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Traffic Fatalities Sink to Record Low, But Bike Deaths Higher

By Jill Colvin | December 29, 2011 8:45pm

CITY HALL — Traffic fatalities reached an all-time low in 2011, in what the mayor's office touted as a victory for stepped-up enforcement and a number of controversial traffic-calming initiatives such as bike lanes and speed bumps, despite a slight rise in the number of cyclists who were killed.

Just 237 people died in traffic accidents in 2011 through Dec. 27 — a whopping 40 percent decrease from 2010 and the fewest since records began being kept back in 1910, according to preliminary city figures released Thursday.

Manhattan saw 27 pedestrian fatalities this year, down from the 38 killed by cars in the borough in 2001.

“Our focus has paid off in a big way,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a press conference in Brooklyn Thursday, where he declared 2011 the safest year for pedestrians, drivers and cyclists in more than 100 years.

But not all the figures showed downward trends. The city recorded 21 bicycle fatalities in 2011 so far, a jump from the 12 killed in 2009 and the 19 killed in 2010, a Department of Transportation spokesman said.

Officials blamed the spike on a huge increase in cyclists, whose numbers have quadrupled in the past decade, and doubled over the past four years.

While Bloomberg conceded that improvements in vehicle safety, like air bags, have helped to put a dent in fatalities behind the wheel, he credited the major drop in pedestrian deaths to better enforcement, education, and a series of highly controversial traffic changes, including hundreds of miles of new bike lanes, new pedestrian plazas, added speed bumps, lowered speed limits and longer pedestrian crossing times.

Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who has been panned by many for her pedestrianized vision for New York, said the DOT has initiated 140 major safety projects over the past four years, including major changes to 78 corridors and 72 intersections, including Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, which she toured before the numbers were released.

“All of that has contributed to having the lowest number of traffic fatalities in New York City,” she said, adding that the changes had “really paid off huge dividends.”

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said that the department has also made a concerted effort to target dangerous drivers, including making 8,500 drunk driving arrests through Dec. 18 and seizing 900 vehicles from drivers suspected to be under the influence so far this year.

And the Department has issued more than 1 million summonses for moving violations, including 161,000 for using hand-held devices and 27,000 for speeding, he said. While that's about 10 to 12 percent fewer than last year, he said the goal is to prevent tragedy.

“The NYPD focuses enforcement on violations directly related to serious injury and passenger death,” like talking on a cell phone or texting while driving, Bloomberg said.

While the final number of traffic injuries sustained this year will not be finalized for several weeks, Sadik-Khan said she believed those numbers were also “trending down" versus 2010.

Manhattan has about four times as many pedestrian injuries as any other borough, officials said, pointing to Park Avenue and E. 33rd Street as one location that had been of particular concern. 

The DOT made several changes to the intersection in 2008, including adding a 10-foot pedestrian refuge in the center of the roadway, contributing to an 85 percent drop in pedestrian accidents since 1995, they have said.