Why Is the Manhattan Institute Afraid of Livable Streets?

The term “livable streets” first surfaced in 1981. That’s when UC Berkeley urban planning professor Donald Appleyard made it the title of his path-breaking new book on the social effects of cars on cities. But it was the advent of Streetsblog and the livable streets movement 25 years later that brought the term into public view.

According to surveys, ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/09/14/one-year-later-businesses-and-residents-back-safer-union-square/##local businesses benefit from the livable streets improvements at Union Square##, and data shows there's less speeding without affecting congestion for the worse. So why does the Manhattan Institute claim that projects like this are part of a "war on cars"? Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/8698135@N07/4993752378/##c34/Flickr##

The beauty of “livable streets” and of the movement bearing its name is that it unites under one rubric what had long been largely separate concerns — better bicycling, safer walking, affordable transit, inviting public spaces, urban sustainability. The term also recasts a negative as a positive, turning what could appear invasive — “getting people out of their cars” — into something situational: creating streets for people.

Try telling that, though, to the folks at the Manhattan Institute, who this week published a spectacularly retrograde piece, Idle in Manhattan, by one Herbert London, retired academician and one-time NY State Conservative Party candidate for governor. Writing in the Institute’s City Journal, London trots out one canard after another: Londoners “grudgingly” tolerate congestion pricing … “Most bicyclists in Manhattan are delivery carriers” … “In one hour [at the First Ave. bike lane] I counted just two bicycles” … “the mayor[‘s] efforts to control traffic … have only increased congestion.”

It takes about a minute of fact-checking or direct observation to rebut these claims. But what’s striking about (Herbert) London’s diatribe isn’t just its counterfactualism, but its willful ignorance of how livable streets change the way urban transportation systems function.

Pondering the genesis of the Bloomberg administration’s bike lanes and pedestrian plazas, London can’t conceive that the mayor was connecting the dots between physical activity, fighting obesity and downsizing health-care costs. Or had learned from his planning and transportation commissioners about cities in Europe where active transportation (biking and walking) accounted for as many as half of all trips, and workers, residents and tourists alike flocked to the city centers. Or thought it was worth putting a handful of districts on a road diet to see if the maxim that turning more street space over to cars produces more gridlock, could be run in reverse.

No, according to Herbert London, the mayor’s attempt to try out livable streets practices in New York is proof that “the Bloomberg administration has declared war on the automobile.”

Yet the facts show that city drivers aren’t victims of the emerging street paradigm, they’re beneficiaries — not just in Midtown, where car speeds have risen following introduction of the Broadway plazas, but throughout the Manhattan Central Business District.

Where the official report to the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission found that “GPS data for October 2007 show that taxi trips average … 8 mph within the CBD as a whole (below 60th Street), between 8 am and 6 pm,” taxi GPS data from October 2010 now put the average at 9.5 mph. In percentage terms (which is where, mathematically, travel time savings accumulate), this 1.5 mph gain is huge — enough to save commuters and truckers over 50,000 hours a day. Even applying very conservative “values of time,” that’s half-a-billion dollars a year New Yorkers are holding onto by not sitting in traffic.

What brought this change? The recession is partly responsible, for sure, but in previous downturns traffic congestion never eased to this extent. There are a host of other likely factors — the reinforcing effects of three decades of capital investment in mass transit, the rising use of unlimited farecards, a shift of the zeitgeist toward both active transportation and transit-friendly smartphones, and, yes, the provisions being made for walking and cycling, including the public plazas and bike lanes sneered at by Mr. London, which allow New Yorkers to get around more and drive less.

The irony is that not long ago, the Manhattan Institute was actively engaged in untangling threads like these. In 2006, it commissioned transportation savant Bruce Schaller to examine the gridlock-busting potential of congestion pricing, and it presented his findings at a major forum. The buzz from that meeting, along with a Times op-ed by Bruce (now a deputy commissioner at NYC DOT) and his then-colleague Hope Cohen (now at RPA), helped set the table for the mayor’s PlaNYC push the following spring. But that was before conservatism congealed into resistance and denial, and urban livability became anathema to the right wing.

  • Open Guest

    Is this intended to be ironic “Including the public plazas and bike lanes sneered at by London?” These are popular in London, which is why the previous socialist mayor and the conservative who defeated him have both strongly supported them.

  • Anonymous

    I think it is a mistake to conflate individual authors with publications or organizations.

    The article in question is a signed opinion piece, which normally means that it contains the author’s opinion and not necessarily the official position of the journal or of the institute.
    Just like every op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal doesn’t necessarily reflect the position of the WSJ’s editors.

    (Yes, I think the article in question is full of s___.)

  • Glenn

    Following politics over the last 15 years or so, it seems conservatives continuously objected to “status quo” which means, they are not really conservative anymore, but rather “right-wing Activists”. Advocacy usually requires coming up with viable, tangible alternatives, not just rejecting the status quo. But Right wing activists realized that they just wanted talking oints, not actual solutions to persistent policy dilemnas. So they take the easy way out of adocacy. Propose solutions as a distraction, then if that solution is accepted into policy making, object that that and continue to fight the status quo. This is Nihilism and it needs to be called out at every turn.

  • Daphna

    Doesn’t the Manhattan Institute want to be respected?  I guess not because otherwise they would not have published Herbert London’s factually incorrect article in their City Journal (even as an opinion piece).  Publishing something so made-up as London’s story is the kind of sensationalist fake journalism done by the Inquirer and other tabloids.  To keep any sort of respect, they had better publish a factually correct article on the same subject as soon as possible.  The Manhattan Institute members, by even accepting and publishing such a piece, are showing themselves to be harmful, behind the times, and willfully dismissive of the real facts and statistics about liveable streets.

  • Spongebob

    Open Guest — read this post again, looking carefully for the word “London”.

  • Jeff

    War on the automobile?  The automobile declared war on our cities sixty years ago.  We’re now just waking up and realizing that we’re under attack.  And based on the casualties on each side of this war, I’d say the automobile is still kicking ass.

  • City Journal is the best source bar none for insightful essays and analysis from the right. I’ve been reading them for 10 years now. I’ve also not been making them much money. The Manhattan Institute is part of the right wing think tank archipelago, and it has bills to pay. Looks like they got their marching orders this week. It’s a shame. 

  • Conservative Biker

    qrt, you may be right in that it’s a mistake to conflate conflate author’s opinions with a publication’s or organization’s point of view.  The New York Times often publishes conservative view points, but no one honestly believes that the paper generally reflects a conservative mindset.

    However, a publication or organization should have minimal standards for facts, research, and citations regardless of point of view.  It’s perfectly fine to be against pedestrian plazas and bike lanes, and there may be cases in which the facts support their removal.  But London’s essay does not rise to any minimum standard of intellectual argument, lacks a single citation beyond a New York Post article, and in so doing tarnishes the Manhattan Institute “brand,” so to speak. 

    If the Manhattan Institute can allow this type of drivel to pass for intellectual analysis, what other questionable material are they allowing to be published under their banner?

  • Conservative Biker

    qrt, you may be right in that it’s a mistake to conflate conflate author’s opinions with a publication’s or organization’s point of view.  The New York Times often publishes conservative view points, but no one honestly believes that the paper generally reflects a conservative mindset.

    However, a publication or organization should have minimal standards for facts, research, and citations regardless of point of view.  It’s perfectly fine to be against pedestrian plazas and bike lanes, and there may be cases in which the facts support their removal.  But London’s essay does not rise to any minimum standard of intellectual argument, lacks a single citation beyond a New York Post article, and in so doing tarnishes the Manhattan Institute “brand,” so to speak. 

    If the Manhattan Institute can allow this type of drivel to pass for intellectual analysis, what other questionable material are they allowing to be published under their banner?

  • Anonymous

    Conservative Biker, I agree that we can conclude from the publication of this article that the City Journal (and by extension the Manhattan Institute) has “lax editorial standards”, to put it politely. But we don’t have enough information to conclude that the Institute itself is “afraid of livable streets”.

  • Bolwerk

    The goal of organizations like the Manhattan Institute is to manufacture “conventional wisdom” and then exploit confirmation bias surrounding that “conventional wisdom.” If the focus were on finding solutions to problems, the focus would be on thinking, not “conservative thinking.”  An imaginary war on the automobile is as much hokum as Obama’s birth certificate: a mindless distraction intended to put their opponents on the defensive. And, yet, it’s more effective in a New York Post headline than all the facts and figures laid out in this blog post. Even most triple-digit IQs won’t really consider it strange because it’s so familiar, and double-digit IQs will actively defend it with jihadist vigor any time it is even questioned. Authoritarian groupthink is a very powerful force and, unfortunately, there is no truly effective antidote to it in the reality-based community.

    As for, why are they afraid? Well, if they’re anything like Reason, they probably get the occasional pittance from the Koch Bros. or other entrenched petroleum interests to fabricate some Reasoning. Besides, making sure everyone has a driver’s license and a car registration does a lot of the police state’s work for it.

  • Bolwerk

    The goal of organizations like the Manhattan Institute is to manufacture “conventional wisdom” and then exploit confirmation bias surrounding that “conventional wisdom.” If the focus were on finding solutions to problems, the focus would be on thinking, not “conservative thinking.”  An imaginary war on the automobile is as much hokum as Obama’s birth certificate: a mindless distraction intended to put their opponents on the defensive. And, yet, it’s more effective in a New York Post headline than all the facts and figures laid out in this blog post. Even most triple-digit IQs won’t really consider it strange because it’s so familiar, and double-digit IQs will actively defend it with jihadist vigor any time it is even questioned. Authoritarian groupthink is a very powerful force and, unfortunately, there is no truly effective antidote to it in the reality-based community.

    As for, why are they afraid? Well, if they’re anything like Reason, they probably get the occasional pittance from the Koch Bros. or other entrenched petroleum interests to fabricate some Reasoning. Besides, making sure everyone has a driver’s license and a car registration does a lot of the police state’s work for it.

  • Bolwerk

    The goal of organizations like the Manhattan Institute is to manufacture “conventional wisdom” and then exploit confirmation bias surrounding that “conventional wisdom.” If the focus were on finding solutions to problems, the focus would be on thinking, not “conservative thinking.”  An imaginary war on the automobile is as much hokum as Obama’s birth certificate: a mindless distraction intended to put their opponents on the defensive. And, yet, it’s more effective in a New York Post headline than all the facts and figures laid out in this blog post. Even most triple-digit IQs won’t really consider it strange because it’s so familiar, and double-digit IQs will actively defend it with jihadist vigor any time it is even questioned. Authoritarian groupthink is a very powerful force and, unfortunately, there is no truly effective antidote to it in the reality-based community.

    As for, why are they afraid? Well, if they’re anything like Reason, they probably get the occasional pittance from the Koch Bros. or other entrenched petroleum interests to fabricate some Reasoning. Besides, making sure everyone has a driver’s license and a car registration does a lot of the police state’s work for it.

  • ’cause they’re conservative nutters?

  • ’cause they’re conservative nutters?

  • ’cause they’re conservative nutters?

  • Nicole Gelinas

    Hi Charles —

    I speak for no one but myself.

    Do you think that it is fair for you — or your headline writer — to take a signed opinion piece and extrapolate from that piece that “the Manhattan Institute [is] Afraid of Livable Streets”? 

    I work at the Manhattan Institute. I have been pushing for better mass transit for years. Mass transit helps livable streets. 

    In 2007, on congestion pricing, I wrote this:

    “[Mayor] Bloomberg’s congestion-pricing plan makes some sense. Manhattan’s roads are a scarce resource, and the only two ways to allocate scarce assets are 1) waiting and 2) pricing. Right now, we do waiting – in the form of gridlock traffic. Despite some problems in the details – e.g., fears that Manhattanites will be plagued by even more noisy nighttime truck traffic as drivers dodge daytime tolls – the mayor makes a reasonable argument that it’s time to try pricing instead.”
    http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/miarticle.htm?id=3940
    ***Moving on, though, I live two blocks from the pedestrian plazas in Times Square. I walk through the plazas a few times a week. I take the bus uptown-downtown through the new street grid when I go grocery-shopping. 

    I can see — with my own eyes! — that the plazas are well-used by people eating lunch, reading, etc. I don’t see a problem for emergency vehicles. 

    Further, the bus commute is much, much faster than it used to be. Last night at 7-ish, the M5 bus ride north by Macy’s and Bryant Park was a breeze because the new configuration has helped eliminate gridlock.

    I see a lot of bikers. 

    Here are my suggestions on livable streets:

    1. If we’re going to have more bikes — which is fine with me — we’ve got to have much, much better bike-traffic enforcement. 

    The cyclists have got to stop at red lights and they’ve got to go the right way. The NYPD has got to make it clear — until cyclists get it — that running a red light or going the wrong way will win you a big, big fine. Bikes come out of nowhere and scare pedestrians. 

    (And to pre-but the comments: this should go for cars, too!) 

    This is especially true in Central Park. The cars stop at the red lights but the bikes don’t.

    2. Bloomberg and JSK have got to have a better plan for Christmas. And they’d better do it soon, because Christmas starts in a few weeks. 

    During the holiday season, the pedestrians, cars, and pedicabs in a five-block radius of Rockefeller Center don’t fit where they want to be and go. The bus stops are closed. The city has a different plan every day and doesn’t adequately explain it to anyone, including its own enforcers. And it gets worse and worse every year. 

    If Bloomberg wants to try something new this year, he should shut parts of 5th Avenue, 6th Avenue, 48th, 49th, or 51st Streets, or some combination of all of them, to cars. The mayor could do this at least from Friday-Sunday. 

    The mayor then could segregate one lane with cement barriers on the avenues for buses and bikes. (Without a barrier and the fear of cars, pedestrians would overwhelm buses.) 

    Maybe this wouldn’t work, but it would be worth trying. It’s better than having a surprise every day and no bus service. 

    3. More of a warm-weather issue: With the MTA shutting down more subway lines on weekends to get repair work done faster, more people need to use the buses on weekends. This is impossible with the spring/summer/fall street fairs. The buses are on detour and it takes much longer to get where you’re going, which is never entirely clear, anyway.

    4. Bloomberg has got to enforce the bus lanes. Buses cannot go when stuff is blocking the lane. (Yes, yes, I know that there are Albany problems here, too.)

    As for Herb London’s piece: it represents a point of view that exists. The way to resolve the issue, as with many others, is to acknowledge the point of view and debate all of its aspects. 

    That seems to be what the commenters on the City Journal site and here have been doing all week! 

    So I’m not sure what the problem is.

  • Marshall McClueless

    Hey Nicole,

    There’s this old fashioned notion from back in the days of print newspapers (remember those!) that a publication can have a separate section for op/eds that don’t necessarily reflect the views of the publication itself. These old fashioned bundles of newsprint also used to pretend that reporters were objective, neutral observers with no opinions or angle of their own — you know, like Mike Grynbaum at the NYT — totally objective on matters of transport policy. Most amazing of all, these “newsmen” used to fool themselves into believing that their business interests were completely separate from their editorial viewpoint. Crazy, right? I know.

    Anyway… You might want to tell your editors that this distinction between a “signed opinion piece” and the rest of the publication is functionally dead here on the Internet. When the Manhattan Institute publishes a nonsensical, poorly reasoned essay by Herbert London under the Manhattan Institute banner — the Internet goes ahead and assumes that Herbert’s viewpoint represents what the Manhattan Institute believes. Many of the readers who will have clicked through to Herbert’s essay will not have read any other part of the Manhattan Institute web site and they won’t be aware that this is a “signed opinion piece” only representative of the author’s views. In fact, they may not have any idea what the Manhattan Institute is beyond the fact that it’s an organization that publishes Herbert London’s nonsense.

    If this stuff is only Herbert’s views, Herbert should probably just publish it on his own blog. If the Manhattan Institute is publishing Herbert, then Herbert’s views become those of the Manhattan Institute. And if you also publish at the Manhattan Institute, folks are going to think your’e aligned with Herbert too. That’s simply the brave new media world we live in.

  • Anonymous

    Ms. Gelinas, I agree that there should be a debate. But if it should  be on the City Journal’s site, it should adhere to City Journal’s standards. This column did not, and I remain amazed that it was published. 

  • Joe R.

    @a3baf0fdd3fdd2bdab57969295079d9b:disqus You mostly make good points but I have to take issue with your comment “The NYPD has got to make it clear — until cyclists get it — that running a red light or going the wrong way will win you a big, big fine. Bikes come out of nowhere and scare pedestrians.”

    Sure, cyclists should absolutely not do anything to scare pedestrians, no arguments there.  However, I’m tired of people saying bikes are fine BUT they have to stop at red lights, stop at stop signs, ride with traffic, basically obey a set rules mostly designed for cars, and the NYPD should ticket them until they “get it”.  In essence, you say you’re for cycling, but then support a set of conditions which essentially render cycling useless as a mode of transport, and in my opinion make it more dangerous to boot.

    Allow me to explain.  First off, I do agree that it makes sense for cyclists to ride with traffic.  That’s not an onerous burden, although delivery people tend to ride against traffic to complete their rounds faster (but that can be disincentivized by paying delivery people per hour, not per delivery).

    Red lights/stop signs are the problem, basically because NYC has so many of them (even in parks where they have no business putting traffic lights), and lights are so poorly timed that a cyclist will need to stop and wait upwards of 45 seconds every 2 or 3 blocks.  I’ve tried it once, and it reduced my average speeds to not much better than walking (i.e. no point really then to being on a bike).  This isn’t to say cyclists shouldn’t yield at red lights to anyone who has the legal right-of-way.  They should.  After they do so, provided the way is clear, they should be allowed to pass the light.  Even the subways allow train operators to “key by” red signals at slow speeds in the interests of efficiency.

    If you want a whole list of reasons why I feel it makes sense to allow cyclists to treat reds as yields, here it is (note that reasons 1-3 have to do with safety):

    1) The cyclist avoids starting out in a pack of accelerating cars jockeying for position, arguably the single most dangerous place a cyclist can be.

    2) The cyclist avoids breathing cancer-causing fumes from idling cars while waiting for the light to change.
     
    3) Passing lights lets you ride during the phase where there is a gap in motor traffic. This is safer for both cyclists and motorists.

    4) Lights are timed for car speeds. End result, a cyclist obeying the law is often reduced to average speeds no better than walking because they’ll often hit a red every block or two. For other modes a delay of 50% is considered detrimental. Indeed, avoiding traffic lights is one reason why highways were built for cars. Why are delays of 200% to 300% considered acceptable for cyclists but not for other modes?

    5) Accelerating back up to speed repeatedly from red lights every few blocks simply isn’t physically possible for the majority of cyclists. It takes as much energy to get back up to speed as it does to ride 3 or 4 blocks.

    6) There is no safety or other valid reason for cyclists/pedestrians to wait out red lights. Both have good enough visibility, and travel at low enough speeds, to ascertain if the way is clear without traffic lights. Indeed, traffic lights wouldn’t be needed for motor traffic either if it traveled at no more than 20 mph.

  • Bolwerk

    Meh, “commonsense” police enforcement replaces logic again. Cyclists absolutely should run red lights in situations where they might be safer running a red light.  I’m a sometimes-cyclist, and I run into situations most times I’m out where I can see that the lowbeam in a Hummer bearing down on me could very easily miscalculate his stopping distance and kill me, so I do a “California roll.” The risk of me getting killed is higher if I follow the law, so I don’t. If there should be a law on cyclists running red lights, it should be aimed at those who are witnessed doing it haphazardly, not just those doing it harmlessly.

    And fergawdsake, the best strategy is always to remove environmental factors that discourage safety and encourage antisocial behavior. The #1 priority for road policing resources should be making sure drivers who make stupid decisions get caught and ticketed. Reckless cyclists are more annoyance than danger, and reckless drivers are the opposite. Any other calculation is just pure nonsense.

  • Nicole Gelinas

    Dear Joe R. and Bolwerk.

    I am speaking specifically of Manhattan, when there are pedestrians in the crosswalks, or about to be pedestrians in the crosswalks.Bicyclists — not all of them, but enough of them — do not yield to pedestrians on the streets or in the park. For a pedestrian, for example, trying to cross the Central Park drives that are closed to car traffic on a weekend day is a nerve-wracking experience. More than a few bicyclists not only fail to yield — when the light is red for them — but go out of their way to berate, harass, and scare walkers who have the right of way. Just stand there for a while and watch on a sunny afternoon.And they are going fast enough to cause real fear, not to serve as a mere “annoyance.”There’s a problem both of self-policing and of external enforcement. If it’s not fixed, pedestrians will be antagonistic and anxious about bicyclists, just as many are about cars. 

  • Joe R.

    Nicole,

    Cyclists failing to yield to pedestrians on red on regular Manhattan streets is inexcusable but I’m not sure external enforcement is the answer.  The police have already demonstrated during the bike crackdown earlier this year that they’re utterly incapable of exercising discretion.  Most of the cyclists given red light tickets were those slow-rolling through reds after looking, simply because they were easier targets.  The police mostly ignored the commercial cyclists who routinely fly through lights because “they were working”.  The real answer here is more self-policing, where cyclists call out other cyclists who endanger pedestrians.  And maybe restaurants should be forced to pay their delivery people per hour to remove the incentive to ride recklessly in order to complete rounds as quickly as possible.

    Centrral Park is a special case.  Really, there shouldn’t be traffic lights there at all.  The lights were put in when cars were allowed in the park.  It was policy for years that during the time when cars weren’t allowed in the park, cyclists were allowed to pass reds (after yielding to any pedestrians who might be present of course).  Earlier this year they reverted to a no tolerance policy where cyclists were given tickets for passing reds, even if nothing was there.  And then this summer they went back to the old policy.  Nevertheless, I think if the traffic lights were taken out (and cars were banned from the park all the time) it would be safer for all.  Pedestrians and cyclists would be forced to look for each other all the time, not mindlessly assume right-of-way when they have the light.  I’m sure there are enough natural gaps in bike traffic that pedestrians can safely cross without depending upon traffic lights, or without waiting an inordinate amount of time for a gap in bicycle traffic.

    Remember that courtesy works both ways.  If a cyclist happens to come across a person already crossing, they should slow down and/or give them a wide berth.  And if a pedestrian about to cross sees a bike a few seconds away, just let it pass.  It’s far easier for a person walking to stop, and just wait a few seconds, than it is for a bike to stop and get back up to speed.  While cyclists are hardly blameless as far as being rude/discourteous, all the time I see pedestrians just walk right out in front of bikes or even cars, assuming they’ll stop because “a pedestrian always has the right-of-way”.

  • Andrew

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus Unfortunately, courtesy doesn’t work.  Just as drivers don’t yield to pedestrians in the absence of explicit traffic controls, neither do bicyclists.  The only way your proposal would work is if bicyclists were ticketed when they fail to yield to pedestrians, but I don’t think you’d like that.  (By the way, yielding to pedestrians doesn’t mean avoiding them by three inches. It means stopping and waiting for them to cross.  If a pedestrian is waiting for you to go by, then you are not yielding.)

    There is often enough bike traffic that there are no natural gaps, and crossing the loop drive when bicyclists aren’t stopping for red lights can be challenging at those times, especially for people who may not be able to walk very fast.  I don’t think there should be a highway for cars in the middle of Central Park, but I don’t think there should be a highway for bicycles either.

  • Joe R.

    Andrew,

    Check the definition of the word yield.  It means to slow or stop to allow traffic to cross.  That means you can yield to a pedestrian without stopping if you have room on the road to go around them (preferably behind them so you don’t force them to change the speed or direction of their walk).  Now if there’s a single person crossing, there most likely is plenty of room for a cyclist to yield without stopping.  You may need to slow up a bit in order to pass behind the person crossing by a safe distance (i.e. a few feet, not a few inches).  I’m not seeing much reason to stop and wait unless we’re talking about more than a few people crossing at once.  Even then, you don’t really have to stop-just slow up enough well in advance so you don’t hit the crossing until everyone is across.  If you drop to 5 mph half a block down, it’s going to take you close to 20 seconds to reach the crossing.  Basically, you time it so you get there when it’s clear.  Again, you’ve yielded without stopping.  I think the reason so many people say cyclists don’t yield is because to them yield=stop.  It doesn’t.

    And it makes sense for a pedestrian to just wait a few seconds in cases where a bicycle is almost on top of them.  Since you talk about courtesy, it works both ways.  If the cyclist slowed and stopped for the pedestrian to cross, the pedestrian will still be waiting those same few seconds for the cyclist to come to a complete stop before the crosswalk (longer actually because a slowing cyclist will take longer to cover the distance than one staying at speed).  In effect, both lose.

    Traffic signals rarely make things safer even with motor traffic.  They arguably haven’t in NYC because we have about 10 times as many signals per square mile as Chicago, and yet our per capita death/injury rates are more or less the same.  When we’re talking about just bicycles and pedestrians, using traffic signals is just plain dumb, especially in a park of all places.  Courtesy seems to work fine in other places when you give it a chance.  People generally live up or down to what is expected of them.  So long as the NYPD and a lot of NYC residents continue to assume the worst of cyclists, then this is what they will get.  Also, if some cyclists are rude and fail to yield, perhaps it’s because they’re rarely afforded courtesies by any other group in the city.  People routinely spill over into bike lanes, push baby carriages or carts in them, double park in them.  Drivers routinely turn right in front of cyclists.  Not that two wrongs make a right, but this is why the culture of discourtesy prevails in NYC.  Everyone is guilty.  Maybe try treating cyclists like human beings once in a while, and you’ll see they’ll gladly respond back with the same.

    No, I’m against ticketing for failure to yield for the same reason I’m against ticketing either motorists or cyclists for violations where there isn’t actually any harm caused.  Also, ticketing by definition is a way to make people conform to bad infrastructure, rather than vice versa.  By the principals of natural law, which the US functioned under just fine for most of its existence, the law can levy no penalty unless there is loss of property, injury, or damage.  Fining because something MIGHT have happened (but didn’t) violates this principal, as well as opening a huge can of worms where the state can basically restrict or prohibit all sorts of activities just because some legislator might consider them dangerous.  We’ve already gone too far down this slippery slope if you ask me.  Fact is life has risks.  Sure, make people 100% responsible when they actually do cause something bad to happen, but leave it at that.  That’s already enough incentive to behave if you ask me.  It all boils down to whether you expect the best or worst of people.  I find if you treat people like adults, they’ll act that way.  If you treat them like preschoolers, and tell them to follow a bunch of silly blinking lights, well, you end up with people who have no adult sense of judgement or courtesy because they defer to the state for those things.  There have been governments which have tried to legislate perfect safety.  It’s never worked.  Even if it could in principal, the result would be like living in a gilded cage.

  • Joe R.

    Almost forget Andrew, read this on traffic lights:

    http://www.bikewalk.org/pdfs/trafficcontrol_backtobasics.pdf

    Page 4 is particularly relevant here:

    “The pedestrian’s faith in the traffic signal is equally misplaced. That signals did notimprove pedestrian safety was known 70 years ago.”Maybe NYC should have a class-action lawsuit levied against it for continuing to heavily depend upon a traffic control device which 70 years ago was shown to be unsafe, reduced road capacity, and caused needless delays to boot.
    improve pedestrian safety was known 70 years ago.”

    Maybe NYC should have a class-action lawsuit levied against it for continuing to heavily depend upon a traffic control device which 70 years ago was shown to be unsafe, reduced road capacity, and caused needless delays to boot.

  • Joe R.

    Disqus messed up my text formatting last post.  The second part should read:

    “The pedestrian’s faith in the traffic signal is equally misplaced. That signals did notimprove pedestrian safety was known 70 years ago.”

    Maybe NYC should have a class-action lawsuit levied against it for continuing to heavily depend upon a traffic control device which 70 years ago was shown to be unsafe, reduced road capacity, and caused needless delays to boot.

  • Joe R.

    Disqus messed up my text formatting last post.  The second part should read:

    “The pedestrian’s faith in the traffic signal is equally misplaced. That signals did notimprove pedestrian safety was known 70 years ago.”

    Maybe NYC should have a class-action lawsuit levied against it for continuing to heavily depend upon a traffic control device which 70 years ago was shown to be unsafe, reduced road capacity, and caused needless delays to boot.

  • Bolwerk

    @a3baf0fdd3fdd2bdab57969295079d9b:disqus : I’m out and about on the streets as much as anybody. Okay, I’ve had a few cyclists nearly hit me when I was the pedestrian in the past two years; on top of that, I witness some antisocial behavior now and then.  I’ve had a few cars nearly hit me this weekend, including at unmarked crosswalks where the law unambiguously says the pedestrian has the right of way.* Where is the cry for enforcement about that?

    I agree that antisocial behavior from cyclists is a bad thing, but, fear or not, anybody who claims s/he is more scared of reckless cyclists than of reckless automobile drivers either has an agenda or is not thinking. Yet somehow the conventional wisdom goes that cyclists need scarce police resources directed at them. Meanwhile the driving status quo, where we could probably conservatively estimate the vast majority of the vehicular danger on streets comes from, doesn’t get touched. If cyclists are really deliberately running people over in Central Park, sure, ticket them. That’s Central Park, not the other 98% of the city where most ticketing directed at cyclists is for committing dubious infractions, which hints that’s it’s more about picking an easy target for a summons than protecting pedestrians. Let’s face it: turning right at a red light here is a lot safer than some jaywalking, which nobody touches.

    * And then, when I’m the cyclist, there is an unbelievable amount of
    hostile behavior coming from cars. Where’s the rage about that?

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus : people seem to default to the assumption that cars have ROW when there isn’t a light.  Drivers make that assumption, which makes them extra dangerous in some circumstances.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Ad Nauseam: Nissan Goes Car-Free for NYC Promo

|
Bicycles seem to figure more prominently in Nissan’s Leaf promotion than Leafs (or Leaves, as the case may be). It looks like one car maker has figured out an intriguing way to market its product to a city audience: Just don’t show it at all. In fact, try to sell it by appealing to the […]

Big Winners on Primary Day: de Blasio and StreetsPAC

|
Yesterday, New York City Democrats chose the candidate who’s campaigned as the anti-Bloomberg. But on issues of traffic safety and surface transit, Bill de Blasio, despite some wavering, has pledged to build on the current administration’s progress while tackling the unfinished business of reforming the NYPD’s approach to traffic violence. And with several City Council […]

A Livable Streets Renaissance in Savannah?

|
The last time we checked in with the folks down at Sustainable Savannah, it was to get an update on the jaywalking ticket blitz that the city was conducting — not exactly evidence of a progressive attitude toward traffic safety. Today, we’ve got better news. Biking in Savannah: the future is looking brighter. Photo by […]

Walk21 Conference: A Chance to Improve Our Streets

|
Next week, the Department of Transportation will host the tenth annual Walk21 Conference, an international conference devoted to walking, and achieving livable, sustainable cities. The conference will take place next Wednesday to Friday at NYU, and you can register for it here. The conference began in London back in 2000, and has been featured in […]

Sound Familiar?

|
With nothing much happening in the American League East this Fall, we’ve been turning our attention to Boston’s burgeoning Livable Street movement instead. Last year a fellow named Jeff Rosenblum founded an organization called the Livable Streets Alliance that is setting out to do work similar to that of New York City’s Transportation Alternatives. Jeff’s group appears […]

Livable Streets Group Makes Pitch to CB12 Tonight

|
Upper Manhattanites plotted their street improvements on a map for tonight’s meeting with CB12. A few weeks ago my colleague Brad Aaron wrote about the ways Inwood residents are making great use of the groups feature on the Livable Streets Network. Tonight, the group Inwood and Washington Heights Livable Streets is taking its ideas to […]