A new billboard in East New York shows a pedestrian thrown into the air after bouncing off the front of a car, as his coffee splashes everywhere. “Speeding ruins lives,” it says. “Slow down.”
The goal of the campaign is to scare speeding drivers in this Brooklyn neighborhood, where 35 people have been killed in traffic crashes since 2017.
It is part of New York City’s latest effort to battle rampant speeding, which has turned neighborhood streets into raceways and propelled traffic deaths to the highest level in eight years.
“It’s getting out of control — every day cars are speeding,” said William Candelario, 64, whose auto repair shop in the neighborhood was slammed into by a van last year.
On Monday, the city’s transportation commissioner, Ydanis Rodríguez, will unveil a new safety campaign in three dozen neighborhoods like East New York, where traffic fatalities and injuries are among the highest in the city.
Targeted areas include Bushwick and Canarsie in Brooklyn, Jamaica in Queens, Harlem and Washington Heights in Manhattan and Hunts Point in the South Bronx. City officials said these neighborhoods were selected based on elevated crash data.
“We have seen just too many people dying on our streets, with crashes disproportionately concentrated in certain New York City communities,” Mr. Rodríguez said.
The campaign will feature 18 high-profile billboards along high-crash roads and highways, as well as posters on the back end of public buses and at gas station pumps. City workers will be dispatched to hand out postcards, brochures and fliers.
In New York City, traffic deaths have risen to 64 this year through April 26, from 61 for the same period last year — largely because of a spike in deaths among drivers and passengers, which nearly doubled to 23 this year from 13 last year.
Pedestrian deaths — though still the largest share of traffic deaths — fell to 30 this year from 39 last year.
Two cyclists were also killed, the same as last year, as well as four riders of motorized devices, which was two more than the year before, amid a pandemic boom in cycling and electric bikes, scooters and skateboards.
Just over one-quarter of the 64 deaths this year were on highways — including three deaths each on Henry Hudson Parkway and Grand Central Parkway — while the rest were on local streets throughout the city.
The traffic deaths have reversed some of the hard-won gains of the city’s eight-year-old transportation policy, called Vision Zero, which once aimed to eliminate all traffic deaths and had become a national model. Under the policy, the city won state approval to lower the speed limit to 25 m.p.h. from 30 m.p.h. on most streets, built a sprawling network of nearly 2,000 automated speed cameras, and redesigned many streets to make them safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
Mayor Eric Adams, who took office in January, has promised to expand on Vision Zero efforts. He recently pledged $904 million to the city’s streets plan over the next five years, which will include redesigning dangerous intersections and adding more protected bike lanes and pedestrian areas. He has said police officials will also increase enforcement of traffic laws.
In addition, city officials are lobbying state lawmakers for local control of city streets, which would give them authority to set speed limits, expand red light cameras, and extend hours for speed cameras in school zones to nights and weekends — when the cameras are off and speeding has soared. “The city needs to be able to control its own destiny, so that we can quickly make changes that meet the current crisis,” Mr. Rodríguez said.
The new billboard and media campaign, which will cost $4 million, aims to reinforce those other traffic safety efforts by trying to change driver behavior.
“This is a crisis and we need to use every tool possible to make our streets safer,” said Danny Harris, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group, which has pushed the city to address the traffic violence.
There has been an epidemic of speeding and reckless driving around the country during the pandemic in part as some drivers have become emboldened by emptier roads and lax police enforcement, according to transportation experts. New York City has also seen a rise in car ownership as many people have avoided public transit.
Even before the pandemic, a growing number of cities sought to lower speed limits and design safer roads over concerns that higher speeds and larger vehicles like S.U.V.s led to more severe injuries and fatalities.
“The risk of death exponentially increases as speed increases,” said Alex Engel, a spokesman for the National Association of City Transportation Officials. “This is especially important as the vehicles on the streets have gotten larger.”
The eight-week, citywide campaign will also include television ads showing a pedestrian or cyclist being thrown backward in slow motion. And it will target drivers on social media, based on their online searches, and run in certain print publications.
Erick Guerra, an associate professor of city and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania, said that while media campaigns are important, they do not have the same immediate effect on slowing down drivers as, say, expanding the use of automated speed cameras. “I think it takes a long time to change a culture of driving in the same way it took a long way to change a culture of smoking,” he said.
Some transportation advocates have called on cities to focus more on redesigning dangerous streets, saying that it is not enough to come into a neighborhood and tell drivers not to speed when its streets were essentially built to move traffic as fast as possible.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” said Leah Shahum, the executive director of the Vision Zero Network, a non-profit campaign. “Why is there speeding here? It’s because of the environment we built.”
In East New York, the billboard there will be seen by drivers going through a particularly dangerous intersection at Atlantic and Pennsylvania Avenues, where 167 people — including 154 motor vehicle occupants — were injured in crashes from 2015 to 2019, according to the latest data available.
Laura Remigio, 35, a makeup artist and stylist who said she was almost hit by a car while visiting a client in East New York, said that drivers go too fast and have cut her off in the crosswalk. “It’s supposed to be people first and the cars wait — and they don’t wait,” she said. “I’m running because the cars don’t stop.”
But Ian Johnson, 67, a driver from New Jersey, said that some pedestrians also need to pay more attention. He said he often has to honk at people who don’t look as they cross or are on their phones “when they almost walk into my vehicle.”
Mr. Candelario, whose auto repair shop is steps away from the billboard, said he hoped the billboard would finally get the attention of drivers.
“It’s an eye opener and it makes you think,” he said. “You’ve got to be hard. You’ve got to put a little fear in it.”
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