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“The pedestrians and cyclists are not killing the drivers.”

July 8, 2014

Responding to the sight of four NYPD officers ticketing cyclists on the West Side Greenway, John Massengale penned this blog entry on what it truly means to get to Vision Zero:

Eighty percent of the residents of Manhattan don’t own a car. Most of the more than 45 million tourists who visited Manhattan last year didn’t bring a car with them. But even after all the positive changes on Manhattan streets during the Bloomberg administration, we still have auto-centric policies that only benefit a small number of people dominating the design of the public realm. The car is still king, and as long as it is, we will not get to the zero traffic deaths that Mayor DeBlasio has promised us.

Massengale writes that NYC’s early victories on the road to Vision Zero pale in comparison with what’s happening in other world capitals.

Paris recently announced that with the exception of a few streets, all Parisian streets will have 30 kilometer per hour and 20 kilometer per hour speed limits—our equivalents would be 20 and 12 miles per hour. New York has taken the major and important step of changing the city speed limit to 25 mph, but that is probably just the first step in a process that will eventually make us more like Paris. That’s because a person hit by a car going 25 mph is still 10 times as likely to die as pedestrian hit by a vehicle going 15 mph. And, the driver going 15 miles per hour actually sees almost twice as much as a driver going just 25. Plus, the driver going more slowly also has more time to react, giving the slower scenario a triple advantage over the higher speed limit for saving lives.

The way to make places like the cycle track in the Greenway safe is to think about them differently than we have up until now. Instead of forcing everyone on the sidewalks and tracks to stop and wait during the long red-light cycle required for the left-turn process on the adjacent Joe DiMaggio Highway, the bicycle track and the pedestrian walk should give the advantage to the greatest number of people—the pedestrians and cyclists. The small number of drivers who want to cross there should understand that when they cross they must go slowly enough that they won’t hit or hurt anyone. Experience in Europe shows that when cars and cyclists move at pedestrian speed, everyone can safely negotiate their way without accidents.

Until we have a fundamental reckoning with the place and purpose of automobile use in the densest parts of New York City, more people will die. Vision Zero, while existing in a political sphere, ultimately has to be moved beyond politics.

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3 Comments
  1. July 8, 2014 7:40 pm

    The police were out ticketing at the Brooklyn end of the Manhattan Bridge this morning, presumably on the theory that the cyclist seriously hurt there on Sunday night was entirely to blame for his own fate.

    The continuing madness of the NYPD’s policies is a public scandal and it’s extraordinary that there isn’t more public discourse about this. It’s cars that are killing people and the NYPD’s reflexive desire to excuse drivers’ behavior and demonize others is scary and disturbing.

  2. Jonathan R permalink
    July 9, 2014 11:25 am

    I am suspicious of “moving beyond politics,” but I humbly submit that New Yorkers after 12 years of Mayor Bloomberg are suspicious of a benevolent overlord implementing policies without public input.

    The back-and-forth between the NYPD and DA Thompson in today’s papers about prosecuting low-level marijuana offenses is illustrative. Bratton says PD is just enforcing the laws. Thompson says it’s wasteful to prosecute. Both these positions are “moving beyond politics,” in that they are appealing to other authorities beside democratically elected representation. But they contradict. So eventually the politicians will be obliged to figure it out for us.

    You call for a “fundamental reckoning with the place and purpose of automobile use in the densest parts of New York City,” but it’s not a reckoning if you already have the answer. There’s no shame in wanting the rules changed so that motorists stop killing people with such frequency, but ultimately the changing of the rules is a political process, not something that can be dictated from above. You know this because you started StreetsPAC.

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