Political activists mostly scoffed when Bill de Blasio was quoted as saying he wanted to take New York City’s Vision Zero national. But isn’t it refreshing to hear a presidential candidate discuss one of the biggest preventable killers of Americans?
Granted, the Big Apple’s signature road safety effort isn’t perfect. There have been 18 bike fatalities so far this year — compared to just 10 in the whole of 2018. But de Blasio can take credit for the longer trend line: Road fatalities in New York City are down from roughly 300 when he took over to roughly 200 per year now. It’s not zero. But 100 lives is not nothing.
Certainly, no issue is getting de Blasio onto the marquee right now; he’s polling just the thickness of paint over 0 percent. But what other presidential candidate is even broaching the topic of traffic safety right now? What candidates have ever?
“There’s no reason Vision Zero could not be made national policy, to slow people down, to make sure there’s a lot more enforcement, to have things like speed cameras around schools,” de Blasio said on Monday, as reported by Politico. “I mean, these are all things that will protect lives, particularly protect the lives of kids and seniors. And I think that’s something that people could agree on all over this country.”
Leaving aside the question of whether Americans “could agree on” speed cameras at schools, New York City has made respectable progress in recent years. As traffic fatalities are down in New York, they up 13 percent nationally since 2010.
And there’s plenty of global precedent for de Blasio if he’s lucky enough to drive Vision Zero all the way to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: Nations with much better traffic safety records have presidents and prime ministers frequently make traffic safety a key part of their national agenda, said Neil Arason, a Canadian traffic safety expert and author of “No Accident.”
The most striking example is Jacques Chirac. The former president of France made reducing traffic deaths one of his top three national priorities in 2002. Now, France’s per-capita traffic fatality rate is about half of ours. If we were to match the Gaullist level of safety, about 20,000 American lives would have been saved last year.
“We can all think of millions of examples of things that get a lot of attention [in the U.S.] where a lot less people were killed,” he said. One example, he used was the 9/11 terrorist attacks where 3,000 people were killed.
These other issues are “also really important,” he said. “But 3,000 people are killed on American roads every month year after year and yet we don’t talk about that.”
What if Donald Trump was forced to answer for that in debates? Or if Elizabeth Warren unveiled one of her policy plans to address it?
“We might be inching in that direction,” said Arason, with mayors like de Blasio running for president from Vision Zero cities. “We might get there. I hope we will.”