During his time as Chair of the NYC Council Committee on Transportation, Harlem Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez has focused on a wide range of issues to help improve, expand and fortify New York City’s various transportation networks, with the specific aim of making them safer and more efficient.
His most well-recognized accomplishments during this time have been his leadership on Street Safety and Vision Zero. Vision Zero is New York City’s goal to lower the number of traffic-related deaths to zero by the year 2024. The policy extends from the notion that no traffic crash is an “accident.” Instead, a crash is a result of poor street design or dangerous driving that could have been prevented if the proper measures were taken. Right as he began his tenure as Chair in 2014, Council Member Rodriguez spearheaded the passage of 14 pieces of legislation aimed at curbing the number of deaths resulting from car crashes.
During that same year, Council Member Rodriguez joined Mayor Bill de Blasio in facilitating the lowering of speed limits across the city from 30mph to 25mph, based on scientific data that shows that speed is a determinate factor in crashes that kill versus those that simply injure. Since 2014, the number of traffic related deaths in New York City has dropped year after year, reaching all-time lows in 2016.
Through a combination of education, enforcement and enhancements to the city’s streetscape, Vision Zero has proven successful. During budget negotiations, Council Member Rodriguez has been a major advocate for more funding to accomplish street redesigns that physically change the way streets look, feel and operate. By providing more space to pedestrians and cyclists, there is less time that they are mixing in the same space as cars. The reduction of conflict between cars and the more vulnerable street users ensures the safety of all.
At the same time, enforcement of new laws passed by the City Council are key. One of the more impactful laws requires cars to wait before turning as long as pedestrians are in the crosswalk. If a driver is found to violate this law, they are given a ticket. If they are violating this law and kill or seriously injure a pedestrian, they are subject to arrest and possible jail time. Putting teeth into the laws create clear disincentives to drive recklessly and endanger more vulnerable street users when behind the wheel.
As Vision Zero progresses, Council Member Rodriguez has placed a new focus on the scourge of hit and run crashes that occur in New York City with far too great a frequency. This issue was widely recognized across the city when a popular radio DJ from La Mega 97.9 radio station was killed as the driver fled the scene. Nearly 40,000 hit and run crashes occur every year in NYC. 4,000 of these crashes involve people being injured and nearly one per week results in a death or severe injury.
Council Member Rodriguez has made the enforcement of hit and run crashes a priority and has called for the creation of a reward fund so members of the public can receive a reward for information leading to the arrest of a hit and run driver. He has also called for an amber alert system so that people in the immediate area known to be on the lookout as soon as a crash occurs. This is a cowardly crime, where drivers run away before checking to see if they can help the person they just hit with their car.
During his time as Chair, Council Member Rodriguez has ensured there is funding in the budget to support infrastructure projects that make NYC’s streets safer for all users. The City’s Department of Transportation has surpassed over 1000 miles of bike lanes and continue to install them at a fast pace. Through legislation passed at the Council, the DOT has released several reports detailing the progress made through Vision Zero and how to target areas of the city with the highest number of crashes. Through the advocacy of Council Member Rodriguez, the city has now budgeted over $1 billion to address dangerous intersections and corridors to be sure they get the fixes they need to keep residents safe.
Overall, this is about making New York City a more attractive and healthier place to live. If streets are more walkable, if cyclists can feel safer and drivers can still move about, all street users benefit. Communities become more attractive places to live and raise families and the city benefits economically. Council Member Rodriguez will continue to make these issues a priority moving forward, but even so, he has left an indelible mark during his time as chair of the transportation committee. The records the city has set in reducing crashes and their resulting deaths have helped to make New York City a national leader on street safety, with cities across the country adopting similar laws and policies. But this work is not over and Ydanis will be fiercely committed to continuing toward a goal of zero deaths in the near future, because even one is too many.