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The Rules

September 18, 2012

Via Streetsblog and the Post:

Zingtapan had been returning from lunch with a friend when the cabbie tore westbound across 69th Street, honking his horn, witnesses said.

They said the driver was trying to make the yellow light. Pedestrians including Zingtapan were already crossing 69th.

Whether or not Zingtapan was jaywalking is beyond irrelevant.  If the cabbie was honking his horn, he saw her and her fellow pedestrians.  End of story.  A pedestrian is not an immovable object, but a car is not an unstoppable force.  It has a brake pedal and a driver who can press down on it.  And when a driver sees a thing, speeds up toward that thing, honks at that thing, and runs into that thing and that thing is a human being, that’s where criminal charges should most definitely come into play.  There’s no other way about it.

But we New York City pedestrians are used to this, aren’t we?  Drivers see us in crosswalks and keep going at speed, leaning on the horn the entire time as if to say, “I see you, but if I kill you it will be your own damned fault.”  Why?  Because they have the light.  In such instances, the social contract of the street gets sacrificed on the altar of The Rules.

I’m not sure where along the line it happened, but in today’s New York City there is a strict fidelity to The Rules that now trumps courtesy and common sense; we’ve become so beholden to The Rules that we can no longer distinguish between the irritatingly annoying and the downright deadly.  If a person breaks The Rules, the current thinking goes, he deserves what he gets, whether it’s the severe financial punishment that now accompanies some leisurely rides in the park or the potential for injury and death that comes with crossing the street two seconds before the light turns red.

This adherence to The Rules above all else has not made us safer.  However, it has left us with a city where riding your bicycle on the sidewalk for ten feet warrants a summons because, look, I know that no one was around but The Rules say its illegal to ride on the sidewalk and we need to enforce the law, okay?  And if you roll through an empty intersection on your bike when the light is red you can’t very well ask police to use their discretion when it comes to The Rules, can you?  What are you, an anarchist?

But mow someone down with your car?  Even if there’s indisputable evidence that you saw the person and had plenty of time to make a different choice other than aiming your vehicle directly for them and accelerating, as long as you were obeying The Rules — or at least not violating a bunch of them at once — you’re in the clear.  In the words of the NYPD, it happens.

Ray Kelly, the department he commands, and the tabloids that cry bikes every time a person is almost hit by one have essentially sanctioned the sociopathic behavior of drivers with this mentality.   Because in their universe, so long as a motorist doesn’t violate the most basic, microscopically technical reading of The Rules, he has a license to kill.

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3 Comments
  1. September 18, 2012 4:27 pm

    Nice, but there’s no simple answer. There’s a lot of arsehole cyclists out there, just as there are a lot of arsehole drivers. Granted, the rules support cars, I get that.

    In Amsterdam, obviously it’s the other way round, in London there are no rules. I guess it all comes down to respect and understanding. And that only comes from education and empathy. Its’s the long game, innit…

    http://www.andbike.cc/cycling-and-the-city/ looks at this issue – Cambridge, UK seems to do pretty well at it.

    David
    &Bike

  2. Albert permalink
    September 18, 2012 4:29 pm

    Please, oh, please submit this post to all NY papers as an Op-Ed!

  3. Jesse permalink
    September 19, 2012 12:06 pm

    I second Albert. This is the best articulation of this issue I’ve ever read.

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