The Potential for Unintended Consequences with the NYC Vision Zero Plan

An older article wrote years ago that I published here since I believe the concept is still relevant.
We all want to live, walk, and drive on safer city streets.  Upon learning of the vision zero action plans, as someone who loves action plans, I was interested in seeing what proposals would be brought forth.  Upon looking at the list of soon to be taken actions by NYC, it is clear that there could be unintended consequences.  The list of points that I will be mentioning can be found on the NYC website for Vision Zero listed at bottom of this post.  As an operations management professional, I focus on cost, efficiency, quality, and inventory.  I will look at how the listed actions could impact the experience of NYC drivers.
For starters all of the steps listed on the link below that I will discuss are considered “only a beginning”, it appears as if there are more regulations planned and that this is just the trial to see how much new additional regulation can be implemented without NYC residents complaining.  A common practice from those wishing to regulate is to first float the regulations to the public and gauge response.  Those regulations which are complained about are usually lessened or eliminated, and the remainders are implemented.  While the NYC action plan for Vision Zero states that these regulations will be “continually evaluated for effectiveness”, it does not say what the next steps will be, keep in mind that most regulations, once implemented are hardly ever repealed.  It also does not say what the evaluation process will be, or how often it will take place.
The first element of the action plan calls for the establishment of a task force.  The action plan does not specify who will populate it, whether they will be current NYC employees, or if new jobs (which create new government spending or taxpayer dollars) in NYC will be needed.  Also in the city hall section, it states that the city wants to partner with vehicle manufacturers to suggest design changes to vehicles.  I’d bet that those suggestions are passed as regulations.  I would hope at the very least that the city hall team will employ an automotive design engineer to evaluate the scope and cost analysis of the proposed regulations.  The city hall portion also calls on Albany to “give the City the power over the placement of speed and red-light cameras, the power to reduce the citywide speed limit to 25mph, and to increase the penalties associated with dangerous driver behavior.”  Speed cameras, while effective at slowing drivers in the aggregate, have been found to be an invasion of privacy in some states; it would be bad to see taxpayer dollars spent on installation, only to have to spend more to remove them later.  From personal experience, if I know a red light camera exists at a certain intersection; I either brake very early, or make sure that I can make it through.  If I brake early to avoid the camera and the driver behind is not paying attention, that is an accident waiting to happen.  I have witnessed this very thing happen at intersections in the past.  Countdown clocks at intersections were installed to assist pedestrians crossing streets; however there was an unintended consequence, the clocks inadvertently give drivers more information as to when the light will change.  Drivers now know whether they can leisurely pass through an intersection or if they will have to stop.  If I look at the clock and then check my rearview mirror; if the driver behind me is way too close, at times I am left with no choice but to pass through under a yellow to avoid the driver behind me having a hit other in rear collision.  This could result in a ticket with a quick timed camera.
Increasing penalties for dangerous driver behavior could lead to more incarcerations in an already overcrowded prison system; it may also mean more mandatory minimums.  We are left to guess since there is no mention of what the increased penalties will or will not be.
Lastly, reducing the speed limit to 25MPH would lead to more vehicles being idle at red lights.  Also cars and trucks are most fuel efficient when their transmissions are in higher gears, keeping speeds low would do the opposite and create higher revs and therefore less fuel efficiency.  Let us remember that there are currently parts of the city that have non-highway speed limits of 40MPH, as those exist in low population areas, it would only serve to unnecessarily increase costs on drivers.
The role for the police department calls for more: officers, equipment, and crossing guards.  While the majority of people that fill these roles do great jobs, this all means more city government spending.  There is no listed plan for how this money will be raised.  We have no choice but to guess that it will come from the increase in revenue generated by the increases in fines paid by NYC drivers, as well as new and increased taxes on citizens.
The city DOT section of the action plan calls for 50 intersections to get safety engineering improvements. The money from this will have to come from somewhere, I am left to guess that it will come from the same places that I listed in the above paragraph.  It also calls for more street marking, signage, traffic signals, street construction, and an ad campaign.  It lists all of these things without once referencing where the money will come from to pay for it.  The section also calls for 33 new “slow zones” and 250 additional speed bumps.  All of these new bumps and zones will lead to, as I stated in the above paragraph, vehicles using more fuel.  The action plan also calls for new and updated technology on city vehicles for the department of citywide administrative services, once again, all of this without mentioning how the costs will be covered.
As a born and raised New Yorker, the last thing I want is to see a resident of the city pass away after stepping away from the curb.  However, I do think it would be a good idea to question where all of the money for these programs will come from to ensure that they are already paid for.  If the money doesn’t materialize, rather than raising taxes, there are other, larger issues to address.  More people die from smoking and obesity than traffic accidents, those seem like bigger better challenges to tackle.  Since programs to address these more serious issues already exist, less taxpayer money would be needed to improve existing programs.
I find many of the elements in the action plan to be odd because based on his own political history, DeBlasio comes from a very left/liberal background.  People with those beliefs are usually against mandatory minimums and are for attempting decrease the prison population.  People with this political point of view are also usually for having cars use less fuel, not more.  Maybe the philosophical belief of the DeBlasio administration is that people shouldn’t drive at all, because cars hurt the environment.  Maybe this is to *nudge* NYC society away from having a car; no one will ever know.  Let’s just hope that all of these proposals are actually reevaluated at future points to test their effectiveness.  I hope that they are not measured by reduction in fatalities, but a reduction in overall vehicular-pedestrian incidents.  While pedestrians may have it easier moving through the streets, the costs to drivers will be increased (more fuel, vehicle wear and tear from stop and go) and the efficiency of driving in and through New York City will be greatly reduced.  Let’s hope that if these regulations do not meet their expected goals, they are put aside and repealed so that taxpayer dollars can be better spent elsewhere.

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