A new billboard in eastern New York shows a pedestrian being thrown through the air after bouncing off the front of a car, as his coffee splashes everywhere. “Speed ruins lives,” he says. “To slow down.”
The campaign’s goal is to scare away speeders in this Brooklyn neighborhood, where 35 people have been killed in traffic crashes since 2017.
It’s part of New York City’s latest effort to curb speeding, which has turned neighborhood streets into race tracks and pushed road deaths to the highest level in eight years.
“It’s getting out of control – every day cars are speeding up,” said William Candelario, 64, whose neighborhood auto repair shop was hit by a van last year.
On Monday, the city’s transportation commissioner, Ydanis Rodríguez, will unveil a new safety campaign in three dozen neighborhoods like East New York, where road deaths and injuries are among the highest in the city.
Target areas include Bushwick and Canarsie in Brooklyn, Jamaica in Queens, Harlem and Washington Heights in Manhattan, and Hunts Point in the South Bronx. City officials said those neighborhoods were selected based on high crash data.
“We’ve seen too many people die on our streets, with crashes disproportionately concentrated in certain New York communities,” Rodríguez said.
The campaign will include 18 large-scale billboards along accident-prone roads and highways, as well as posters on the backs of public buses and at gas station pumps. Municipal employees will be dispatched to distribute postcards, brochures and flyers.
In New York, the number of road deaths rose to 64 this year through April 26, from 61 for the same period last year, largely due to a spike in fatalities among drivers and passengers, which almost doubled to 23 this year from 13 last year.
Pedestrian fatalities – despite still accounting for the largest share of road fatalities – have fallen to 30 this year from 39 last year.
Two cyclists were also killed, similar to last year, along with four drivers of motorized devices, two more than the previous year, amid a pandemic boom in cycling and electric bikes, scooters and skateboards. casters.
Just over a quarter of this year’s 64 deaths have occurred on freeways – including three deaths each on Henry Hudson Parkway and Grand Central Parkway – while the rest have occurred on local city streets.
Road deaths have reversed some of the hard-won gains of the city’s transportation policy, called Vision Zero, which once aimed to eliminate all road deaths and had become a national model. As part of this policy, the city won state approval to lower the speed limit to 25 mph from 30 mph on most streets, built an extensive network of nearly 2,000 automated speed cameras and redesigned many streets to make them safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
Mayor Eric Adams, who took office in January, has promised to expand Vision Zero’s efforts. He recently pledged $904 million to plan the city’s streets over the next five years, which will include redesigning dangerous intersections and adding bike lanes and more protected pedestrian zones. He said police officials will also strengthen traffic enforcement.
In addition, city officials are lobbying state lawmakers for local control of city streets, which would give them the power to set speed limits, expand red-light cameras, and extending speed camera hours in school zones on nights and weekends – when cameras are off and speeding tickets have been blown up. “The city must be able to control its own destiny, so that we can quickly make changes that respond to the current crisis,” Rodríguez said.
The new billboard and media campaign, which will cost $4 million, aims to reinforce these other road safety efforts by trying to change driver behavior.
“This is a crisis and we need to use every tool possible to make our streets safer,” said Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group, which has pushed the city to address violence. road.
There has been an epidemic of speeding and reckless driving across the country during the pandemic, in part because some drivers have become emboldened by emptier roads and lax police enforcement, transportation experts say. New York City has also seen an increase in car ownership as many people have avoided public transportation.
Even before the pandemic, a growing number of cities were looking to lower speed limits and design safer roads, fearing that higher speeds and larger vehicles like SUVs could lead to more serious injuries and deaths.
“The risk of death increases exponentially as speed increases,” said Alex Engel, spokesman for the National Association of City Transportation Officials. “This is particularly important as vehicles on the streets have become larger.”
The eight-week, citywide campaign will also include TV ads showing a pedestrian or cyclist being thrown backwards in slow motion. And it will target drivers on social media, based on their online searches, and appear in select print publications.
Erick Guerra, an associate professor of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania, said while media campaigns are important, they don’t have the same immediate effect on slowing down drivers as, say, the expansion of the use of speed cameras. “I think it takes a long time to change a driving culture the same way it took a long time to change a smoking culture,” he said.
Some transportation advocates have called on cities to focus more on redesigning dangerous streets, saying it’s not enough to walk into a neighborhood and tell drivers not to speed up when its streets were essentially built to commute traffic as fast as possible.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” said Leah Shahum, executive director of Vision Zero Network, a nonprofit campaign. “Why is there speeding here? It is because of the environment that we have built.
In eastern New York, the billboard will be seen by drivers crossing a particularly dangerous intersection on Atlantic and Pennsylvania avenues, where 167 people – including 154 motor vehicle occupants – were injured in 2015 crashes to 2019, according to the latest data available. .
Laura Remigio, 35, a makeup artist and stylist who said she was nearly hit by a car while visiting a client in eastern New York, said drivers were driving too fast and cut her off at the crosswalk. “It’s supposed to be people first and cars waiting — and they’re not waiting,” she said. “I run because the cars don’t stop.”
But Ian Johnson, 67, a New Jersey driver, said some pedestrians also needed to be more careful. He said he often has to honk at people who aren’t looking when they’re crossing or are on the phone “when they’re almost into my vehicle.”
Mr. Candelario, whose auto repair shop is a short walk from the billboard, said he hoped the billboard would finally catch the attention of drivers.
“It’s an eye opener and it makes you think,” he said. “You have to be tough. You have to put a little fear in there.