Eyes on the Street

Jim Holt asks:

What percentage of the ambulances that blare their sirens to go through red lights are actually carrying patients? Less than 50 percent based on my observations of ambulances arriving at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village. And in no case have I seen the ambulance driver behave with any urgency in getting a patient out of the vehicle and into the hospital upon arrival. So is there any point to the ambulance sirens that are always deafening pedestrians and pulling down the quality of New York street life?

  • chris

    Uh, empty ambulances need to rush to get to the patient? Am I missing something here? It would be weird if rushing ambulances always had patients in them. That would mean they dawdled to the sick.

    They probably should have two volume settings though. Doing 60 on the highway and 20 in midtown are entirely different things.

  • someguy

    Yeah, what Chris said. I’d be pretty skeptical that ambulances would be blaring their sirens and running red lights if it wasn’t an emergency.

  • I’m not so sure, I think they should audit siren usage and see how much is really an emergency. Obviously you should always give them the benefit of the doubt, but siren use is so common, they can’t all be emergencies.

    But this is part of the larger issue of prioritizing street usage for the most important uses – emergency/municipal vehicles (fire, police, ambulance), high passenger occupancy vehicles like mass transit, etc. Bikes and pedestrians can get out of the way pretty easily, while cars cannot!

  • Frank

    i always assumed that a lot of these guys used their sirens because they could. kind of like: i’m hungry, i need a sandwich, get out of my way….

  • someguy

    Frank: Why assume?

    Glenn: I’m skeptical of people with certain priveleges abusing those priveleges as well, but I always assumed that the act of turning your loud, blaring siren on and weaving through traffic that is trying to pull out of your way is disruptive enough that almost anyone’s conscience would feel bad doing it unnecessarily.

    And I agree about prioritizing street space. Before the emergency/non-emergency audit you’ve proposed, how about an audit to determine what proportion of ambulance delay is caused by vehicle congestion versus other factors? I would bet that the majority of ambulance/fire truck/police delay is caused by:
    – traffic
    – double parking
    And only a small minority is caused by pedestrians, bicyclists, having to run red lights, etc. Reducing congestion and increasing enforcement of double parking would thus be the two greatest benefits to emergency response times – now that’s a good selling point for congestion pricing and other ideas, isn’t it?

  • someguy

    I just asked “why assume?” and then assumed in the same post. Kindly move along, nothing to see here.. 🙂

  • Well, someguy, as my 4th grade teacher said, when you assume you make an ass out of u and me.

  • Avid Reader

    I was once a passenger in one of those ambulances southbound on 7th Avenue. My dad fell and broke his hip while hurrying to the RI tram, dragged himself to my apartment and insisted on being my guest for two days before finally yielding to the fact that he was an invalid in great pain and required medical attention. We called 911 but when EMS arrived they said they could not take him to St Vincent’s in GV, his hospital of choice. Then we called whatever ambulance it was that does take you, for a multi-hundred dollar fee (in the 1980s). Although we did not race madly to the hospital from LIC, we never waited for red lights to change, meaning the siren was activated intermittently. The last dozen light runnings were the worst, as all we had to do was wait for the green wave to catch up with us. I wanted to ask the driver to not use the siren and not run red lights since I knew there was no life threatening emergency. I did not ask because A) I didnt want to interfere with thier job performance, B) we (or someone) were going to pay alot for this ride, so why not get the ‘full service’, and C) I assumed that such a request would be laughed at and refused since probably few to no ambulance passenger in NYC ever made such a request. I later moved into a building on lower 7th Avenue and had to endure many needless exposures to said wailing. Many amubulance trips are not carrying trauma and cardiac patients. Most of the wails we hear every day are surely as unnecessary as the impolite honking of impatient and rude motorists who mindlessly complain to the world that its moving too slow. Bottom line is that no smartypants solution to this problem can successfully quiet the ambulance sirens within the context of our oil crazed and time starved civilization of unhealthy over aged self-important people. The sirens will be heard with increasing frequency and volume, get used to it.

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