Visions of Zeroes

By John Carr, NMA Massachusetts Activist

You may have heard that New York city cut the speed limit from 30 to 25. That won’t have any effect on safety. I don’t think Mayor de Blasio is dumb enough to think it will. It’s a symbolic gesture — saying “Vision Zero” gets him some media time — or a revenue grab.

According to NHTSA, two thirds of fatal accidents could not be prevented by driving slower. Their figure is based on police reports. While individual reports are unreliable, the composite figure is plausible.

So why all the talk about speed? Because we can measure speed. Americans see a number and think it must be important.

The speed limit reduction followed a long media campaign, including a New York Times article about pedestrian accidents in NYC.

The author of the Times story had been run over by a truck. As usual, the accident wasn’t caused by speed or red light running.

She was walking with the light. A truck was turning with the light. Everything we love to measure was in order. We don’t have a metric for yieldiness. If we did, the truck driver would score low, because turning traffic is supposed to let pedestrians cross.

None of recent mayors’ visions of zeroes could have done anything about this. Shoot every speeder, kneecap every jaywalker, eviscerate every right light runner, and the Times still runs that story.

Mayors Bloomberg wanted to tax vehicles in Lower Manhattan. A driving tax would have reduced traffic. Maybe fewer vehicles means fewer crashes. Maybe faster traffic means more roadkill. One way or another it would have made a difference.

Nobody Upstate trusted the rulers of New York City with that much taxing and ticketing authority.

After the road tax died, the mayor manufactured a speed crisis and got speed limits and speed cameras as a consolation prize.

I say he manufactured a crisis in part based on a story that ran after the bill was destined to become law. City officials announced they would re-time lights for 25 mph.

The “slow zones” could have been slowed long ago by changing the progression of green lights. Why did they wait?

Solving the alleged traffic problem would have eliminated a political opportunity.

The speed limit fight was mostly for attention.

Mostly. Some speed limits are photo enforced. With the lower speed limit a lot more cars will be above the enforcement threshold.

There will be a few extra zeroes from ticket camera revenue. I bet those are the figures the mayor was envisioning.

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