Record Low Set in Deaths From Traffic, Mayor Says
By MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM and KATE TAYLOR NY TimesPublished: December 29, 2011
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Thursday that the number of traffic deaths fell this year to the lowest level in a century. It is the second time in two years that a record has been set for fewest fatalities on the streets.
The Transportation Department has recorded 237 traffic deaths in 2011, as of Tuesday, a 12.5 percent decrease from all of last year and a 40 percent drop from 2001, the year before Mr. Bloomberg took office. Of those killed, 134 were pedestrians, down from 152 last year.
“Nearly 300 New Yorkers are alive today who would not have been if we had simply sustained the fatality rate of five years ago,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, the transportation commissioner, who has re-engineered streets with pedestrian plazas, bicycle lanes and timer-equipped crosswalk signals in an effort to curtail injuries and deaths on the city’s roads.
“These numbers are not the finish line; they’re really just mile markers for us,” Ms. Sadik-Khan added. “We have much more to do.”
Mr. Bloomberg noted that bicycle ridership has grown significantly in recent years as the city has installed hundreds of miles of bike lanes, a trend that he said had resulted in a drop in the per-capita death rate for cyclists.
The city plans to introduce a large-scale public bike-sharing program this spring, prompting some concerns about the influx of 10,000 low-gear bicycles onto the streets. The Transportation Department has said it is confident that safety will not be a problem.
But over all, it seems that daily acts of derring-do — moving about the snarling, breakneck streets of the city — now require a bit less daring.
In 1970, for instance, near the height of the automobile’s urban reign, the city recorded 944 traffic fatalities. Even that grim figure paled in comparison with the 1,360 deaths recorded in 1929, a dark superlative not since matched.
Back in 1910, when horse-drawn wagons and streetcars still roamed the avenues (and the year that the city began keeping these records), 332 people were killed in traffic accidents. The toll was high enough to raise the public’s ire: in 1913, a worried headline in The New York Times announced that the region’s “Automobile Death Harvest Doubled in Three Years,” although it noted that wagon- and trolley-related fatalities had started to taper off.
Ms. Sadik-Khan created several public-awareness campaigns this year intended to educate drivers about the 30-mile-per-hour speed limit on city streets, including a board that displays an L.E.D. skeleton when it detects a car moving faster than the limit.
The city also installed 1,100 countdown signals at pedestrian crosswalks, many at notoriously dangerous intersections on roads like Delancey Street in Manhattan and Queens Boulevard. And it posted a selection of artistic traffic-safety signs that included haiku.
The police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, said Thursday that the Police Department had issued more than one million summonses to drivers involved in unsafe practices. That included 164,000 for not wearing a seat belt; 161,000 for chatting or texting on a hand-held device while driving; and 127,000 for driving through a stop sign.
About 8,500 arrests were made this year for driving while intoxicated, and the city confiscated 900 cars from violators.