To the Editor:
The expression “epidemic” is an apt one for the ongoing crisis of pedestrian deaths and injuries by reckless motorists throughout NYC. An especially sick aspect of this epidemic is that effective treatments have been known for a long time but only relatively recently implemented to any degree: consistent traffic law enforcement; slower speed limits; speed and red light cameras: delayed traffic light changes to give crossing pedestrians a head start; curb neckdowns and protective bollards at busy intersection corners; and longer walk light intervals—these especially to give young and old alike a fighting chance to reach the other side intact.
Here’s another apt metaphor: war zone. A war zone, whose dead and injured have until very recent times been viewed more or less as a kind of unfortunate collateral damage by a shrugging city officialdom--including, sadly, our DA offices.
But this attitude is finally changing, thanks in part to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative and to Town Halls like yours, which I had the good fortune to attend.
Just a moment here to express special heartfelt sympathy for all present who had lost loved ones in traffic violence (no longer: “accident”) in recent times. I want especially to thank local resident and mom, Dana Lerner, for sharing her experience with us of the loss of her young son Cooper to a reckless cab driver.
Right down there with reckless cabbies are reckless motorists in general, of which a disproportionately huge number are SUV drivers. I guess partly because the sheer tonnage of their machines makes it especially tedious to apply the brakes, they seem to regard pedestrians in their line of sight as an annoying obstacle to their forward progress. Who hasn’t been intimidated walking in the crosswalk--with the light--by an impatient Escalade/Suburban/Tahoe (etc.) jockey who’s just chomping at the bit to make that turn at the expense of your right-of-way and possibly your well-being?
Last year I joined an outdoor assemblage memorializing Jean Chambers, a long-time UWS resident who was killed on a West End Avenue crosswalk by an SUV driver turning from 97th Street. I was touched by the presence of so many community members at this gathering, including Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who acted quickly to have effective pedestrian safety enhancements put in place at that deadly intersection.
I like the proposal by a letter writer appearing in your Feb. 4 issue to re-sequence traffic lights throughout the city to allow pedestrians to start crossing—safely—while motor vehicles await the green light.
But I think the writer got it wrong in likening the new 25 mph limit to a “band-aid”; traffic crash statistics bear out that you’re much likelier to survive being struck by a vehicle at that speed than one moving at 30 or more (though that probably doesn’t apply to monsters like the Suburban). Drivers also gain greater reaction/braking time to avoid a crash to begin with, so it’s a benefit to all concerned.
And, just maybe motorists afflicted with deluded expectations of getting places fast on NYC’s streets will be somewhat sobered by the new reality of the lower speed limit—which hopefully will in turn curb their tendency to drive in ways that intimidate and endanger pedestrians.
An important key to the new speed limit’s success: consistent and decisive traffic law enforcement.
I want to thank the Spirit’s Editor-in-Chief Kyle Pope for hosting this engaging and vitally important Town Hall meeting, and I hope to attend further open community forums on this theme in the near future.
W. 123rd Street