(Photos: Cecilia Nowell)

A bike messenger delivered two bags of fresh-cut flowers to City Hall just in time for Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets to take to the steps. At noon, members of the two organizations, joined by sympathetic city council members, laid pink roses and yellow carnations at the steps of City Hall– alongside photographs of loved ones who had died in traffic accidents. The organizations had joined forces to declare a state of emergency on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero Plan.

In 2014, when the mayor announced his plan to end traffic deaths and injuries by improving street design and traffic enforcement, some 4,000 New Yorkers were seriously injured and 250 killed in traffic accidents annually. The aim was to reach zero traffic casualties by 2024.

Today, activists took to the steps of City Hall because they believe that change is happening too slowly. Marco Conner, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, announced that traffic-related deaths had actually increased from last year. “We are gathered because more people are dying this year, at a higher rate, than last year,” he said. “According to the NYPD, 65 people have lost their lives this year. It’s up 30 percent compared to last year. Every 36 hours someone is killed.”

In the crowd behind him, activists held signs reading “Streets have stories” and “We mourn” alongside a large banner listing this year’s traffic fatalities under the header “Killed on Streets that Mayor De Blasio Failed To Fix.”  

The crowd on City Hall’s steps represented a mix of perspectives on Vision Zero. City council members spoke about the traffic crashes that occured in their districts, and emphasized the importance of redesigning city streets. Parents of children killed in car accidents donned veils of mourning and shared their personal stories as reason for change. Working bike messengers passed in and out of the rally to add photographs of loved ones to the altar on the steps before continuing on their routes.

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez of District 10, who serves as Chair of the city’s Committee on Transportation, explained that activists had asked the City Council to sign a new Vision Zero bill, called the Vision Zero Street Design Standard.

According to the New York City Council website, the bill would require the Department of Transportation “to develop a checklist of street design elements that enhance safety that the department shall consider for arterial street design projects” and publish the checklist and affected projects to its website. Those street design elements include protected bike lanes, pedestrian islands, wide sidewalks, and signal retiming. The bill, which has Transportation Alternatives’ support, is intended to speed up initiatives already begun by the mayor’s Vision Zero Plan.

As the rally concluded, the crowd chanted “Enough is enough” and shouted for the mayor and City Hall to better implement Vision Zero. In the final moments of the assembly, Council Member Rodriguez announced that rally organizers had just learned that the Vision Zero Street Design Standard bill will be voted on by the end of this month. Activists continued to lay photographs and flowers on City Hall’s steps, with the understanding that a promise to vote did not signal the total success of Vision Zero. Nevertheless, there was a cheer from the crowd at the announcement that change might be speeding up again.