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NYC Cabbies Say Mayor’s Plan May Slow City’s Famed Speed

Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) -- New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to slow the pace of life on city streets to 25 miles per hour wasn’t an issue for one cabbie mired among the brake lights of traffic-clogged Manhattan.

“Now I’m driving 18 miles per hour,” Mohamed Quader, a 45-year-old from Bangladesh, said yesterday from behind the wheel of his yellow taxi amid a tangle of cars, double-parked delivery trucks and cyclists cruising the bike lane. “Every avenue is like this.”

Reducing the standard citywide speed limit by 5 miles per hour is just one part of the mayor’s multi-agency plan for reducing traffic accidents, which kill more than 250 people and seriously injure 4,000 each year in the most populous U.S. city. It draws from the “Vision Zero” philosophy first implemented in Sweden, which holds that every traffic death is preventable.

De Blasio’s proposal would boost speed and red-light cameras, add highway-unit police officers and increase penalties for dangerous driving. Parts of the plan would need approval from lawmakers in Albany, the state capital.

The initiative expands upon the efforts of de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, who oversaw a 30 percent decline in traffic fatalities during his 12 years in office, pushing pedestrian-friendly changes to the streetscape. The former mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

For a metropolis synonymous with speed, de Blasio’s plan would make the New York minute last a little longer.

‘Enforcement, Education’

“Vision Zero’s strategy is clear,” the mayor said at a Feb. 18 news briefing. “It combines enforcement, education, and engineering to systematically confront the factors that lead to crashes. That involves everything from poorly designed streets to dangerous and reckless behavior.”

The New Yorkers who spend more hours on the streets than anyone else -- the men and women who drive the city’s almost 13,500 cabs -- reacted with a combination of skepticism, frustration and hope that it would produce safer streets without harming their bottom line.

Traffic and tempers are bound to flare before impatient riders realize that slower, and therefore longer, trips require the need to plan ahead, said Beliard Domond, a Haitian-born livery driver of 25 years who lives in the Bronx.

“Most cab drivers drive very carefully -- this is our life, we have families, we don’t want tickets, accidents,” said Ngima Sherpa, who has been driving a taxi more than three years.

Law-Abiding Drivers

A proposal to consider linking drivers’ speed to the meter, penalizing them financially for traveling too fast, didn’t trouble Sherpa, who said such a move wouldn’t hurt law-abiding drivers.

The likelihood of death when hit by a car going 20 miles per hour is 2 percent, according to Transportation Alternatives, a group that advocates street safety along with bicycling and public transit. It’s 70 percent for a car going 40 miles per hour, the group said, citing state data.

Matthew Culkin, a 25-year-old personal trainer who takes two to three taxi trips a week, said slower, longer rides wouldn’t bother him because he’s not the impatient, rushed type.

“Some people probably will get a little irritated,” he said. “But people should just accept it as a way of life.”

Even so, Simon Acheampong, a 46-year-old driver from the Bronx, forecast a gloomy future for cabbies and customers alike. Riders will blame him for longer rides and skip out on the bill, he said. Two people did that to him just last week.

‘Frustrated’ Passengers

“People who ride in yellow cabs expect drivers to go fast,” said Acheampong. “People are going to be frustrated a lot.”

He said the mayor would be better off educating pedestrians to pay more attention to their surroundings and less to their technological devices.

Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, a union of 17,000 yellow-cab operators, cautioned against turning her members into scapegoats.

“Statistics show that taxi drivers are the safest motorists on NYC streets,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Esme E. Deprez in New York at edeprez@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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