De Blasio Backs Slower Streets to Curb Pedestrian Deaths

Bill de Blasio standing with parents this afternoon.

Bill de Blasio standing with parents whose children were killed in traffic fatalities this afternoon.

Mayor Bill de Blasio rolled out his first major non-education policy initiative since taking office this afternoon, vowing to slow speed limits and crack down on reckless drivers with the aim of dramatically reducing pedestrian traffic fatalities.

Flanked by mourning parents of children killed in the city’s streets–some clutching pictures of their children, one mother wiping tears–Mr. de Blasio said the city is facing an “epidemic of traffic fatalities” that must be addressed.

“The first obligation of government is to protect the health and safety of our people and this is an area in which we simply have to do better,” said Mr. de Blasio, speaking to reporters in the yard of P.S. 152 in Woodside, Queens, just down the street from where 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was struck and killed in December while waking to school.

He ticked off a slew of stats, noting the city had 333 homicides last year–a record low–but 286 traffic fatalities, which drew far less attention. So far this year, 11 New Yorkers have been killed in traffic accidents, including seven pedestrians.

“It is shocking to see how those two numbers correspond, And it makes clear how much more focus and energy we have to put on the issue of traffic fatalities,” added the mayor, who called for a “reinterpretation of the role police have to play going forward.”

“The goal is literally to reduce fatalities on our roadways to zero,” he added.

To that end, Mr. de Blasio announced that, beginning tomorrow, recently installed speed cameras will begin issuing tickets instead of just warnings, and more NYPD officers will be assigned to monitoring highways.

He also announced the launch of a new inter-agency working group that will report back to him on February 15 with specific plans on how the NYPD can better deter speeding, plans to “significantly expand” 20-mile-per-hour slow zones, and to begin a push in Albany to give the city the right to control measures like installing red light cameras, which former Mayor Michael Bloomberg failed to win.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton also recommitted to expanding the number of accidents the city investigates and touted new technology, including devices that will help map out crash sites and can access cars’ so-called back boxes.

“A life lost is a life lost, whether by murder or traffic accident. And the department is committed to in every way, shape and form, reducing the loss of life in the system,” said Mr. Bratton, adding that drivers should expect a bump in the number of speeding summonses handed out this year.

And again, Mr. de Blasio stressed his personal connection to his latest cause, mentioning his own children as a motivator.

“It’s very personal for me because I can see it through the eyes of my fellow parents and of course, every one of us thinks, ‘What if that was my child?’ And that is in fact how we have to make public policy,” he said.