THE COMMUTE: This column focuses primarily on buses and subways, although we also cover issues of interest to motorists. We have discussed air travel several times, as well as transit in other cities. One subject we have not touched upon is the pedestrian. We all are pedestrians at one time or another, unless you use a scooter to get around. We have ignored pedestrians thus far because websites such as Streetsblog vehemently advocate for the rights of pedestrians and cyclists while other than chat groups, there are few if any sites advocating for bus or subway riders.
During the past several weeks, there has been a surge of pedestrian deaths on the Upper West Side as well as a bicycle fatality in Harlem. In fact, it seems like every day we hear of another vehicle going out of control or a pedestrian death somewhere in the city. So what is going on and what is the city doing in an effort to curb pedestrian deaths? Mayor Bill de Blasio has a plan for Vision Zero, which would reduce pedestrian deaths. The plan includes more cameras, which I have no problem with, as long as safety remains the prime focus and not revenue. When anticipated revenue from cameras becomes part of following year’s budget, then we have a problem.
There have been 17 fatalities thus far this year, as Streetsblog reported in its “The Weekly Carnage” roundup. The article suggests that charges should have been filed in all cases. When you read the attached articles, however, you learn that two of the drivers suffered medical emergencies, which caused the accidents and they were both pronounced dead, so no charges could be filed. In another case, a pedestrian was jaywalking. The taxi driver that struck Cooper Stock appeared to be guilty of reckless driving since the driver did not slow down while making a turn, though all the facts still are not known. A car making an illegal turn was responsible for a death in Maspeth and a tour bus driver claimed he never saw a pedestrian on the Upper West Side.
I have seen too many drivers who, when making a turn, look only for other cars and do not even consider that pedestrians may be crossing as well. There is no information given about the car striking the homeless man in Queens, and the report about the bus killing the cyclist in Harlem leaves many unanswered questions as to who was in the wrong in that incident. All the deaths were not the fault of the motorist and all were not preventable, contrary to what Streetsblog would like you to believe. Some of the witnesses state that better signage and street design, as well as more law enforcement, also could save lives and that the intersections have been problematic in the past.
Safety Is Everyone’s Responsibility
It doesn’t matter if you drive, cycle, or walk. Everybody must make safety their highest priority. Drivers must always be aware of the damage a two-ton vehicle can cause and be aware of cyclists when opening and closing car doors. Cyclists must be especially careful when passing parked cars, riding on potholed streets, and passing other vehicles. Any cyclist who believes he doesn’t need a helmet or to wear reflective or light-colored clothing at night is a fool, even if it is not required by law. I can think of numerous instances in which the only way I was able to see a cyclist at night without side or rear reflectors while driving was because of the reflective strips on their sneakers. Pedestrians also do not realize how difficult they are to see when wearing dark colored clothing, especially at dawn and dusk, or if they are walking where a motorist does not expect to see them.
Pedestrians must always be aware when crossing the street. Just because the traffic light says “Walk,” it is not prudent to just start walking without first looking first to see if a car is barreling down on you trying to make the green light he or she already missed. Yet, I see many pedestrians not paying attention to their surroundings when crossing the street. Worse are the ones with headphones blaring in their ears or those who text. Walking across the street requires your full attention, just as driving or cycling does.
An eight-year-old walking with his sister was recently killed crossing Northern Boulevard in Woodside after being struck by a turning truck. Most likely he wasn’t aware that the rear wheels of a tractor trailer take a very different path from the front wheels by as much as seven feet when making a turn. Drivers as well as pedestrians need to be especially careful. I would like to know why an eight-year-old was allowed to cross such a busy street without adult supervision. (My parents didn’t allow me to cross busy streets by myself until I was 12.) Why wasn’t a crossing guard posted there, who could have told the child to move out of the way, before the accident?
Yet, not every accident is avoidable or caused by the driver of a motor vehicle. There are medical emergencies and mechanical failures too. Pedestrians and reckless cyclists also cause accidents. Police Commissioner William Bratton claimed that pedestrians contributed to motor vehicle accidents where pedestrians were involved 73 percent of the time. That was disputed by Streetsblog, which stated that statistic is more like seven or eight percent. We do not know Bratton’s source or if he made an error, but that statistic led police to hand out 10 jaywalking summonses of $250 each on the Upper West Side after three separate fatalities within a single week. First of all, when did the fine rise to a ridiculous $250?
Less than 10 years ago, when jaywalking was last enforced along Queens Boulevard after a rise of pedestrian fatalities there, it was a mere $20. Fines for individuals and small businesses during the Bloomberg years have gone through the roof, while major multi-billion dollar corporations still receive ridiculously low fines, which they can simply write off as the cost of doing business. Whatever happened to fairness and the punishment fitting the crime? Also, why give summonses to pedestrians when sometimes, because of turning vehicles, it is actually safer to jaywalk than to cross at a traffic signal? Something is wrong.
Every Traffic Fatality Needs To Be Fully Investigated
Considering the relatively low number of drivers who are charged, something certainly seems amiss. Many believe if you are sober, have a proper driver’s license, are not speeding or breaking any other law, that you are rarely punished for causing a traffic fatality. That does, indeed, seem to be the case. Sometimes charges are filed at a later date, but if the media does not report it, we are left wondering, believing justice wasn’t served. I didn’t notice proper investigations of all accidents as part of the mayor’s Vision Zero. The police need to better justify the reasons for their decisions.
Right Of Way
Drivers who do not give the right of way to pedestrians at intersections are a big problem in this city. It also does not matter if a traffic signal or a crosswalk exists — pedestrians always have the right of way except at “T” intersections without crosswalks or traffic signals. Many are not sure what giving the right of way even means. The way I see it, if a pedestrian is crossing the street, and you are forcing him to stop so that you can complete a turn, you are violating his right of way. However, if you can complete your turn without forcing the pedestrian to slow down, you are not interfering with him and are doing nothing wrong by turning first.
I know some will disagree, thinking you must stop your car as soon as the pedestrian steps off the curb. However, with the number of pedestrians crossing some streets, if every car did that, you would only be able to make a turn after the light turned red. Or else, you would chance being stuck in the same place indefinitely, since pedestrians will be waiting again to cross at the next green signal.
Common sense must prevail and there must be better education for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists who should be required to wear reflective clothing at night. They certainly should not ride without an operating headlight at night, which I see all too often.
Here are Gridlock Sam’s 10 common sense suggestions to reach Vision Zero, such as better lighting at intersections. These all seem to be very reasonable.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at]sheepsheadbites [dot]com.