Car Accident

New Yorker: Can New York City Achieve Vision Zero?

The New Yorker’s Eric Goldwyn spoke with Steve Vaccaro about the prospects for Vision Zero legislation aimed at reducing traffic fatalities.

Last Thursday, the New York City Council enthusiastically passed legislation in support of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, aimed at eliminating traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2024. In an impassioned address to the council’s Transportation Committee and the gathered public, the Bronx councilman James Vacca said, “We are in a fight to take back our streets…. We mean business on this Council, we mean business when it comes to Vision Zero, we mean business when it comes to protecting our citizens and saving lives throughout this city.”

There have been some questions, however, about the city’s ability to turn the legislation into reality. Significantly, the City Council and the Mayor’s office do not have the power to unilaterally reduce the speed limit on all streets in the city—the state of New York maintains unified and uniform speed laws, which govern all cities within the state.   Steven Vaccaro of Vaccaro and White, a firm specializing in traffic law, told me that “in order to achieve a lower speed limit, the city either has to install expensive infrastructure in the roadway”—such as speed humps—“or petition the state directly to amend its laws.” Albany has not yet guaranteed its coöperation. As with the Mayor’s plan to fund universal pre-kindergarten, which called for a state-approved tax increase on New Yorkers making over five hundred thousand dollars a year, the city is at the mercy of the state; the state legislature has a long history of stymying attempts by the city to take control of its own affairs, especially when it comes to transportation reform. (In 2008, for example, the state torpedoed Michael Bloomberg’s congestion-pricing plan, which sought to alleviate traffic problems in Manhattan south of Sixtieth Street.)