By Joy Bergmann
During its November meeting, Community Board 7’s Transportation Committee noted a “significant spike” in traffic fatalities in CB7 with nine so far this year compared to two in 2020 and four in 2019.
“If we had nine people killed by guns, the community would be up in arms,” said CB7 member Richard Robbins, who compiled and presented the fatalities data. “There were 389 injuries reported by the NYPD in our district in addition to the nine fatalities.”
The Upper West Side is not alone in this rise in traffic violence. As the Times noted in a recent analysis, traffic deaths citywide have surged to their highest level in nearly a decade. While the addition of more than 120,000 newly registered vehicles in the city may have played a role in this uptick, street safety experts say poor driver behavior — perhaps exacerbated by the pandemic — is the primary cause.
“Because of Covid, we’re experiencing disorder in all parts of society and one of the ways it plays out is through reckless driving and bad driving decisions,” Julia Kite-Laidlaw from NYC’s Department of Transportation told the CB7 meeting attendees. “We know that all of the [street redesign] engineering work that we’ve done with Vision Zero did not vanish between 2020 and 2021. What we do know has changed is driver behavior.“
Specifically, Kite-Laidlaw said, “When we drill down to what the investigations into these fatal crashes are showing, we’re seeing a lot of speeding, failure to yield. We’re seeing a shocking number of hit and runs, and hit and runs often conceal a lot of other wrongdoing like unlicensed driving or DWI.”
When asked how the community could help reverse the dangerous trend, Kite-Laidlaw pointed to the importance of passing the pending State legislation asking for speed cameras to run 24/7. Currently, “we can only run those cameras 6am to 10pm on weekdays,” she said, noting that last year, “about one third of non-highway fatalities happened in school speed zones where there are cameras but at times when the cameras were not allowed to operate.”
Additionally, DOT wants to see NYPD officers doing more. “We are also working with our counterparts at NYPD to bring up some of the in-person enforcement we cannot ask cameras to do,” said Kite-Laidlaw. “Because, quite frankly, if people believe enforcement is going to be consistent and swift, that will deter their behavior.”
CB7 member Susan Schwartz called the current streetscape “terrifying” for pedestrians. “We need enforcement for everything. Everything.”
“NYPD never speaks about traffic enforcement, either at the citywide level or local level,” added Robbins. “It’s always an afterthought for them, at best…Enforcement is dramatically down in our district this year.” Representatives from the 20th and 24th Precincts were not present at the meeting to comment.
Robbins then asked for a resolution calling on the NYPD to “step up its enforcement.” The Committee decided to table that idea for now, in favor of crafting a resolution supporting the DOT’s efforts to operate speed and red light enforcement cameras 24/7. The Committee also unanimously called for a total removal of the state limit on the number of such cameras, enabling the city to vastly expand the enforcement program.
According to the latest NYPD data, Robbins is correct about the drop in enforcement locally.
The NYPD’s Upper West Side precincts continue to issue far fewer tickets to drivers [including e-bikers] than in 2019, prior to the pandemic.
Comparing 2019 to 2021 totals for the August through October period, the 20th Precinct issued 37% fewer moving violation summonses and the 24th Precinct wrote 34% fewer tickets.
WSR pulled the NYPD data on tickets issued for some key offenses:
WSR asked the 20th Precinct’s Captain Neil Zuber and the 24th Precinct’s Deputy Inspector Naoki Yaguchi to comment on the traffic enforcement numbers. Neither has responded; WSR will update this story if they do.
NYPD data show the ticketing decrease is also a citywide phenomenon, with overall moving violations summonses down 41%, according to WSR’s analysis.
WSR asked the NYPD to comment on the issue. A spokesperson referred us to a November 4th press release promising, “major education and enforcement efforts aimed to shift driver behavior…” and a renewed call for “state legislation to allow New York City’s automated speed cameras to operate 24/7.”