Days after Mayor Eric Adams announced plans for a Vision Zero revamp to improve traffic safety in the city, two pedestrian fatalities on January 24 rocked the Upper East Side and Upper West Side.
Early Monday morning, just after 6:30 a.m., police responded to an incident at the intersection of Third Avenue and East 76th Street, where a woman identified as Udeshi Shruti Sundeep, 51, had been hit by a car turning onto Third Avenue. Found injured and unconscious, Shruti Sundeep was transported to Lenox Hill Hospital and later pronounced dead, according to Sergeant Edward Riley, a spokesperson for the Office of the Deputy Commissioner, Public Information (DCPI). Connette Bercik, 59, has been arrested and charged with failure to yield to a pedestrian.
“It’s absolutely tragic and enough is enough,” said Council Member Julie Menin of the Upper East Side accident, which occurred just one block outside of her district, District 5. The intersection has been the site of multiple crashes over the past decade, according to city data.
Mere hours later last Monday, a similar story unfolded on the Upper West Side. Just before 12 p.m., police responded to an incident at the intersection of West 93rd Street and Amsterdam Avenue, where a woman identified as Beatriz Diaz, 43, was found injured and unconscious after being hit by a van turning left onto West 93rd Street. EMS transported Diaz to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, where she was pronounced dead. There have been no arrests, according to Sergeant Riley.
“Our intersections have become by far the most dangerous places in the public right of way,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine in a statement.
The Old Vision Zero
Almost a decade ago, in 2014, the city launched Vision Zero, bringing together agencies ranging from the MTA and the NYPD to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to lower traffic-related injuries and fatalities.
In its early days, the initiative seemed to be making a dent in the most harrowing outcomes of street collisions; total annual citywide deaths dropped each year from 259 in 2014 to 206 in 2018, according to traffic data from the city. The number of annual citywide injuries painted a less promising picture, with the total dropping from around 55,500 in 2013, before the start of the initiative, to around 51,500 in 2014, before jumping even higher than the 2013 number (often into the 60,000 range) for all of the subsequent years from 2016 through 2019.
In 2020, traffic-related injuries decreased — but deaths have increased each year since 2018, reaching an annual total of 268 by the end of 2021.
“I’m hearing from pedestrians and I’m hearing from cyclists, both, who are saying, ‘This is imperative, that we have safer streets,’” Menin said. “And it’s, by the way, eminently doable — this is not an unsolvable problem.”
The New Vision Zero
On January 19, Mayor Eric Adams joined New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez and New York Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner Keechant Sewell in Brooklyn to announce new efforts to improve safety at 1,000 intersections, where most pedestrian injuries and deaths occur. “After the tragedy of 2021, when traffic fatalities in New York City reached their highest level in nearly a decade, we clearly need to turbo-charge Vision Zero — and fast,” Adams said.
Safety improvements will include intersection redesigns with the addition of new turn signals and “head starts” for pedestrians — so that they can cross the street before vehicles begin turning — and the annual construction of 100 raised crosswalks that will double as speed bumps. At least 100 intersections will have bike corrals installed to increase intersection visibility and inhibit drivers from cutting corners. And DOT will take action on two traffic-calming measures — reducing short cuts at parking lots and gas stations encouraged by curb cuts in sidewalks and enforcing slower turns at 100 intersections with the placement of “physical elements” that guide drivers’ movements and force slower speeds.
NYPD has also been tasked with the new goal of doubling 2021 “failure-to-yield” enforcement and a new DOT traffic rule requires that drivers and cyclists come to a full stop until pedestrians finish crossing the street at over 1,200 intersections in the city that lack both traffic signals and stop signs.
In a letter to DOT Commissioner Rodriguez on January 26, Council Member Menin made note of five intersections in (and just outside of) her district that have been the sites of traffic-related fatalities and should receive attention: First Avenue and East 76th Street, First Avenue and East 57th Street, First Avenue and East 58th Street, Third Avenue and East 76th Street and Third Avenue and East 61st Street. “This is imperative, our streets need to be safe,” Menin said.
“Our intersections have become by far the most dangerous places in the public right of way.” Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine