In 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio launched Vision Zero to end traffic-related fatalities in the city. Three years into the initiative, the mayor’s office released a new report touting how data analytics has helped drop traffic accidents and fatalities to record lows.

Vision Zero is focused on three key points. First, that there is no acceptable level of death and injury on city streets. Second, traffic deaths and injuries are not accidents, but rather crashes that can be prevented. Third, the public should expect safe behavior on city streets and participate in a culture change. To achieve its goal, NYC has used education, enforcement, and engineering.

When Vision Zero was first launched, the city turned to data to understand the causes of traffic fatalities. According to NYC, dangerous driver choices–such as speeding and failing to yield–are the primary or contributing cause of 70 percent of pedestrian fatalities. This data let the mayor’s office know what it should focus on.

In its year three report, the city was able to report significant success.

“2016 had the fewest traffic fatalities on record, improving on a record year in 2015. The first three years of Vision Zero is the safest three-year period in New York City’s history,” the report said.

In 2016, traffic fatalities declined 23 percent from 2013 to 230 deaths. Since the National Safety Council saw nationwide a 14 percent increase in traffic fatalities over the same time period, it’s clear that something NYC is doing is working.

“The year three report for Vision Zero is encouraging,” said New York Police Department (NYPD) Chief of Transportation Thomas M. Chan. “Traffic fatalities are at a historically low level, which is bucking a nationwide trend. The city also is investing in making our streets safer, and the NYPD and its partners in the Vision Zero initiative are working every day to reduce collisions and protect lives.”

In the report, NYC highlighted successful strategies–many of which emphasized data analytics.

NYC used existing data to determine where to focus its efforts. In 2015, New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) and NYPD outlined a strategy in the Borough Pedestrian Safety Action Plans where it concentrated its street design, enforcement, and education resources on the most high-crash corridors and intersections. The city counts this initiative as a win. Declines in traffic fatalities at these locations are outpacing the citywide decline in traffic deaths, according to the report. For the five years prior to Vision Zero there were 141 deaths annually at Vision Zero priority locations, the report continues. However, this year, there were 100 fatalities, a 29 percent decline. For pedestrians, there was a similar decline: from an average of 99 fatalities a year from 2009-2013 at such locations to 72 in 2016, 27 percent lower.

Vision Zero is also bringing agencies together to share data and best practices. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) connected more than 40 external researchers with agencies that led the Vision Zero Task Force. The event, dubbed Research on the Road, facilitated a discussion about shared research priorities across agencies and research institutions. DOHMH also advanced the Data Linkage project, which provides preliminary analysis of injury patterns associated with crash types and insight into the factors that must be prioritized to achieve Vision Zero, the city explained.

The city is also using data to determine enforcement practices. Through data analysis, the DOT and NYPD learned that early sunsets in fall and winter correlated with a 40 percent increase in fatal and severe injury crashes involving pedestrians in the early evening hours. In response, a cross-agency enforcement and education strategy was developed, which increased evening and nighttime enforcement by NYPD officers and Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC) inspectors, as well as a targeted education campaign that combined on-street engagement and messages on television and drive-time radio to encourage safer driver behavior during evening and nighttime hours. Fatalities during the initiative declined by 30 percent.

“Our Dusk to Dawn and targeted speeding enforcement efforts continue to catch and deter reckless drivers, and we’ve brought safety education to more than 37,000 of our driver-licensees in 2016 alone and 422 of our licensed bases since 2014,” said TLC Commissioner and Chair Meera Joshi

The city also uses data analytics to determine the reach of their message and the best channels to use for communication. It counts the 76 percent of New Yorkers who know about Vision Zero as a success, though it’s still hoping to educate the remaining 24 percent.


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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs