Is NYC Safer? City “Report Card” Offers Incomplete Picture

Total traffic fatalities have fallen over the last 3 years, but cyclist and pedestrian deaths have actually risen slightly.

Total traffic fatalities have fallen over the last 3 years to all-time lows. But cyclist and pedestrian deaths have actually risen slightly, and the management report does not track injuries.

Last week, Mayor Bloomberg released the fiscal year 2009 edition of the Mayor’s Management Report, a numbers-heavy “report card” that evaluates city agencies and is mandated by the NYC charter. MTR readers may be most interested in the data from three agencies  — the NYPD, Department of City Planning, and NYCDOT. But the data could be improved in a few key ways.

One of the NYPD’s key public service areas is to “enhance traffic safety for city residents.”  Its critical objective related to this goal is “reduce the number of injuries and fatalities from aggressive driving and other hazardous violations.”  But the MMR is strikingly thin on tracking NYPD’s progress on this goal, since it does not track traffic injuries. The report touts an 8 percent decline in total traffic fatalities, which continue to hover around all-time lows. But this entire drop came from motorists and passengers, with bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities actually increasing by 1 during fiscal year 2009. Bicyclists and pedestrians now represent almost two-thirds of total citywide traffic fatalities, up from 54 percent in 2005.

Summonses for “hazardous violations,” which are not fully defined in the report, and cell phone use while driving are both up.  But as Transportation Alternatives has pointed out, summonses are given out for only a small fraction of total traffic violations, and without additional context (such as rates of traffic law compliance) are not as useful a metric as they could be.

NYCDOT’s reporting on traffic safety captures a fuller picture than the NYPD’s, highlighting that bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities have gone up in the most recent year, and tracking not just fatalities, but total crashes. Much of the DOT’s section of the report is focused on infrastructure conditions and response time to 311 calls.  But some numbers are hard to believe; the report claims that only 0.3% of the city’s roads are in “poor” condition. The city rates its pavement using a unique set of standards that may be somewhat generous. According to Federal Highway Administration standards, 54% of roads in the New York-Newark metro area were in poor condition in 2007.

The MMR includes a few DOT statistics related to sustainable transportation, including miles of bike lanes, bike racks, new bus shelters, and a measure of pedestrian volume. But aside from showing a clear trend toward improving bicycling in the city, these don’t really seem to capture the DOT’s major culture shift towards planning for all road users. In particular, the report has little to say when it comes to pedestrian infrastructure.

City Planning reports on several major development proposals including Hudson Yards and Lower Manhattan (Atlantic Yards, which like the downtown projects is a state-led initiative, is glaringly omitted from the list), as well as projects to encourage development in transit-rich areas throughout the five boroughs.  The MMR also notes Planning’s work to encourage more bicycle parking in new residential and commercial buildings, and to promote a bicycle sharing project.

Image: TSTC graph using data from Mayor’s Management Report. Fiscal year (not calendar year) statistics.

5 Comments on "Is NYC Safer? City “Report Card” Offers Incomplete Picture"

  1. This is good news, especially for upper east side condo owners concerned about crime, traffic and transportation. Hopefully the trend will continue.

  2. Katherine Tiddens | December 28, 2009 at 8:26 pm |

    It would be compelling to hear about INJURED cyclists and pedestrians, with some sort of gauge for severity of injuries.

  3. so many places have cyclists getting hurt…they should make the roads wider for both…or paths anyway around the cities…motorcycles are the same danger to cars…they do not seem to see them

  4. As a walker in NYC I’m glad things are dropping. I wonder what the stats are going to look like in ’10.

  5. I want to know what caused such a drop. I’m not complaining, but it’s a big drop from previous years.

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