union (i.e. a trade union). Consecutively, they might seek to influence the politicians to make them consider adopting the legislation that establishes adequate standards of safety and occupational health. They can also react to the proposed standards in the field of occupational safety and health and affect the ways in which the government implements regulations in this field. Such activity is primarily carried out by the lobbyists of the union, as well as technical experts and lawyers. Said employees are responsible for the collection, analysis, and use of data necessary for the development of trade union position. They can also maintain the necessary contacts with government agencies or individuals to ensure that it will be represented by the elected officials (Evans and Maloney 72). Accordingly, there is a possibility they may change the way in which Vision Zero is implemented.

The opposition has several reasons for thinking that the Vision Zero program is a failure. The first of them is the fact that the decreased maximum speed of vehicles in the metropolitan area lowers their efficiency. Driving process in the city is characterized by a greater intensity of the changes in speed of the car, including the need to warm-up the engine during the stops at traffic lights and traffic jams. As a consequence, the fuel consumption is increased despite the fact that the trip distance remains unchanged. By the same token, the lowered vehicle efficiency may have an adverse effect on the supply chains of the city as a whole. More specifically, the above-mentioned changes may require the recalibration of many logistic channels Evans and Maloney 72), resulting in the higher cost of the goods and services that rely on logistics.

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The final reason for the opposition to consider Vision Zero to be a failure is the attitude of municipal authorities. According to them, the drivers must not complain about the new restrictions and limitations as they have been introduced to save the lives of people. Likewise, these regulations do not affect those that drive in accordance with the rules. Nevertheless, for the workers of the public transportation companies, the situation is quite dire as their professional activity is hindered by the new laws while the government does nothing to address this issue (Rivoli, Crane-Newman, and Badia, n. pag.). As a result, one may perceive it as a selective violation of the rights of certain social groups, which goes against the principles of equality and collaboration that govern the Vision Zero initiative.

Analysis of the Solution

Taking into account all the provided facts, it is possible to conduct a thorough analysis of Vision Zero initiative in New York City in the terms of its efficiency and feasibility. First of all, it is worth mentioning that the described measures indeed have a beneficial effect, as they provide for a decrease in the number of deaths on the road. In the long-term perspective, it may give grounds for the economic growth of the city as the amount of resources required to mitigate the effects of the accidents on the roads will be much lower. Subsequently, additional funds can be used for the development of the metropolitan area. Besides, the lowered number of fatalities has a positive effect on the workforce of the city, increasing its productivity. Finally, an increased level of safety makes the city more attractive to the visitors and investors, which provides for the additional funding of the municipal budget.

However, it should be noted that most of the beneficial effects described above can be received only in the long run. At the same time, the negative consequences are likely to emerge almost immediately. In particular, the Vision Zero initiative has become a cause of displeasure of certain social city stakeholders, as it encourages the urban planners to prioritize humans in order to completely eliminate the fatalities on the roads. Correspondingly, it may potentially violate the rights of the others. Furthermore, its ultimate goal does not fit in the actual process of planning. In particular, neither long- nor short-term planning can eliminate all the negative effects and consequences of a problem. In other words, it is possible only to approach zero but not reach it. As a matter of fact, the only way to avoid deaths on the road is to ban vehicles in the city entirely, which is impossible.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is possible to say that, currently, the Vision Zero program as a concept is not something to be recommended for implementation in the other cities, the chief reason for that being impossibility of reaching its ultimate goal (i.e. the complete absence of fatal crashes), which greatly reduces the motivation of those involved in its implementation. What is more, the results it yields always come at a cost of the other social groups of the city, which provides fertile ground for dissatisfaction and alienation. In turn, the absence of unity reduces the efficiency of the described measures. At the same time, some of the components of Vision Zero, especially those related to urban planning can be used in the programs aimed at the improvement of the safety of the streets in many cities. Nevertheless, the ultimate goal of such programs must be achievable for them to be successful in the long run.