I got into my first car accident ever last fall.
The damage to my vehicle was extensive, but the accident itself was minor – aside from some bruising, there were no major injuries. All in all, I felt very relieved and very lucky, and also rather sad: I would no longer be able to say that I’d never been in a car accident.
“It’s the year of the car accident,” a friend of mine remarked, when I told her about it.
She, too, had been in a car crash earlier in the year, and knew a number of people with similar stories.
Her observations were purely anecdotal, but my friend was on to something:
According to preliminary data from the National Safety Council, 2020 was an especially bad year for fatal car crashes, with the number of people killed jumping 8 percent from the previous year, to 42,060. In New York, deadly car accidents rose 10 percent, from 873 to 963.
What makes the surge in fatal wrecks even more concerning is that it occurred as people cut back on travel due to the pandemic, with overall miles driven in the U.S. dropping an estimated 13 percent between 2019 and 2020.
Whether the spike in traffic fatalities is a one-year blip or the start of a troubling longer-term trend won’t be known for some time.
What is clear is that there’s a problem.
And it demands a response.
Earlier this year, a coalition of Schenectady neighborhood and cycling advocates launched a welcome campaign to make the city’s streets safer, with the objective of creating a community that’s friendly to bicycles and pedestrians alike.
The data from the National Safety Council underscores the urgency of their campaign, and suggests other communities ought to be looking for ways to make their streets safe, too.
Among other things, the groups involved in Schenectady’s safe-streets campaign would like to see dangerous streets and intersections redesigned to reduce speeding, the speed limit on city streets lowered from 30 to 25 and the city’s bicycle master plan, which it finalized in 2017, fully implemented.
These ideas are all worthy of consideration – indeed, given the complaints about speeding and reckless driving that I’ve heard from residents, they seem like no-brainers.
And with Schenectady due to receive a whopping $57.84 million federal stimulus, the time is right to think big, and make investments that can transform the city into a truly walkable community.
Local leaders should embrace the safe-streets initiative, and look for ways to further its goals.
Even if 2020 turns out to have been an unusually dangerous and deadly year on the roads, car accidents are a perennial problem, with the U.S. suffering more than 30,000 motor vehicle deaths each year.
This is unacceptable – or should be.
Now is the time for officials to say “enough,” and give unsafe streets the attention they deserve.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.