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Let’s take a moment to celebrate some good news!  Pedestrian deaths in New York City dropped in a meaningful way during 2016 (this refers to people killed by motor vehicles, not people who just keeled over while walking home with their groceries–but you probably already figured that out) .  This statistic runs counter to larger trends: at a national level, U.S. drivers have been killing more pedestrians than in years past, yet in New York, the level of people killed by motorists has gone down (as you can see in the following NYC table).

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The fall in pedestrian deaths is occurring as the subway descends in quality (which we will get to later) and as the streets are filling up with non-professional, unqualified livery drivers who use Uber and suchlike apps to connect with patrons, so I think it is safe to attribute the trend to Vision Zero, a campaign to make the streets much safer.  Kudos to Mayor DeBlasio! This is a real triumph for him, and I want to thank him.

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The basic hallmarks of Vision Zero are lowering street speeds within the city, increasing driver awareness through road designs pioneered in the cities of northern Europe (where it is much safer to walk or bike but where efficient automobile traffic also keeps goods and services flowing) and enforcing traffic laws with automated systems–particularly speed cameras.  Street signals were also re-timed so that it is more difficult to build up dangerous speeds and so that pedestrians cross roads ahead of turning cars. At first the changes were politically unpopular, but the fact that this is saving the lives of the elderly and children is winning over politicians who were initially opposed.  Bob Holden, a city counsel member, who has regularly opposed street changes, new bike lanes, and safety improvements went on record saying “You can’t argue with saving lives. You can never argue that that’s the paramount here…I was wrong, I want to admit that.” (this is really praiseworthy too: if we had more politicians capable of looking at evidence, admitting errors, and changing direction, everything would be improving in innumerable ways).

Of course bicycle fatalities in New York City have gone up, and, though I blame car drivers (who are, after all, the ones traveling through the most populous region in the country in  difficult-to-control metal death chariots which run on poisonous explosions), this may also be because more people are bicycling. Indeed more people are walking, driving, and bicycling overall–both in the city and beyond.  More Americans are killed every year in traffic fatalities than died during whole course of the Korean War (and during the apogee of car culture in the 70s and 80s that number was closer to all the American fatalities in Vietnam…every year).  Maybe taking a page from DeBlasio’s book and re-examining some systems and behaviors long taken for granted on the road would save more people than a whole host of new miracle drugs and super surgeries.  It is definitely worth thinking about!

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