Crack Down on Drivers, Not iPods

garbage_truck.jpgTwo pedestrians were killed in New York City last December by private sanitation trucks, one on Park Avenue South in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn Heights. Both deaths followed the most common pattern of pedestrian death in New York — the peds were crossing the street, in the crosswalk, with the light, and a turning vehicle ran over them.

Comes now State Senator Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, with a proposal — not to crack down on killer garbage trucks, but to fine pedestrians $100 for crossing a street while wearing an iPod or using a cell phone. This because, according to Kruger, in the last six months two pedestrians
listening to iPods were killed when they stepped in front of
vehicles. Not much information is available on these deaths — like,
for example, who had the right of way. But let’s roll with it, because we
have a chance here to explore the institutionalized dementia of our
city’s thinking about traffic and its perils.

And true to form, the local media play the fool with cheap shots at foolish pedestrians or nanny-state legislators, or both, and miss the real story — as usual.

On Saturday, the Times joined the fray with an editorial, "The iNanny Alert". Here’s an excerpt:

Too many [pedestrians] fail to see or hear that van coming around the corner or that wayward car, which turn out to be far more important to their health and welfare than whatever is on their electronic gizmos.

That "van coming around the corner" is required by law to yield the right of way. And "wayward car" is a startlingly indulgent phrase for speeding, weaving, bullying and other kinds of deadly — and illegal — driving. Where’s the indignation about dangerous driving? Oops, I spoke too soon, here it is:

Far too many traffic officers fail to hand out tickets to bicyclists who don’t follow the rules or to those behind the wheel who speed a few centimeters past a law-abiding pedestrian’s toes.

Tickets to bicyclists?


What have we done now? It’s like Menachem Begin said once, in a different context: Goyim kill goyim, and they come to hang the Jews. In this case, it’s drivers kill peds, and while Kruger wants to hang the peds, the Times wants to hang some… cyclists. Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

But the Times can always be relied on to get things wrong in more ways than one. The tut-tut quoted above also blames traffic non-enforcement on indifferent "traffic officers." That’s like blaming the Iraq fiasco on the grunts in Falluja. Like everything concerning policing in New York City, policy is set at the top — at police headquarters and City Hall.

But let me get back to Sen. Kruger. By one estimate, there are 3,600 private garbage trucks in our town. (Sanitation Department trucks, it should be noted, have a far better safety record.) iPod wearers number hundreds of times more, and they endanger no one, whereas private sanitation trucks, according to at least one study, kill more pedestrians, mile per mile, than any other class of vehicle. But Kruger thinks the problem is the iPod, and nobody — nobody in the media, nobody in government — has a clue just how crazy this is. Because although Kruger is an exceptionally clownish figure, the venerable college of pontificators at the Times shares his fundamental premise: drivers must be indulged, and anybody who gets in their way constitutes, not just a problem, but the problem.

Photo: Robbi Baba on Flickr

  • P

    Excellent rant. The media coverage of this proposal shows how incredibly far we have to go- not just to change the streets of the city but also the attitudes of the ‘influential’ figures of the city.

  • Given how obscenely poorly the cell-phone-while-driving ban is enforced, I don’t think iPoddies have much to fear.

    My bet: this blows over in a day.

  • I read the NY Times article and it just seemed like they were totally out of touch with what’s happening on ground. Take a look at their editorial board.

    http://www.nytimes.com/ref/opinion/editorial-board.html

    Many of them are foreign policy focused with a few locals sprinkled in, but none seem to have much background on public health, transportation, urban design, etc. I would guess that many of them have a behind the windshield perspective similar to many of our top lawmakers…

  • Denton Taylor

    These are not the only private carter stories out there… A few months ago, on 5th Ave in Brooklyn, (Park Slope) a motorist was killed by a private sanitation truck that crossed the center line. I saw the car and it didn’t seem like it was hit all that hard; nevertheless the driver was killed. And the driver of the garbage truck was arrested, not because of the accident, but because he had outstanding warrants.

    Denton

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    Great rant Bro.

    You shouldn’t let Carl Kruger off the hook because, among other things, he is a peculiar species. Clearly a DINO, Democrat In Name Only. He has positioned himself to fuck many a more progressive Democrat. A minority Democrat in a Republican majority State Senate, he has kissed the ring for a couple decades so that he gets a taste for his constituents in the member items. He has used that, historically, for some pretty short sighted transportation stuff. For example, around Kings Plaza, historically a very dangerous place to walk, his constituents faced a lot of traffic chaos. Brought on, in part by the dollar vans, in general by the parking lots at the mall. Nonetheless, what was his institutional reaction? Squack about the dollar vans (mostly Black people), ignore the parking induced traffic, and ultimately, to help add a lane of traffic on Flatbush Ave., thanks Carl. All the time doing every politically underhanded thing he could to screw Freddy Ferrer and anyone else who challenged the powers that be.

    That said, who stands to gain most when the Democrats take over Albany and the Senate? The DINOs, particularly but not limited to Carl Kruger. La plus ca change.

  • ddartley

    I hope a lot of you guys share thoughts like Komanoff’s and your own comments with the politicians and in letters to the papers. It would be sad if most of us vented off our frustration on stories like this here, and then didn’t have the angry energy to also send a concise, publication-worthy ‘letter to the editor’ to the Times. I read that editorial and think it’s positively boneheaded in the way it assigns blame; and I hope to see a properly reproachful letter responding to it published in the Times soon (although I guess time’s running out now).

  • brent

    Dart- You are correct that these issues must be surfaced to the greater community. What is so frustrating, of course, is that so much energy has been spent for these efforts and still the ignorance increases. We take a step forward and are pushed two steps back. That is why I am very supportive of Crit Mass, despite some people’s criticisms that they are not accomplishing anything serious. They say- We are here and nothing you can do will make us go away.- I might have to ride in the next one even if it’s below 5 F.

  • Given how obscenely poorly the cell-phone-while-driving ban is enforced, I don’t think iPoddies have much to fear.

    My bet: this blows over in a day.

    Uh, no, that’s the whole point — the real problem won’t blow over in a day, because the real problem has nothing to do with iPods, but rather failing to hold drivers accountable.

  • Brownstone

    Nice essay, summary:
    Blame the victim, then lynch the survivors and witnesses.
    And get the Times to instigate the lynch mob.
    Brent is too kind, Critical Mass does not go far enough for this level of insanity.

  • Khal Spencer

    One has to wonder if this law would be applied equally to drivers entering intersections while using an electronic device, i.e., yacking on the phone or ripping tunes on their boom boxes (i.e., does “anyone” really mean “anyone”?). I ask that rhetorically, of course. And this is the same newspaper that applauds “Crashworthy Motor Vehicles” in its 3 February op-ed. Small comfort that the next time you are mowed down by a car, you can be assured that the driver is protected by a crashworthy motor vehicle. Yes, I think Glenn is right: the Times Editorial Board probably doesn’t walk to work.

  • Lois

    Having nearly been run over several times by drivers too busy talking on their cell phones to notice the red light they face or me in the crosswalk, I wonder what planet the NY Times folk inhabit.

    For a long time I have wondered why the car is considered sacred in a town in which most people walk. Walking is essential in New York City. And I’ll bet there are great statistics that show that walking is more essential to economic life here than the cars that kill people.

  • IsaacB

    25-30 years ago, “they” banned cycling with headphones “for our own good”. Meanwhile, motorists are free to operate soundproof cars, play their sound systems and use their phones. Why not just mandate cars for all and ban walking, like they do outside of Sadiq-Khan-land?

    Seriously, walkability/livability is finding itself under a multi-pronged assault, from traffic-calming foes, to hucksters peddling “green urban vehicles” as alternatives to walking and cycling.

    What do we need to do to nip Kruger’s insult to peds in the bud?

  • IsaacB

    Thanks, Charles, for the alert.

    25-30 years ago, “they” banned cycling with headphones “for our own good”. Meanwhile, motorists are free to operate soundproof cars, play their sound systems and use their phones. Why not just mandate cars for all and ban walking, like they do outside of Sadiq-Khan-land?

    Seriously, walkability/livability is finding itself under a multi-pronged assault, from traffic-calming foes, to hucksters peddling “green urban vehicles” as alternatives to walking and cycling.

    What do we need to do to nip Kruger’s insult to peds in the bud?