NYC’s Cars and Trucks Are Deadly

By Jonathan Giuffrida

As we look at cities in this issue, it’s important to remember what they look like at the ground level–such as from the perspective of a person moving from place to place during the course of a day. In New York City, as in all cities in America, the right-of-way is shared between automobiles, pedestrians, cyclists, and forms of public transportation.

One of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature initiatives since assuming office is Vision Zero, which aims to eliminate traffic fatalities within city limits. Over the last two years (since July 2012), over 300 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by cars and trucks on city streets, and over 31,000 have been injured – or forty-two a day. For comparison, there were 333 homicides in New York City in 2013. Also for comparison, the Citi Bike has logged over fifteen million miles and no reported fatalities.

We can leave it to our transportation bloggers and urban experts to explain whether these numbers are high or low compared to other American cities. All cities are different, and perhaps a certain level of traffic crashes is inevitable (the goal of Vision Zero is asymptotic, after all, because there may never be zero fatalities). But 300 deaths are too many by any standard.

Deaths and injuries go hand-in-hand – many of the 31,000 injured escaped mortal wounds by half a second, or two inches, or five mph. As we look at the injuries, it’s striking how many are the result of a failure on the part of drivers to properly share the road. Some of the top causes listed in police reports are “Driver Inattention,” “Failure to Yield Right-of-Way,” and “Turning Improperly.” When you put powerful one-ton machines in direct proximity to flesh and blood, it’s easy to predict what happens next.

But perhaps these numbers aren’t all bad. New York City has over eight million inhabitants, and only about 15,000 are injured by traffic each year – or one in 500. How does this baseline risk vary from neighborhood to neighborhood? Below, we’ve broken out the yearly risk of getting injured or killed in each ZIP code.

Note on the data:
Traffic injury and fatality data comes from the NYC Open Data Portal. Population data is from the 2010 census via Splitwise, and has been updated at the borough level to approximate 2013 numbers.

photoJonathan Giuffrida is a senior editor at The Brooklyn Quarterly and a masters student at the University of Chicago.

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