NYC Mayor Eric Adams needs to follow up on his road-safety success

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With murder and other felonies still way higher than before 2020, Mayor Eric Adams ended 2022 with one solid success story: pedestrian deaths. The number of people killed while walking the streets is back near its pre-pandemic low.

Adams finished his first year with 118 pedestrian killings — lower than the 2019 toll, 124, and “just” 1.4% above the three-year, record-low average between 2017 and 2019, which was 116.

Pedestrian deaths in 2022 were a fraction of the 1989 modern high of 377, illustrating all the public-safety progress New York made in those decades. 

Contrast that outcome to the murder level, which, at 433 killings last year, remains 43% above the record-low average of 2017-’19, which was 302. Yes, it’s good Adams cut murders by 11%, from 488 in 2021. But we are a long way from pre-2020 normal.

So pedestrians can count themselves lucky: The streets are meaner for everyone but not so much for them. And that’s not true nationwide: Though data aren’t yet in for 2022, 2021 was the worst year for pedestrians in four decades.

Why is New York doing so well here? Much of the greater safety comes from street redesigns the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations enacted; drivers just don’t have as much space to speed and zone out.

Adams has continued these projects, throttling drivers on Manhattan’s 8th and 9th Avenues, once wide-open six-lane speedways each, down to three and four lanes respectively, creating more room for walkers and cyclists.

Adams’s transpo commissioner, Ydanis Rodriguez, has improved safety at 1,400 intersections, adding raised crosswalks (which slow drivers) and stop lights that favor walkers. Though drivers grumble that the roads look like an obstacle course, that’s the point — drivers can’t go fast in dense areas and shouldn’t.

And despite lots of Albany botches last year, lawmakers did allow New York City to keep its speed cameras on 24/7, instead of just during school hours, an achievement for the mayor. 

So who is dying in greater numbers, post-pandemic, on the roads?

Because total road deaths — including people in cars — are 18% higher than the three-year average through 2019. In 2022, 255 people died on the roads, compared with the pre-pandemic annual average of 217.

ERIC ADAMS ON BIKE
Bicyclist accidents decreased significantly compared to 2019.
Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

It’s not bicyclists. Bicyclists fared well last year, too, with “only” 17 deaths, vs. the yearly average of 21 for 2017-’19.

No, the people dying in greater numbers in car crashes are the same people killing and dying in gun and knife fights: reckless men, in cars or other motor vehicles.

In 2022, 62 “motor vehicle occupants,” mostly drivers, died in crashes — 32% above the three-year, pre-pandemic average of 47.

Even worse is the total of people riding “other motorized” vehicles — 21, compared with, well, none, before the pandemic. This is the catch-all category for people riding illegal mopeds, motorcycles without license plates and e-bikes illegally altered to go as fast as cars or move without pedals. 

Two good (or bad) examples came near the end of 2022.

On Dec. 30, an Audi driver on Brooklyn’s elevated Vanderbilt Avenue crashed right through a concrete barrier onto the railroad tracks below, killing himself. His car had a record of 13 speeding tickets in four years. 

CAR ACCIDENT
A fatal accident involving an Audi SUV which plummeted about 40 feet to LIRR tracks from Atlantic Ave. and Vanderbilt Ave.
Peter Gerber

Earlier that week, a man died in Queens when his car crashed at high speed through barriers into a JFK parking lot. 

What’s needed is more policing — and we’re doing some more. Through November 2022, police made 556,000 stops for moving violations, up 17% from 2021. But that’s still 40% below 2019 — when police made nearly 926,000 traffic stops through November.

Fewer police stops, relative to pre-pandemic, are why so many people are covering up their license plates. Speed cameras “reject” 4% of plates now, up from below 1% before 2020. People don’t fear that a cop will stop them for their fake plate. 

Traffic deaths are a good microcosm for New York’s public safety.

Pedestrians and cyclists are doing all right. But even for them, progress has stalled — when New York had gotten accustomed to making double-digit improvements every year, for decades. And unless Adams can get police to engage even more with bad drivers, back to 2019 levels, overall traffic deaths will remain high, and pedestrians might not fare as well this year.

Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.

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