In 2014, New York City launched the first Vision Zero program in the United States, pledging to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries. New York’s effort was inspired by a similar policy enacted by Sweden in 1997, which subsequently spread across the world, leading to the elimination of traffic deaths in cities from Helsinki to Hoboken.
In service of this pledge, over the past 10 years, the City of New York launched a wide range of interventions including, but not limited to: lowering the citywide speed limit; installing speed safety cameras; pedestrianizing road space; building protected bike lanes; equipping the city fleet with truck side guards and “Intelligent Speed Assistance”; developing public education campaigns; and increasing police enforcement.
Some of these efforts have been effective; others have been less so. Together, they tell a more complex story as demonstrated by the number of fatalities.
Traffic fatalities decreased in the early years of Vision Zero, then rose
New York City's leaders failed to scale successes and meet the needs of a changing city, resulting in a rise in fatalities over recent years.
*According to NYC DOT: From 2021, the "Other Motorist" category includes victims riding standing e-scooters and moped-style devices. The victims were previously categorized as pedestrians, bicycles, or motorcycles, depending on specific type. | Data source: NYPD
Traffic fatalities were 16% lower in the last 10 years compared to the decade preceding Vision Zero — a difference of more than 400 lives. While significant progress has been made, the story of Vision Zero in New York City is neither simple nor linear. For example, pedestrian fatalities in the city declined 29% from 2014 to 2023, at a time when traffic fatalities, and especially pedestrian fatalities, were surging nationwide. Yet, during that time, driver fatalities rose more than 11%, especially in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods. Cyclist fatalities fluctuated dramatically — falling as low as 10 deaths one year and rising to 28 the next — trending upward overall. 2023 marks the single deadliest year for cyclists this century, and the second deadliest year for cyclists in recorded history.
Generally, traffic fatalities declined in response to data-driven safety interventions. But over time, the city and its transportation changed — larger vehicles, more traffic, more people, more cyclists — and safety interventions have not adapted. New York City’s leaders both failed to meet the needs of a changing city, and too readily surrendered safety to the convenience of drivers and their desire for free parking. As a result, fatalities plateaued and rose.
Traffic safety is influenced by forces as diverse as urban planning, history, economics, even pandemic-inspired commuting trends — and there is no singular solution to keeping people safe on city streets. Protecting people from harm while they walk, bike, or drive requires overlapping layers of safety interventions. Implementing these interventions — systemically and citywide, not just where it may be politically easy — requires the resolve of elected leaders and city officials alike.
The 10-year anniversary of Vision Zero offers an opportunity to look back and consider what has worked, what has not, and why. New York City’s Vision Zero program has already spanned two mayoral administrations and a decade of changes to our city. The future of the program rests on the political will of our leaders, and their embrace of the idea that traffic deaths are not random “accidents'' but tragedies they are responsible to prevent.
Transportation Alternatives (TA), which proposed bringing this lifesaving program to New York City in 2011, and Families for Safe Streets, which was also established 10 years ago and which led the charge for many of the lifesaving changes outlined herein, evaluated 10 years of data and identified trends that help explain the successes and shortcomings of New York City’s Vision Zero program. The goal of this report is to build on the successes of the program and address the challenges so that no New Yorker need worry about death or serious injury while walking, biking, or driving across the five boroughs.