JACKSON HEIGHTS — The city’s Vision Zero program does “nothing” to help keep pedestrians safe — and couldn’t have saved two children who were tragically killed on Northern Boulevard in recent years, according to Assemblyman Michael DenDekker.
Instead, the city should spend money on a traffic light system that allows drivers and pedestrians to travel separately because those accidents were attributable to vehicles failing to yield while they were turning, he said.
DenDekker also requested City Comptroller Scott Stringer audit Vision Zero and the Department of Transportation to see how much has been spent on traffic calming measures including installing traffic medians, changing the flow of traffic and lowering the speed limit.
The comptroller’s office declined to comment on any plan to audit the Vision Zero program, which aims to end traffic injuries and fatalities using a 63-point plan.
DenDekker, who represents East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, first railed against the safety program at a legislative breakfast sponsored by the United Community Civic Association in East Elmhurst on Feb. 6.
The breakfast was attended by various pols including Stringer, which is where the assemblyman requested the audit.
“It is absolutely ridiculous in this day and age to think that cars and pedestrians can have green lights at the same time,” DenDekker later told DNAinfo New York.
He’s requesting a “pedestrian first” traffic light system — also known as a “pedestrian scramble” — which allows cars and pedestrians to move separately at intersections.
But to reprogram lights in all five boroughs would bear a considerable cost — he didn't know exactly how much — and he wondered if money from Vision Zero could have been put towards that.
It's not clear how much the program has cost so far.
“How much are you spending now on bike lanes and other traffic calming effects like putting medians in and doing slow zones and all the other stuff you are spending money on?” he said.
“All of the stuff that Vision Zero has done would not have done anything to save the two children that got killed on Northern Boulevard.”
DenDekker was referring to Miguel Torres, 11, who was struck and killed by a dump truck on 80th Street and Northern Boulevard in 2012, and Noshat Nahian, 8, who was killed when a truck driver drove into him as he turned on to Northern Boulevard from 61st Street in 2013.
He said installing speed cameras and turning a stretch of Northern Boulevard into a slow zone doesn’t fix the problems that contributed to their deaths, which was drivers failing to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.
“There was no reason to make it a slow zone, there was no reason to do any of that. So to me you get to say you’ve done something to help pedestrian safety when in theory you did nothing.”
Last year 135 pedestrians were killed on city streets, and there were 252 overall traffic fatalities, making 2014 the safest in New York City since 1910, according to statistics.
The Mayor’s Office said the program is a comprehensive approach to making safer streets and the program was a priority for Mayor de Blasio in his first year in office.
“Vision Zero is more than any one tool — it’s a combined approach that uses enforcement, education and engineering to make our streets safer,” said spokesman Wiley Norvell.
“Northern Boulevard is no exception, which is why among many changes made to the roadway, the DOT added refuge medians for pedestrians and banned dangerous vehicle turns last year.”
A DOT spokesman highlighted the program's accomplishments, including lowering the city's speed limit to 25 mph, expanding the speed camera program to including nearly 50 school zones and increasing NYPD summonses for failure to yield by 126 percent, as the reason for decrease in pedestrian deaths.
"One death is too many, which is why Mayor de Blasio is committed to implementing proven strategies and developing new tactics to eliminate traffic deaths," the spokesman said.
Make Queens Safer, a safety group that began in Jackson Heights in response to pedestrian fatalities, applauded Vision Zero and the city's initiatives and asked for more help from their assemblyman.
"We'd love to see some leadership from DenDekker on safer streets," the group said in a statement. "We'd like to see him pass some legislation in Albany to give the city the tools it needs to do its job and support the city agencies tasked with decreasing injuries and fatalities on our streets."