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It’s the cars.

September 12, 2019

With my own daughter not far from starting her own middle school career and even closer to being allowed to walk and take transit by herself, the shocking news of 10-year-old Enzo Farachio’s death this week in Midwood shook me hard. But I don’t need a child around the same age to be aghast at what happened and angry about the response, or lack thereof, from City Hall. However, something about this case made me feel that even if the mayor deigned to speak up about the tragedy and the reprehensible victim-blaming that followed, what good would it do? The bigger problem, in my view, is with the mayor’s approach to making the city safer for people on foot and on bikes.

Yes, DOT has designed many miles of roadway and installed traffic-calming measures across the city to slow down drivers and give more space to pedestrians and cyclists, but there’s been a real cost to Bill de Blasio wasting his bully pulpit to talk about e-bikes, helmet laws and licensing cyclists, among other nonsense. Even when he puts the focus where it belongs on reckless driving or when he speaks up in support of speed cameras and enforcement blitzes against motorists, he misses the mark, at least when it comes to correctly applying the lessons and philosophy of Vision Zero. His is a very 20th-century philosophy that sees the key to traffic safety as just “Everyone obey the law.” This windshield perspective means that he sees nothing wrong with driving itself. Until he does, more people will die.

Let’s assume for a moment that the medical episode excuse is correct and that an investigation will, in fact, confirm that Alexander Katchaloft suffered some sort of seizure before he killed Enzo. Forget all questions of whether he was on any form of medication or had been warned not to drive by a physician, two things any investigation will also determine. The fact that at any moment someone could suffer a seizure, heart attack or even a sneezing fit while operating a car or SUV and crash into a sidewalk, killing a 10-year-old boy or anyone else in his path, shows the limitations of the American interpretation of Vision Zero. No amount of speed cameras, enforcement blitzes, or educational campaigns could prevent such an incident. Even if every driver got the message and obeyed the law you’d still have people like Katchaloft, Dorothy Bruns, and Howard Unger, the motorist who killed three trick-or-treaters (including a 10-year-old girl) in 2015 after allegedly suffering a medical episode while behind the wheel.

The only long-term and sustainable solution to preventing or at least minimizing further tragedies involves three things:

1. Reduce the amount of cars in the city and place heavy restrictions on large vehicles like SUVs and light trucks.

2. Ban cars from as many streets as possible so that people can wait for a bus or sit on a bench or walk to school or the office along a transitway, not de facto highways.

3. On streets where cars can’t be banned, use robust designs and tools like bollards to minimize the risk to innocent pedestrians should a driver crash.

4. Increase transit so that those with medical conditions and others who shouldn’t or don’t actually need to drive have other options.

Does anyone really think Bill de Blasio or really any American mayor believes in pursuing any of the above goals? Or is the only solution, like our country’s approach to gun violence, to lecture bad drivers about their behavior and prosecute those who kill while the rest of us keep our heads on a swivel, trying to anticipate when death might arrive? Is that our only defense? Do we have to accept a certain amount of collateral damage, so long as those responsible are held to account every now and then? Do we have to walk around knowing that at any time we or someone we love could be killed on his or her way home from middle school?

There’s another way. It will take breaking car culture in more ways than one.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. September 12, 2019 12:31 pm

    Bravo.

    Pitch-perfect: <>

  2. September 12, 2019 12:36 pm

    My comment a moment ago was supposed to read:

    Bravo.

    Pitch-perfect: “..at any moment someone could suffer a seizure, heart attack *or even a sneezing fit* while operating a car or SUV and crash into a sidewalk…”

  3. Samuel permalink
    September 12, 2019 1:35 pm

    On point. I have a sister in middle school and I still escort her there, mostly due to the long commute (1+ hour with two transfers). No way I’d suggest biking there or even biking to the subway which would shave 15 minutes off the commute, more with CitiBike. More time to herself would do her a lot of good.

    By this point the mayor has shown his true colors. What could this mean for next steps in advocacy?

    • September 12, 2019 2:38 pm

      As far as advocacy goes, I think it means a lot more direct action. The die-in moved the needle and got results so perhaps advocates have to figure out ways to dominate news cycles and get in politicians’ faces.

  4. Samuel permalink
    September 12, 2019 1:36 pm

    i.e. CitiBike if it were available*

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