What Do We Do Now?

amd_van.jpgPhoto: Hermann/New York Daily News

Yesterday’s horrific crash in Chinatown has us groping for answers. Why were there no bollards or other design elements to protect pedestrians on such a crowded street? Why did the driver have to double park to do his business? How could he be so careless as to leave his van running and in reverse? How can two more innocent people — preschoolers — die such violent deaths, and no one is held accountable? Would this have happened if our legal system weren’t so cavalier about loss of pedestrian life and limb?

And where are our city leaders today? Please correct us if we’re wrong, but other than Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, we have seen no word from electeds on this senseless tragedy, or on what can and should be done to prevent the next one. How can an issue like parking grace periods earn so much attention from public officials while kids’ bodies under bloody tarps fail to elicit a press release?

Where are you Mayor Bloomberg? John Liu? Alan Gerson? New Yorkers are dying out here.

  • gecko

    Initiatives like Vision Zero and Towards Zero Deaths are the answer.

    There is no sane responsible excuse for not eliminating the grave dangers caused by cars and trucks. Allowing these dangers to persist is a sure sign of our lack of free will and our disconnect with understanding what is truly important and our ability to solve a relatively simple yet life-threatening problem.

  • Every country, state and city should adopt a vision zero policy.

    for this case in particular, the street looks far to wide. If the lanes were narrower to the point where it would be impossible to make a U turn or 3-point turn drivers would circle around the block.

  • Rhywun

    Maybe this will be the one where people pay attention. I know I said that a couple weeks ago when the illegally-driving person mowed down someone else, but I have a feeling this is the one. Yup.

  • The charge should be at least negligent homicide.

  • Streetsman

    1. There needs to be tougher penalties on fatal auto crashes. We need new legislation that gives driving mistakes at least some jail time if pedestrians are killed.

    2. Why can’t cars computers detect if there is someone driving before they start moving?

  • From the NYT: “Chao Fu, 52, of Brooklyn, was not charged; his license and registration papers were in order”

    In other news, plans for an NYC version of James Bond were shelved yesterday when it was realized that every dumbass driver in New York is licensed to kill.

  • Where should we send letters or make phone calls. I’d like to take this around to other blogs, but we need a better idea of how to target the response.

  • gecko

    If this had happen in the subway system MTA would be liable.

    It is curious that although this happened on a manmade city street and by a private vehicle — key elements of what is considered a crucial part of New York City’s transportation system — liability is minimal-to-none almost as if it’s an Act of God perpetuated by a faulty manmade machine and an omniscient sense of no-fault.

  • I suppose writing to District Attorneys’ offices would be one place. I mean, I made my snarky piano remark not be cute, but because I angrily believe it to be very analagous to what happened here. If, like I said, someone was hoisting a piano over a sidewalk and because of their negligence the thing fell and killed someone, I’m sure there would be charges filed. Building contractors get charged for things like that. Why on earth shouldn’t this guy? The attitude among cops and DAs has to change, as has been said on this blog 10,000 times.

    So I’ll be writing to either Morgenthau directly or his Community Affairs office, and emailing Commissioner Kelly.

    New York County
    District Attorney’s Office
    Community Affairs Unit
    One Hogan Place
    Room 824
    New York, NY 10013

  • Sean

    Thank you for posting this. Your questions are so simple, and don’t ask for much more than what we would expect as human beings, and yet sadly they have no answers.

    And they illustrate so clearly the layered magnitude of the issues at hand. This is a problem so deep-rooted that peeling one insurmountable layer only reveals so many more.

    How many more must die before people realize these deaths can be prevented?

  • This is horrible.
    Good commentary though, Brad.

    In the pictures at NYT page you can clearly see that the driver had double parked in a bike lane. That’s also worth mentioning. Like “parking in the bike lane causes danger not only for cyclists but also for peds.” Parking like everybody else wouldn’t cause such situation, the van would have just bump into a car behind him.

  • Antonio López

    What do we do now?

    1. At the cultural level, challenge the language of ideological automobile-centricity by refusing the terms “accidents” and “crashes” in favor of “vehicular violence” or some related, more pro-pedestrian/transit/bicylcing term.

    2. At the state leverl, press the government to dismantle ideological automobile-centricity by enacting laws to protect victims and through policy, planning, and development so pedestrians come first, bicyclists second, transit third, commercial trucks and cars (taxis) fourth, and the private automobile last, with emergency vehicles (patrol cars, ambulances, fire trucks) taking precedence over all when necessary. Further, press the government to invest heavily in transit, bicylcing, and walking infrastructure as the main modes of transportation.

    3. At the level of capitalism, challenge the market production of automobile-centricity by boycotting cars and pushing the state to defund automobile industry subsidies.

    Needless to say, all three of these are related. And, needless to say, one look at the priorities of the economic stimulus package, the non-response of the mayor, etc., suggests one not hold her breath.

  • One thing we do now, and should’ve done years ago if you ask me, is tighten the standards for getting a driver’s license. A tighter standard would hopefully lead to a greater sense of the responsibility that should be entailed in driving a large and potentially dangerous vehicle.

  • Gwin

    I don’t really understand how he could’ve gotten out of the van while it was in reverse. The second you take your foot off the brake, the vehicle starts moving if it is left in gear!

  • Jason

    The culture of reckless ignorance on the part of NYC drives is half the problem. The culture of laziness and incompetence among the NYPD is the other half.

    Whenever I read a story in the New York press about a driver killing a pedestrian due to recklessness – like when they tear around a corner without giving one thought to who might be crossing the intersection on the light – I always know in my heart of hearts that the story is going to end “the driver stayed on the scene and was not charged with a crime,” or “no criminality was suspected.”

    Every time! Every time! It makes my blood boil, because I know damn well that the only reason the cops class these atrocities as “accidents” is because they are too lazy to initiate a criminal investigation and bring the appropriate charges. That would involve filling out paperwork, writing reports, sending a road accident investigation team out, interviewing witnesses, dealing with court cases etc. No, our completely unprofessional donut-dunking NYPD morons know that all they have to do is tick the box which says “accident – whatchagonnado?” and that’s that.

    It really is about time that the NYPD was shaken from root to branch. They have a culture of incompetence and laziness going back decades and they think they’re completely immune from reform in this respect. They’re not professional police officers, they’re chain-smoking, donut-eating, coffee-drinking layabouts who figure they can draw a city salary by simply putting on a uniform and going through the motions every day. Not once to they stop to consider what their role is and how important they are. Their role is to protect the individual rights of the residents of New York City. That includes protecting the right of the individual to walk around the city without being crushed to death by moronic psychopaths who drive like savages when they’re behind the wheel. A huge part of this job is taking these idiot drivers off the road and making them accountable for their stupidity. The NYPD are a failure in this respect.

    If Bloomberg REALLY cared about the people of New York he would forget about all of his tedious, attention seeking novelty acts like trying to get New Yorkers to “eat healthily” etc, and focus his efforts where they’re really needed – forcing the NYPD to get off their asses and stop being so criminally negligent and lazy and do the jobs they’re paid to do.

  • zach

    Perhaps we should be going after drivers in civil court, if criminal court isn’t happening.

    If there had been no pedestrians involved, and he had broken a giant store window, the driver or his insurance would be responsible for it.

    The driver or his insurance is still responsible for paying the parents of the children the value of the lives of the children. Sure, this seems rather cold, and the calculation of the value of the child, mostly by precedent, is particularly cold, but ain’t it better than nothing?

    Is someone already pursuing this?

  • A major issue here is that the Chinatown van was idling.

    NYC has a routinely-ignored, 3-minute idling law already on the books. (Admin Code 24-163) Imagine a cop checking his watch; three minutes is unenforceable.

    NYC needs an enforceable (and enforced) one-minute idling law that targets all vehicles–including EMS vehicles not in the active service. The public needs education to know that the law is there and that they have a right to ask drivers to turn off.

    Here’s how you can help right now:

    Speak out for NYC Intro 2007-631, which restricts idling in school zones to one-minute. This is the first step toward citywide restriction.

    Jan. 26, 2009, 10 AM (250 Broadway, 16th fl.) is the final committee hearing. Come speak your mind!

    Jan. 28, 2009, 9:30 AM (City Hall steps) is the rally before the vote. Come hold a sign, wave a fiery stick, walk on your hands, speak up!

    Let our elected officials know that when it comes to the safety of our streets enough is enough. It is time to get smart and get tough. Idling is harmful to health and environment; it’s wasteful and against the law. Now, we can add ‘dangerous to pedestrians.’

    The Chinatown tragedy might never have happened if the driver had simply turned the key.

  • rebecca, it doesn’t address the 3-minute to 1-minute idling change you propose, but the following item just appeared in the newsletter I just got from my council member, Dan Garodnick:

    “Reducing the Harm Caused by Idling Engines

    Earlier today, the Council’s Committee on Environmental Protection held a hearing on a bill that I authored to empower traffic agents to enforce City laws against engine idling. As you may know, it is illegal for all cars, buses or trucks to leave their engines idling for more than three minutes. Yet the Department of Environmental Protection, which is the lead agency in enforcing the idling law, has only 38 inspectors citywide to do the job. In 2007, according to the DEP, a total of 526 idling summonses were issued to diesel vehicles, and 10 were issued to non-diesel vehicles. That is less than two a day, citywide.

    Idling is prevalent and damaging to New Yorkers’ health, but the rules are largely unenforced. This is an area where we can make dramatic improvements. My bill would make it much easier to step up enforcement of idling violations, by requiring that the City allow our 2,529 traffic enforcement agents to issue idling tickets through their hand-held computers.

    New York City has almost twice the national rate of asthma hospitalizations, with some neighborhoods at four times the national rate. But we cannot tackle the chronic health problems caused by vehicle emissions until we make full use of the resources available to us. We already have the boots on the ground — now it is time to make use of them.”

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