Bloomberg highlights traffic stats and ‘slow zones,’ denounces ‘park-bench wisdom’

Sadik-Khan and Bloomberg in Corona. (Dana Rubinstein)
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The Bloomberg administration's traffic-safety record is strong enough to speak for itself, apparently.

"2011 was the best year for traffic safety in New York City in more than a hundred years," said the mayor, standing on a sun-baked traffic Island in Corona, Queens this afternoon, with transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan by his side. "In fact the 243 traffic fatalities our city endured last year was the lowest number since records started being kept in 1910. And in 1910, most people went by horse-drawn carriages."

Those 243 traffic deaths represent a 38 percent decrease from 2001, when 393 people died in traffic, according to city statistics. Similarly, in 2010, there were 53,870 crashes involving any injury, compared with 79,518 in 2001, according to the city.

The purpose of Tuesday's press conference was to announce the expansion of the city's "slow zone" program into 13 new neighborhoods, including a .26-square-mile portion of Corona.

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In so-called slow zones, the city posts signs alerting drivers that the speed limit has been reduced from 30 to 20 miles per hour, installs speedbumps, and stencils "20 MPH" onto the pavement.

The first such slow zone was installed in Claremont in 2011, and the city says it's had some success.  

The press conference soon gave way to a host of questions about the mayor's approach to city streets overall.

In recent years, under transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, bike lanes and pedestrian plazas have proliferated, including in prominent locations like Times Square.

The latest grid-related controversy involves a new proposal for a pedestrian plaza along Vanderbilt Avenue, next to Grand Central Terminal.

Cycling advocates and non-drivers generally love measures like this, while many drivers, and the New York Post, deplore them.

The mayor, who was particularly irritated by the press corps today, didn't seem inclined to respond substantively to questions about his traffic policies.

One reporter said during the question-and-answer portion of the event that some drivers blame the mayor for slower traffic.

"So what do you want?" Bloomberg said. "What's your question?"

The reporter asked what the mayor would say to those people who blame him for slower traffic.

"I don't know why I have to answer that," said Bloomberg. "Why do I have to answer him at all? I think the numbers are clear. People are getting around. Overall traffic is faster. And your perceptions are not necessarily what the statistics really show. And you can't measure things just by park-bench wisdom."

"If we listen to you, we'd never do anything ever again," he continued. "We'd be living back in the Stone Age."

He also said the proposed Vanderbilt Avenue plaza's proximity to a major transit hub made perfect sense, arguing that "people come out of that and they want to be able to find stores and not get hit by a car and be able to go and disperse."

"The number of people who have jobs in this city, because of Janette's department, is more than you can possibly imagine," he continued. "That is why ... we've replaced over 200 percent of the private sector jobs lost during the downturn, when the United States has only replaced 40 percent. Why? Because we've been growing tourism, one of our industries, and tourism is exactly what these pedestrian streets are all about."

In a corollary effort, the Bloomberg administration has sought to improve enforcement of city traffic laws with speed and red-light cameras, but those require approval from Albany, and that's not always forthcoming.

"The way legislators work, if one legislator wants to do something irrational and he happens to have some power, he's allowed to do it, said the mayor today, by way of explanation. "And you suffer, and your kids suffer, and we all suffer for it."

"The city should be in charge of its own destiny," he later continued, on the same topic. "That's why we had the revolution in 1776."

Accident investigations are one area in which transit advocates do not sing Bloomberg's praises.

The city's dedicated accident investigations squad has only 19 detectives, and they only do full-scale forensic investigations when a victim dies or is considered likely to die.

I asked the mayor about that criticism today.

"You know, you can't please everybody miss," he again snapped. "I'm sorry. Let's get to real questions. This is not a q-and-a for just, somebody who has something to say and get you some air time. I'm sorry, this is not what we're gonna do."