Make Queens Safer began tracking Vision Zero progress in Queens in early 2014, and has sought to present NYPD data in a format that makes patterns and trends in the data easier to understand. See our full statistical report tracking Vision Zero progress here.
Initially, the goal was to present the results with a minimum of commentary, allowing real trends to reveal themselves over time. With the second year of the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero initiative now concluded, enough time has passed to begin assessing where progress is being made and where it is not.
Overall, the data suggest that Queens is lagging the other four boroughs in key measures of Vision Zero progress, especially total traffic injuries and tickets issued for driving behaviors that put people at risk. In five districts (Community Boards 1, 4, 7, 12, and 13), implementation of Vision Zero has been particularly weak and action to jumpstart street safety improvements is most urgently needed.
Fatalities. There were 8 traffic fatalities in Queens in December. The neighbors we lost included:
- Valery Duvert, 50, Driver killed on December 2nd on South Conduit Avenue at 78th Street in Ozone Park.
- Jorge Bermudez, 30, Driver killed on December 6th on Laurel Hill Blvd. at 48th Street in Sunnyside.
- Unidentified man, 60, Diver killed on December 7th on Union Turnpike at 174th Street in Hillcrest.
- Jaramillo Ovidio, 17, Pedestrian killed on December 8th at Northern Blvd. and Junction Blvd. in Corona, hit and run.
- Ramnauth Mahabir, 83, Pedestrian struck on December 12th at Rockaway Blvd. and 115th Street in Ozone Park, died two weeks later.
- Tarik Williamson, 45, Driver killed on December 16th on Van Wyck Expressway at 73rd Avenue in Jamaica.
- Giovanna Livolsi, 76, Pedestrian killed on December 16th at Metropolitan Ave. near 75th Street in Middle Village .
- Nara An, 24, Passenger killed on December 18th on Sanford Avenue near 155th Street, Murray Hill.
In 2015, there were 74 overall traffic fatalities in Queens according to NYPD statistics, down 20% from the 93 people killed in 2013, the Vision Zero benchmark year. Citywide, there was an 18% decline in fatalities. This result represents encouraging progress for year two of the Vision Zero initiative. Fatality counts for specific classes of road users within specific boroughs are small numbers and are subject to random variation, so care should be taken not to assign too much significance to results within these results.
Injuries. Citywide, there has been an overall reduction of 7% in traffic injuries, relative to 2013. However, Queens has seen no such improvement, with total injuries 0.9% higher in 2015 relative to 2013. Queens has lagged behind all other boroughs in reducing traffic injuries. Manhattan has seen a 14% reduction, Staten Island has seen a 9% reduction, and the Bronx and Brooklyn have seen 8% reductions.
In the calendar year 2015…
- There have been 2,430 pedestrians injured in Queens by motor vehicles, a decline of 13% from 2013. In the other boroughs, there have been reductions from 16% (Brooklyn) to 19% (Manhattan).
- There have been 914 injuries to cyclists, a rise of 11% since 2013. Much of this rise is likely due to the overall increase in cycling rates. Overall, the increase in cyclist injuries in Queens has been greater than the citywide average of 6%. In other boroughs, Brooklyn has seen a 1% reduction in cyclist injuries, Manhattan has seen a 6% increase, Staten Island has seen a 13% increase, and the Bronx has seen a 24% increase.
- There have been 12,320 injuries to motorists and passengers, a rise of 4% since 2013. Queens is the only borough where injuries to drivers and passengers now exceed 2013 levels. In the other boroughs, injuries to motor vehicle occupants have declined by 6% (Brooklyn) to 15% (Manhattan).
Overall, there have been 15,664 people injured in motor vehicle crashes in Queens over the past year. The following Queens neighborhoods have total traffic injuries at or above 2013 levels:
- CB 1 / 114th Precinct (Astoria): +4%
- CB 6 / 112th Precinct (Forest Hills/Rego Park): +1%
- CB 7 / 109th Precinct (Flushing/College Point/Whitestone): +8%
- CB 9 / 102nd Precinct (Kew Gardens/Richmond Hill/Woodhaven): +7%
- CB 10 / 106th Precinct (Ozone Park/Howard Beach): +13%
- CB 11 / 111th Precinct (Bayside/Douglaston/Auburndale): +1%
- CB 12 / 103rd & 113th Precincts (Jamaica/S. Jamaica/Hollis): +5%
- CB 13 / 105th Precinct (Queens Village/Glen Oaks/Laurelton): +9%
Enforcement. For the past two years, Make Queens Safer has been tracking tickets issued for four key moving violations that directly impact safety of vulnerable users of city streets: speeding, disobeying red signals, not giving right of way to pedestrians, and illegal cell phone use. Overall, while enforcement of speeding, red light running, and not yielding to pedestrians remains significantly higher than pre-Vision Zero levels, tickets issued for cell phone use, an important contributor to distracted driving, remains sharply down.
Taken together, total enforcement actions for these four violations are virtually unchanged in Queens relative to 2013 levels. Queens lags all of the other boroughs by this metric. Total enforcement actions across these four categories are up 40% in the Bronx, 23% in Staten Island, 11% in Manhattan, and 6% in Brooklyn. Across the city as a whole, they are up 18%. These figures do not include tickets issued for automatic red light cameras or speed cameras.
Several Queens neighborhoods are seeing significantly fewer traffic tickets written for these violations by their local police precincts relative to 2013 levels:
- CB 1 / 114th Precinct (Astoria): -26%
- CB 4 / 110th Precinct (Corona/Elmhurst): -30%
- CB 7 / 109th Precinct (Flushing/College Point/Whitestone): -34%
- CB 13 / 105th Precinct (Queens Village/Glen Oaks/Laurelton): -8%
It may be argued that this picture is distorted by the inclusion of cell phone violations, which are down sharply as an increasing number of drivers comply with the law by using hands-free devices. If this is indeed the reason for the decline, the failure is in the law itself. Research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that even hands-free devices impose a significant cognitive workload on drivers, distracting them for up to 27 seconds beyond their immediate interactions with the device. The NYPD’s own crash statistics indicate that driver distraction is one of the leading factors contributing to crashes in Queens, and citations of driver distraction as a factor in Queens crashes have nearly doubled in the past few years. So it may be the case that outdated law is rendering enforcement in this area less effective over time, but fundamentally driver distraction remains a serious, growing, and unaddressed problem.
Another limitation of the methodology used here is that it does not recognize the work by many precincts to conduct informational traffic stops. These providing valuable opportunities to educate drivers about traffic safety without issuing tickets, but do not show up in the statistics. The indicators here are not intended to capture the full scope of Vision Zero efforts, but they do provide useful insights into the scope of enforcement efforts, which are critical to changing the culture of driving in the city.
As part of the Vision Zero effort, NYPD received resources to hire additional traffic safety officers. Based on the statistics presented here, there is little evidence that these greater workforce numbers are translating into greater enforcement on the ground. NYPD should provide an accounting of how it is using its Vision Zero budget allocations.
Conclusions. The following neighborhoods have demonstrated noteworthy progress by reducing traffic injuries/fatalities and (2) by continuing to step up enforcement relative to 2013 levels by more than the citywide average of 18%:
- CB 2 / 108th Precinct (Woodside/Sunnyside)
- CB 5 / 104th Precinct (Glendale/Ridgewood/Maspeth)
- CB 8 / 107th Precinct (Fresh Meadows/Briarwood/Pomonok)
NYCDOT, NYPD, the community boards, and local elected officials are to be commended for their efforts in these areas, and encouraged to keep up their efforts to make continued progress.
Several other neighborhoods have lagged in taking steps commensurate with the scale of this crisis in public safety. In particular, more aggressive action to implement Vision Zero is needed in the following communities:
- CB 1 / 114th Precinct (Astoria) has seen a slight rise in overall traffic injuries, and a sharp reduction in traffic enforcement. While elected officials in this area are strongly supportive of traffic safety measures, the community board has often been in opposition. As a result, NYCDOT’s prescriptions for this area have so far been weak. The area especially needs measures to combat speeding and more intersections with safe pedestrian crossings on 21st Street and other key corridors. One bright spot has been a 13% reduction in cyclist injuries in this area, despite an 11% rise in cyclist injuries boroughwide.
- CB 4 / 110th Precinct (Corona/Elmhurst) has a sharp decline in enforcement against driver behaviors that put vulnerable road users at risk. It has also seen a mixed record of political support for street safety improvements. With strong backing from city councilmembers, the DOT implemented one of its first “neighborhood slow zones” in Elmhurst. But DOT’s proposed safety improvements on 111th Street have run into opposition from the Community Board’s entrenched transportation committee.
- CB 7 / 109th Precinct (Flushing/College Point/Whitestone) is one of the worst hotspots for pedestrian injuries in Queens, and has seen some of the weakest Vision Zero implementation. The sidewalk widths on Main Street and Kissena Blvd. are completely inadequate to serve pedestrian flows safely, and require urgent action to widen them and manage the flow of traffic through the area, far beyond what NYCDOT has proposed so far. Many intersections along this corridor are unsafe (especially those at 40th Road, 41st Avenue, and 41st Road), and require active management by NYPD until they can be re-engineered. Meanwhile, the Community Board and the Department of City Planning continue to treat Downtown Flushing like a suburban edge city, packing in far more parking than the area needs or can safely handle. They have created incredibly unsafe situations like the busy garage entrance to the Skyview Mall at 40th Road and Main Street. Amid all of these problems, the 109th Precinct’s traffic safety enforcement actions have declined 34 percent since 2013, the worst record in Queens, and it has virtually no visible presence in Downtown Flushing beyond a booth at the corner of Main and Kissena. Leadership is needed for progress to be made here.
- CB 12 / 103rd & 113th Precincts (Jamaica/S. Jamaica/Hollis) sees more pedestrian injuries and total injuries than any other community board, but like Flushing, it is another area that has been neglected by the Vision Zero program. Its traffic injury rates and traffic enforcement have fluctuated, but remain close to unchanged since 2013. Given the high pedestrian injury rates here, Jamaica also needs some real leadership to begin making progress on Vision Zero goals.
- CB 13 / 105th Precinct (Queens Village/Glen Oaks/Laurelton), on the positive side, has cut its traffic fatalities in half since 2013. But by other measures it has also lagged in Vision Zero implementation. Injuries are up, enforcement actions are down, and it is the only neighborhood in Queens that had fewer tickets issued across the four categories tracked here than people injured in traffic over the past year.
This analysis clearly raises more questions than it answers. It does not explain why injury or fatality rates are rising or falling in specific areas, or why enforcement patterns appear to be changing in certain ways. But these are important questions, and the people entrusted with making the streets safer – the police precincts, the Department of Transportation, and the Community Boards – should begin attempting to answer them in earnest over the next year. The de Blasio Administration’s Vision Zero initiative has been characterized by a highly data-driven approach, and it is time for the city to start shining a brighter analytical light on where it appears to be working and where greater efforts are needed.