Putting Pedestrians First On New York City's Streets Saved Medicaid $90 Million In Five Years

The aftermath of a deadly crash that took place in the Bronx last month - Photo: New York Daily News / Contributor (Getty Images)
The aftermath of a deadly crash that took place in the Bronx last month - Photo: New York Daily News / Contributor (Getty Images)

After decades of dedicating city streets to ensuring drivers can get anywhere they want to go as fast and conveniently as possible, cities around the country have slowly started to realize that’s not exactly the best way to do things. While road deaths in every other developed country around the world have been trending down, the U.S. is the only one where they’re still going up. Convincing drivers to care about other people may be an uphill battle, but maybe the prospect of saving tens of millions of dollars might change their minds.

The New York Times reports that when New York City began implementing pedestrian-friendly programs that it termed Vision Zero back in 2014, traffic deaths dropped. According to a new study, those programs also saved Medicaid more than $90 million in just the first five years of Vision Zero alone. Traffic deaths in New York City may still not be zero, but when you combine lower traffic deaths with tens of millions of dollars in savings, the only reasonable conclusion is for more cities to do the same things.

Between 2014 and 2019, traffic injuries dropped a full 30 percent. That means fewer people having their days ruined, but also fewer traffic jams caused by emergency responders, fewer people on disability and so many other positive outcomes. The programs, which followed a Swedish model from the 1970s, have also been a big benefit for low-income New Yorkers who are less likely to drive in the city, as well as Black residents who saw the most significant drop in traffic injuries.


One of the big questions the researchers had was whether or not Vision Zero initiatives only cut down on low-speed collisions such as fender benders without doing anything to prevent more severe crashes. By comparing Medicaid data from NYC with six surrounding counties that didn’t implement any traffic-calming measures, they were able to look at the long-term effects of wrecks even including things like the cost of physical therapy and prescriptions following a crash. In the end, they found that pedestrianizing New York City’s streets not only saved Medicaid nearly $100 million but also reduced serious crashes, as well.

Road injuries did tick up in 2017 and 2018, but the same trend was also observed in surrounding counties. Last year, though, New York City recorded the second-lowest number of road deaths since the Department of Transportation began tracking that statistic back in 1910. Clearly, whether you care about people not getting hurt or killed just trying to cross the street, or if you just care about saving taxpayer dollars, pedestrianizing streets and prioritizing people over cars is just the right thing to do.

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