Midtown Road Rage Eruption: Is This the Best We Can Do?

We linked to a story in this morning’s headlines about yesterday’s brawl between a yellow cab driver and a pedicab operator in midtown. A Fox 5 reporter on the scene covering the sex scandal du jour caught the whole thing on video. Via Gothamist, here it is.

It looks like the pedicab driver, tired of being honked at by the cabbie, throws his coffee at the taxi as the two exchange words. Not the most conciliatory course of action, to be sure, but the cab driver then raises the stakes considerably, accelerating and slamming into the pedicab. The pedicab operator hits the taxi with both fists, the cab driver exits the vehicle, and a street brawl ensues in the middle of the intersection of Broadway and 53rd.

The pedicab operator eventually throws a trash can at the cab driver, then pedals away. The cab driver sticks around to talk to police. You can’t hear what they’re saying, but at one point he appears to be pointing to damage to his cab. As with other drivers who’ve attacked cyclists and pedestrians with their vehicles recently, it’s doubtful he ‘fessed up to instigating the collision himself.

From a livable streets perspective, there’s a lot to digest here. Consider this an open thread on incivility, street space hierarchy, vehicular violence, pedicabs and yellow cabs, or whatever strikes you about this pathetic episode.

  • Maybe an argument for not getting too annoyed by pedicabs using the Broadway bike lane.

    It’s also hard to know if anything else had taken place in the blocks before 53rd.

    I also liked the shameless and pathetic escape across the sidewalk by the pedicab drivery.

  • *driver

  • Chris

    Lets be honest about this. Your report is extremely biased for the pedicab. You say that his starting action of throwing his coffee at/through the window is no big deal, but then that the cabbie SLAMS into him.

    Its on film man. We can all see what happened. And slammed isn’t it.

    I agree the cabbie was equally wrong and what he did was extremely dangerous had the pedicab not been expecting it.

    But this was pretty much a fair fight in that they are both idiots. People need to be responsible and share the road. Or better yet close them to traffic and make it only for buses.

    If I were an advocate for bicycles I wouldnt want this pedicab being seen riding one.

    But the pedicab guy should be identified from the tape and arrested. For leaving the scene of the accident. You KNOW you’d all be freaking high heck if the cabbie had left the scene.

  • Brooklyn

    Pedicabs are cabs without a driver’s license. They are not cyclists. The two of them in the video deserved each other.

  • Horn honking is a form of physical assault and should be treated as such. No, I’m not kidding.

  • Josh

    Sorry, I can’t agree with that. Horn honking is obnoxious and far too common in the city, but it’s still not the same as physical assault.

  • Paul

    Hey Chris, I’m not sure what story you just read, but I don’t see anywhere that the writer stated throwing coffee “was no big deal.” I also watched the video and the car pretty much slammed in to the pedicab. Sorry, but it’s true.

    I think the pedicab driver should have called the police instead of throwing the trash can and leaving the scene, because with the video the car driver would have been arrested for assault with a motor vehicle.

    Don’t get me wrong, they’re both morons. But when a NYC cab driver goes after someone with his vehicle, whether its a pedestrian, a cyclist or another car, that guy needs to be taken off the road.

    “Freaking high heck?” What century is that from?

  • rex

    They both deserve a night in the pokey. If either one was my employee, double secret probation would ensue.

    Kudos to the two fellas that took an incalculable risk to break up the fight, and expended some effort to keep it from restarting. True citizens.

    Note to pedie-cabbie – Proally ought think about throwing shit at cars. And proally ought to think about your willingness to throw down if you can’t fight.

    Note to cabbie – Nice single leg take down, but if a guy taps out let him up, what were you going to do – Kill him? Oh and buy a belt, nobody wants to see that.

  • ms nomer

    Ditto = Rex.

  • vnm

    Post story on the subject takes the cabbie’s side. Shocker!

  • ddartley

    Here’s why I say horn honking is assault: consider this finding from Sweden’s Lund University Hospital’s study of the health effects of living near loud traffic: “We found that exposure above 60 decibels was associated with high blood pressure among the relatively young and middle-aged, an important risk factor for cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke.”
    http://www.reuters.com/article/lifestyleMolt/idUSTRE58F0DG20090916

    That’s living near traffic. The effects of being honked AT at close range, I believe based on my own experience, is worse. It’s a form of god damned assault. And worse, it’s assault on bystanders too.

  • henry thoreau

    Horn honking is a Physical Assault? Poor baby. Poor, poor baby.

    Time to move out of the city. Or, lower your iPod to 55 dB, don’t ride the subway, and wear white at night, old man.

  • From a cyclists point of view, an approaching vehicle that is honking uncontrollably because the driver wants you out of his/her way is a potentially dangerous situation.

    Driving right up to an unprotected cyclist with a large and powerful machine and honking directly into their ears is clearly assault.

  • Tom

    I’m surprised the cops didn’t ask to see the cabbies driver’s licence. There a 50% chance he didn’t have one.

  • James

    Pathetic is right. The pedicab driver really was the instigator here, though, and he behaved like a douche with his impromptu departure before the cops arrived. Big props to the good samaritans who broke up the fight.

    Re: honking: I can only offer an anecdote, but I spent a year living in Broadway in Kingsbridge and found myself in a literally constant state of fight or flight due to the honking and other vehicle noise (large trucks, packs of motorcyclists revving their engines, ghetto-blaster cars, etc). I ended up with an ulcer and could not get out of there fast enough. The culture of honking in this city is a massive quality of life issue and “henry thoreau”‘s boiler plate BS “move to the suburbs” remark is in no way helpful.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Horn honking is definitely physical assault. It is violent. It is intimate. Honking creates all kinds of automatic fight-or-flight stress hormone responses in my body. I’d almost rather be punched in the face once a year than be subject to NYC motorists’ aggressive selfish sociopathic horn honking every time I step outside my door.

  • beng722

    what in the world was the pedi-cabber doing w/ a cup a coffee anyway??

  • Of course it takes two to tangle.

    But the only thing that should really matter here is that a cab driver, licensed by the city… purposefully used his cab as a weapon and slammed into a pedicab. How does anything–honking, fighting, coffee throwing, garbage can throwing–compare to that?! This man should not be driving.

    And honking for anything other than danger is a ticketable traffic offense (and also rude, selfish, and really annoying). So the taxi driver did start it all, for whatever that’s worth.

    But I guess those of us who don’t drive are just expected to bend over and take it all and always.

    The only shame is that the pedicab driver got whupped in the fight.

  • Woody

    Horn honking is assault. And it’s an assault committed by people who are insulated from their own noise, comfortable in their sealed air-conditioned vehicles.

    Last time I was in Europe, in Northern Italy and Switzerland, horn honking was clearly illegal there and that law was enforced.

    But in NYC? The Mayor revealed that the Number One complaint on his beloved 311 line was about noise, with car noise, honking and car alarms, the largest single part of those complaints. Of course, Mike hasn’t done much about that noise.

  • Ian Turner

    The solution to horn honking has already been proposed here on Streetsblog: Make horns sound as loud inside the car as they do outside the car. This would have a big impact on quality of life nationwide, especially in New York but also in the suburbs Mr Thoreau despises.

  • Bill from Brooklyn

    Two observations: First as regards the incident, both parties were wrong and both parties escalated the matter. Yes, we don’t know what happened prior to the video, but the peddy-cabbber raised the confrontation level with the coffee throwing. That said, the cab driver was responsible for the worst action in the entire video, which was using the cab as a weapon. One hopes there are real consequences for that action.

    Second, most horn honking is annoying. It is not civil. It is aggressive, and depending on the circumstances stressful and it should be better controlled through noise enforcement. But please to equate just horn honking, without other related action (like threatening the use of a vehicle as a weapon) to an assault just serves to trivialize assaults. Not all rude, inconsiderate behavior is an assault.

    Bill

  • Ian Turner

    Bill,

    Would it change your perception of horn honking as assault to know that misting water in someone’s face is also a form of assault?

    –Ian

  • t

    I think it’s a lesson for all cyclists or anyone who’s not in a car: rarely can you be the person who teaches a driver what is “right.” Yelling at them, throwing coffee at them, or taking other aggressive actions — even if you’ve been wronged — simply will not help and only serves to escalate a situation where you are already at the disadvantage.

    There are times to fight back, but from the looks of this video, it seems like the cabbie was going to pull around the pedicab, scream at him for a second, and then drive away. Not civil, of course, but it doesn’t rise to the level of assault. (Harassment, perhaps.) The pedicab driver should have let it pass, but based on his subsequent behavior he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who could have done that in any situation.

  • t

    Ian, I think if you went up to a random person on the sidewalk and blasted an air horn in their face, that would be assault.

    But you’d be hard pressed to make the case that honking a car in an automobile qualifies as assault, even though the decibel level may be the same and the anger may be as well. Except in neighborhoods where it is prohibited — in front of hospitals, for example — one may honk a horn even in cases where danger is not imminent.

    Focusing on the honking is a red herring. If misting water in someone’s face is assault, then I’d assume that throwing hot coffee through a car window is, too. Both the pedicab driver and the taxi driver deserve to be fined, fired, or worse.

    Let’s not use this case as an example of all pedicabs or bikers and all cabbies or drivers. Cars honk at each other and at bikes thousands of times a day without this kind of scene erupting. These were two idiots who couldn’t control their temper.

  • t: “one may honk a horn even in cases where danger is not imminent.”

    Really? My understanding is that honking is illegal except in case of emergency. Please provide citation.

    “Cars honk at each other and at bikes thousands of times a day without this kind of scene erupting.”

    Honking itself is a form of violence. It can cause tinnitus, or ear ringing, a condition that can be permanent — and debilitating enough to drive people to suicide. The stress-inducing effects of noise are also well documented.

  • Bill from Brooklyn

    Ian, misting water in someone’s face would only be an assault in very specific circumstances, where it is unwanted and an aggressive act on the part of the mister. As was pointed out above, the throwing of coffee in this case was also an assault, but I would argue not of the same degree as using a motorized vehicle as a weapon. That said, non-emergent horn honking in and of itself is not an assault. It is rude, aggressive and uncivil, behavior, but unless it is accompanied by a deliberate threatening act it isn’t an assault and to say it is is trivializes real assaults. Please do not misunderstand, I would fully agree that the non-emergent rude horn honker should be penalized and discouraged by adequate enforcement centered on fines.

    Bill

  • ms nomer

    Horn honking is not assault. I’ll definitely agree it’s intimidation. But that’s all. And… really? That’s what everyone is fixating on here? Really?

  • Bill from Brooklyn

    Mark,

    Can you site the studies showing the number of suicides that have resulted from horn honking and the correlation between random horn honking and the onset of tinnitus?

    Please, if you want to be taken seriously don’t over-dramatize and demonize actions. Keep them in context. Language means something and trying to imply horn honking leads to suicide and labeling non-emergent horn honking as violence when there is very real violence in this City is fruitless. Non-emergent horn honking is uncivil, rude and aggressive behavior. It can and should be fined and that is sufficient. There is no need to make it more than what it is. What it is, is not nice or appropriate in civil society, which is why it should be fined, but do not equate horn honking with acts that are demonstrably worse.

    Bill

  • I’d agree that both of these guys are suffering from testosterone poisoning, escalated inappropriately and should have consequences for what they did.

    While the common definition of an “assault” typically involves some kind physical impact upon the victim, the common-law legal definition of “assault” includes merely putting someone in reasonable apprehension of physical harm without any physical contact. Since it is generally illegal to use a horn except to give a “reasonable warning of danger,” the motorist that honks while tailgating a bicyclist should be interpreted as giving a warning that the motorist is about to run over the bicyclist. The honking puts the bicyclist in reasonable apprehension of physical harm and may (depending upon the jurisdiction) constitutes an assault in the technical legal sense. And putting aside criminal charges, most states (including New York) recognize that causing another person emotional distress by placing them in fear of a physical impact, is a tortious act that can give rise to a civil lawsuit for damages.

    And it is hardly far-fetched to imagine abusive and illegal motor vehicle honking at an unshielded traffic participant giving rise to actionable emotional distress. For an unshielded bicyclist or pedestrian to be honked at by a motor vehicle in close proximity is extremely startling and alarming, and causes all the physical symptoms that Marty and dartley talk about above. At a minimum, the bicyclist almost involuntarily looks behind them and may injure themselves by swerving precipitously to avoid the presumed oncoming danger.

    Very few motorists understand this. They think nothing of honking at a bicyclist as a means to intimidate them to the margin of the road. I bought myself a speedometer recently to see if this only occurred when I was moving slowly, but I find that it still occurs when I am cruising in the middle of the traffic lane nearest the curb (as is my right to do) at 20+ MPH. The honking starts almost immediately when I attempt to ride in the middle of the traffic lane on one of the Central Park transverse roads, because most motorists feel entitled to ride on these roads well in excess of the 30 MPH limit. Moreover, even apparently well-meaning motorists will honk while passing a bicyclist with plenty of room to spare, because they seem to think they are promoting safety by “advising” the bicyclist of their presence with the horn. Or maybe it is just a way of communicating the view that any time they are motoring past a bicyclist, they are creating a danger that must be warned against by honking the horn.

    While attempting legal action in response to the typical honking abuse scenario (a honk or two and the motorist moves on) would be silly, in other scenarios legal action could be perfectly appropriate. Once I faced a motorist who was angry because I wouldn’t exit the traffic lane when he tried to honk me out of it. He changed lanes as if to pass, but then harassed me by riding alongside me while yelling at me and then starting to merge into or directly in front of me, over and over. He never touched me, but this may well have been some form of assault and was certainly unlawful. If the taxi driver in the video clip had closely tailgated and repeatedly honked at the pedicab operator for an extended period, I would put him in the same category. There’s not enough info in this video to determine whether that took place here. (And, even if the taxi driver had done so, that still would not excuse the pedicab operator’s response).

    CM Comrie’s speculation that pedicab operators drive recklessly because they view themselves as “wearing a cloak of environmental friendliness” just doesn’t ring true with me. IMO, those pedicab operators that ride recklessly and unpredictably do so for the same reason that some cab drivers are reckless and unpredictable: because they have a financial incentive. If all the pedicab operators saw themselves as some kind of “green brotherhood” on the road as Comrie suggests, they be sporting slogans and/or would show extraordinary courtesy to fellow bicyclists. In my experience this is only rarely the case. Because pedicab operators have a financial incentive to do potentially dangerous things like circling while looking for a potential fare, or suddenly swerving to the curb to pick one up, they should be regulated to require signaling devices and subject to fair but meaningful traffic law enforcement comparable to that applied to taxicabs.

  • Doug

    The honking discussion really misses the point. Legal or not, it happens. Only enforcement — by officers of the law, and not coffee wielding pedicab drivers — will reduce it.

    So, accepting that honking regulations are not regularly enforced…

    A car rides up behind you and honks. You’re on a bike or some other form of pedaled transportation. The car’s driver keeps honking. You have a cup of coffee in your hand — real safe, by the way — and you have two choices:

    1. Let the driver pass, even if he keeps honking and yelling at you.
    2. Throw your coffee at him.

    It’s when you choose option 2 that the honking argument becomes TOTALLY irrelevant. I know we all naturally want to side with the underdog in a situation like this, and most of us identify with the pedicab simply because he’s on a bike-like object, but one act of aggression does not warrant another. If we as a community are seen as excusing someone’s behavior simply because he’s on two wheels — or three — and not four, then we have no moral standing. A little nuance is needed in parsing out this scene, but so is a strict sense of right and wrong.

    The pedicab driver should not have thrown his coffee. Period. Who knows what is not shown before the video starts, but that act right there is enough to get most of the Fox 5 watching NYC public on the taxi driver’s side.

  • I think their behavior was comparable but their weapons weren’t. One has a car and the other doesn’t and that is an important distinction. Just like a gun owner has greater responsibility so does a car driver. Now, they should both get traffic violations for blocking traffic for their fight. But menacing someone with a car is something that cannot be tolerated. Bikers and pedestrians aren’t always better than drivers–often they’re not–but they don’t have a motorized machine that can easily kill someone.

    That being said we really need to develop better ways to give feedback to cars about how their actions are improper–but it’s difficult when you are speaking to someone often higher up and enclosed in metal and glass. I’ll give three illustrations from my recent history one, I’m not overly proud of the first the second I’m not sure about, the third was handled well, I believe:

    1) I was walking in Foggy Bottom near a gas station and the car comes flying out of the station onto the sidewalk (via curb cut) waiting to make a right hand turn blocking my friend and me off. I spit towards the vehicle in disgust (yes, not overly pleasant, I know… I don’t think I actually hit the car but spitting on sidewalks is bad enough). The driver slams on the brakes and I go to the window and apologize for spitting (realizing I am an idiot and have made the situation worse) but tell him that pedestrians are walking on the sidewalk and he can’t just pull out in front of them and block it. Needless to say it didn’t go well. I walked to his window to apologize and he punched me in the face and then kept on repeating he was going to get out of the car. Lesson: even if you do no damage and don’t even touch the car, don’t lose the upper hand and make things worse. And you put yourself in danger, the punch was light, but I walked behind his car and am probably lucky he didn’t back up into me. And he went from being a reckless driver to a reckless and angry driver.

    2) I was in the right hand lane going down L St. in DC and a car behind me starts honking. I turn around and he’s trying to make a right hand turn and wants me to either go onto the sidewalk or into the next lane of traffic so he can make his turn. Annoyed by his honking I stayed there and he kept on honking until the light changed. Lesson: I don’t know. As a biker I try to accommodate cars as much as I can. I don’t _want_ to get in their way I just want to be safe and get to work. Should I have just let him go? Should I have said, “sir, please don’t honk at me, I am doing this legally and I don’t want to block you but please at least get my attention in a less obnoxious fashion”? I am not sure what I should have said.

    3) A woman in DuPont circle was pulled onto the P St. bike lane entering the circle. I pulled up next to her, knocked on her window and told her she was in the bike lane as politely as I could. She said “oh, sorry… and I’m lost, how do I find GWU?” I gave her directions and she was on her way, hopefully paying more attention to bike lanes and bikers. Lessons: talk, be nice, hopefully they listen?

    Conclusions:

    Infrastructure is important. Curb cuts are points of conflict. So is DuPont circle which confuses cars and makes them pay less attention to pedestrians and bikers. On L St. maybe a separated turn lane… but mostly that was not an infrastructure problem.

    Talk. Being able to talk to cars is important… too often when you try they speed away. Sometimes you do things out of anger/to get their attention and often those make things worse. But when you have the chance to talk civilly to cars you should. It might help? But also keep your cool, and keeping it when you feel your life is/was just in danger can be difficult but it’s important. None of us want to be the pedicab driver even if he was provoked. But we need ways to fix these conflicts.

  • Doug

    Except that long after the fight seemed over, and long after they had both set down their disproportionate weapons (a car and a pedicab) for a more equal choice (their fists) the pedicab driver hurls a garbage can at the taxi driver.

    Odd that so many of my fellow livable streets advocates seem more interested in making excuses. There’s an old Yiddish saying, loosely translated: “A jerk is a jerk and a mensch is a mensch.” The pedicab driver and the taxi driver are both jerks.

  • Only thing I have to say is that Iranian Wrestling is one of the worlds finest… point-in-hand.

  • dporpentine

    People who honk horns at people on bikes for purposes of intimidation understand that what they’re doing is painful and threatening. That’s why they do it. (By the way, I’m not a fan of the “helpful” honk either–the one where someone honks to say “hey, I’m passing really close to you and might kill you but at least I’m warning you about it.” Stop honking and just stay clear! I’m going to beat you to the light anyway!)

    If honking at all passes legal muster as assault, I’ll gladly place it there.

  • J:Lai

    I agree that both guys are jerks and it is not at all clear that the cab driver was the bigger one. This does not even come to close to worst level of threatening/aggressive behavior that cyclists experience daily from drivers.
    The pedicab rider should have yelled, given him the finger maybe, and moved on.

    After watching the video several times, it is not clear to me that the driver used his car to strike or assault the pedicab. I think he definitely blocked the path of the pedicab, but I can’t tell if did more than that – reasonbable people could certainly disagree on whether assault charges would be warranted.

    The fact is that street space, especially in midtown, is scarce. A majority of this space is used by motor vehicles right now. As cyclists and pedestrians, we should try to change the allocation of space, and we should try to get drivers to share the road with us through legislations, law enforcement, and education. But we also must recognize current realities and ride accordingly.

    Regarding the horn honking, sometimes it is an exercise of driver entitlement, but sometimes it is actually well meaning but drivers don’t realize how aggressive it sounds to bikers or pedestrians. Unless you ride in the city and know how it feels to have cars passing you from behind, with little clearance, and honking loudly, you probably don’t realize how nerve-wracking it can be.

  • zgori

    Pedicab driver is an idiot, but the taxi driver is a psychopath. Also, those metal trash cans are very heavy.

  • Bill from Brooklyn:

    I myself suffer from horn-induced suicide (a single incident) and have frequently contemplated suicide as a result of it.

    Your thoughtless comments anger and upset me. You literally add insult to injury.

    I will never hear silence again.

  • Two idiots meet, mayhem ensues. I don’t see much to digest here, except that we need to tougher laws against frivolous honking, and then the police need to enforce them. (Yes, I’m a dreamer.)

    Let’s forget the question of whether honking is assault. The fact that this causes a debate her shows that the idea won’t have any traction outside of Streetsblog. Regardless of whether honking is assault, we may hurt our cause if we overstate our case.

  • Excuse me, I meant “horned-induced tinnitus.”

  • I brought up honking because of the last line of the story: “Consider this an open thread on incivility, street space hierarchy, vehicular violence, pedicabs and yellow cabs, or whatever strikes you about this pathetic episode.”

    So Doug, I felt that honking precisely does NOT “miss the point.”

    You yourself tackle the event from a “who started it” point of view, and so was I trying to.

    You say the pedicabber started it with his coffee; I say the cabbie started it with his horn. And, maybe without enough explanation, I simply contended that honking like that is a form of assault. I didn’t go so far as to say that it should always be treated as LEGAL, “capital A” Assault (although personally I do think that would be fair).

  • sorry–cont’d:
    The cabbie was out of line by honking, and so he’s the one who started the uncivil event, regardless of how badly the pedicabber then responded.

  • alicelittle

    I am disturbed by all the violence in this video–especially a the cabbie ramming a bicyclist with a 2-ton vehicle–but also by the laughter I hear throughout the recording. Who finds this type of incident funny?

  • Doug

    ddartley, I agree with you. In an open thread about civility, a discussion about honking is appropriate.

    I would, however, like to point out that if the cyclist felt he was so wronged, why did he not stick around? The cabbie stays and talks to the police. We often complain on here about drivers leaving the scene of an accident or incident, so why let the pedicab driver’s behavior go unmentioned?

  • Cool, Doug, I just didn’t feel like bothering to mention that the pedicabber was an a-hole because it’s clear from the video. I only cared to bring up the old true theme that honking is not an acceptable part of the city soundscape just because it’s part of the city soundscape, and I think honking is what started this incident.

  • I realized after posting, Doug, that I should have explicitly called out the pedicab operator for leaving the scene. From the video it seems the cab driver is trying to stop him from doing so.

    Of course, if the pedicab guy had stayed he probably would have been charged for damaging the cab that ran into him.

  • Velocentric

    1. Pedicab acting like a douche sipping his latte while loitering in the travel lane.
    2. Cabbie being a douche by laying on of horns. Thus increasing the pedicab’s enjoyment.
    3. Pedicab steps it up a notch throwing sticky hot liquid on the pretty cab and into open window.
    4. Cabbie goes into half-assed felonious assault mode with a lethal weapon.
    5. Both proceed to entertain and disgust onlookers with their hairy backs and legs rolling in the street.

    The douchebag winner is the pedicab driver for starting the whole thing, for losing the brawl and tossing the can.

  • Geck

    I think the honking discussion is highly relevant.
    The intimidating action likely caused the fight or flight response in this apparently volatile individual who ultimately both fought and fled.
    I don’t think it has been widely discussed how intimidating it is to honk at a bicyclist simply because they are in the road.

  • Being honked at by a car I didn’t know was tailgating me is literally hair-raising. Invariably, I give the finger in response.

    My threshold for acceptable honking is:

    – Is there danger?
    – Is this a public scolding?

    It’s permissible, I think, to honk at a city bus driver who clips (say) a red light making a left turn from the center lane, and proceeds to block car traffic in both directions for the next light cycle. People should be shamed, honking is the way to do it in cars.

    But it’s tremendously socially disruptive, should really be reserved for traffic sewers, and I’d love to see ticketing for folks who honk when there’s no danger. The cops could enforce it with:

    “Why did you honk?”

    And if the answer isn’t “I thought this guy was gonna hit me!” then you’d write him up.

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