- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 28, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - The New York City Council is set to pass a sweeping legislative package aimed at improving traffic safety, The Associated Press has learned.

Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said the council will vote Thursday on 17 bills and resolutions that complement Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Vision Zero” plan, which has the ambitious goal of eliminating all pedestrian, bicyclist and motorist deaths in the nation’s largest city. Some of the changes include the designation of several new “slow zones” with a reduced speed limit of 20 mph and tougher penalties on reckless motorists and cab drivers.

“We wanted to create a package to really enhance Vision Zero and show a commitment to making our streets safer,” Mark-Viverito told the AP on Wednesday.

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She said the time was right to focus on pedestrian safety, which has come into greater focus amid a rise in traffic deaths. Last year, 286 people were killed in traffic accidents in New York City, nearly as many as those who were homicide victims.

Though Mark-Viverito is a close ally of fellow Democrat de Blasio, she said the movement to change the city’s relationship with the streets began under his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, greatly expanded the use of pedestrian plazas and bike lanes, making cars no longer the sole occupants of certain stretches of road.

“We want to change the culture of how drivers, pedestrians and cyclists interact,” said Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the council’s transportation committee.

Other reforms include a mandate to fix all broken traffic signals within 24 hours, stricter regulations on taxi drivers and tougher penalties on motorists who do not yield to pedestrians or bicyclists who have the right of way. Mark-Viverito said she expects all of the measures to pass the heavily Democratic council, which has held public hearings in all five boroughs.

But some - including efforts to give the city control over an expanded program of speed cameras and red light cameras, and a measure to enforce tougher penalties on infractions like leaving the scene of an accident - will need the approval of the state Legislature. The speaker said she was optimistic, noting that state lawmakers recently voted to give the city 120 new speed cameras to go along with the 20 it already used.

Those cameras are a key part of de Blasio’s proposal, which is modeled after a Swedish traffic safety that suggests that all traffic deaths can be prevented. The mayor’s plan also calls for an increase in the number of speed bumps and a task force to study the possible use of new taxi safety technology, such as a “black box”-style data recorder to track trips, an alarm that would alert passengers if the driver is speeding or a device that would stop the cab’s meter from running if the driver speeds.

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