Streetfilms Shorties: NYPD Traffic Agents Wave Drivers Into People

Last month we noted that Ray Kelly’s NYPD made a highly visible show of bike enforcement in Prospect Park in response to a pair of crashes where cyclists injured pedestrians. Normally, police don’t react so decisively to locations with high crash rates, but in Prospect Park, the 78th quickly handed out more tickets to cyclists at one spot than they do to speeding motorists in the whole precinct in an average month.

If only NYPD targeted the most dangerous intersections with similar vigor. Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson and Streetsblog publisher Mark Gorton went out to Canal and Lafayette, which saw 13 crashes in the month of August alone, to see how traffic is being policed. Here’s what they found.

  • fj

    yeah, i’ve had that a couple of times on the west side bike path while on skates

  • Joe

    New Dorp lane and Hylan Boulevard on Staten Island is notorious for this. Traffic cops wave cars through red lights, completely ignoring all pedestrians that are crossing legally. It’s a really terrifying experience, especially at night. 

  • Matt

    I’ve seen it far worse on the queens side of the queensboro bridge –

    They waive traffic through red lights when pedestrians should be crossing. Then they walk you through moving traffic.

    After the second time they pulled that one i crossed with the light no matter what they were doing

  • Dennis Hindman

    I was laughing out loud seeing traffic cops directing vehicles to turn into crosswalks while pedestrians are walking through there. This is teaching motorists reckless behavior towards some of the most vunerable travelers. There doesn’t seem to be any effort made to reduce the accident rate. I don’t know of another U.S. city with so much disregard of traffic rules.

    The U.S. Department of Transportation just announced that highway deaths fell to their lowest level since 1949, which is probably mainly due to safety technology improvements for cars. Meanwhile, pedestrian deaths are up, which you would think would get more effort towards safety improvements, as they are fare more vunerable to death or injury since they have no hard outer shell to protect them.  

  • Rhubarbpie

    Nice piece and excellent point. I would have loved to hear a word or two from the pedestrians who are being put at risk, especially right after it happened, though I know the intent was just to make the point quickly.

  • Clarence Eckerson

    And believe all of us who work near here – almost every time you go out for lunch you’ll see either a) close calls with cars being directed right into peds or B) drivers making turns that should be ticketed immediately! But you never ever see ANY tickets written. I’d also say that this footage is probably more on the conservative side. Matt is right about the QBB bridge – a cyclist will die there someday, the new bike path is amazing but getting to it from Sunnyside has one very dangerous intersection that traffic agents wave cars thru when you have a green light.

  • In the most pedestrianized city in the country, pedestrians are invisible to the NYPD.

  • moocow

    This is the perfect time of year to look at how misguided the NYPD’s and the city’s priorities are  on Canal St.  Notice even in that intersection, the HUNDREDS of shoppers per block crammed on the sidewalk, and the TENS of people sitting alone in their cars.  Quite often you as a pedestrian are expected to skip the walk light to let the congested cars flow to the next clogged block.

  • ddartley

    The problem is simple.  First, they’re allowed to wave cars through red lights.  A traffic cop directing traffic at an intersection legally supersedes the signals.  

    But the signal system is made up of two sets of signals that are synchronized with each other:  the car signals and the pedestrian signals.  They work together.  The problem is that traffic cops only replace one of those sets.  And you end up with this offensively obviously stupid and dangerous practice.  I don’t know why these clowns can’t figure it out.  A few times, a very few times, “pedestrian safety managers” have been deployed to busy intersections, and they do work in synch with the cops directing the cars.  But most of the time, it’s just the cops directing cars, and the peds are not given signals that are in synch with what the cop is doing.   Brainless and stupid, and astounding, considering how such a simple problem just continues and continues in such complex city.

  • ddartley

    It’s time we find out who’s in charge of instructing these people.  Many of us have bitched about this here many times.  It’s time to take these conversations we’ve had directly to whoever’s in charge of this hare brained stupidity.

  • Anonymous

    If even a few of those pedestrians were carrying some version of the “Don’t Make Me Get the Tank” stickers, and slid them on offending vehicles, it might have more effect.

  • Rachael

    YES!  Thank you!  This is one of the most dangerous things that I deal with on a daily basis.  I live near the intersection of Jay and Adams where cops routinely wave cars through the red turn signal to get onto the Brooklyn Bridge. We worked really hard to get a longer pedestrian signal at this intersection, but it made almost no difference since cops wave cars through anyway.  The most recent time that this happened to me, I complained to the cop since he had actually directed a car INTO me.  His response?  “You need to move faster”.  I called the Community Affairs officer to complain and they encouraged me to file a CCRB, so now that’s what I will do even though I’m not convinced it makes any difference.  

  • Trombone

    And don’t forget to watch this classic snippet of preferential treatment for a driver.

  • Just Saying

    Traffic agents can not write moving violations. They are not cops.

  • Station44025

    To those who think the pd doesn’t issue tickets, I did get a red light violation once because I stopped and waited for peds in the crosswalk while making a left turn onto 23rd street, during which time the light changed from green to red. Then the cop lied about every single detail of the incident in traffic court, claiming that I was recklessly speeding through the intersection. Message: do not stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk.

  • Your name

    This isn’t news. I’ll try to say something here, hopefully it may clear some misconceptions. First, NYPD Traffic Enforcement’s mandate is, first and foremost, to expedite motor vehicles and has been like that for years. People can fight about it in court and such, but simply put, that is their job. TA’s may or may not let pedestrians go by the light but it’s not in their mandate, so if anything were to change it would have to be that, otherwise it’s just orders being followed. Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians have to be careful of this; remember the traffic agent legally supersedes the traffic light and any traffic control device.

    As for violations, all NYPD Police Officers may write violations of any kind: moving, parking, or common violations (like drinking alcohol in public). Stage II Traffic Agents (those who pull traffic) can write moving and parking violations (Blocking the Box included), so anyone who says they don’t are incorrect.

    With the Traffic Agents, yes I agree there should be some amendment to the policy but in the meantime, my opinion would have to be just to try and cross as safely as possible, regardless of the light (i.e.: would you cross the street if the light was red but no cars were coming?). I personally don’t put my life in the hands of a traffic light. Everyone has to keep in mind that the TAs are there for a reason and if they were off duty, the traffic situation goes from bad to worse quick. Besides I don’t think anyone has special treatment here (motorists get written up, TAs cursed at by peds and motorists alike) so it’s more of a common sense issue. Motorists have to be careful of peds, peds of turning cars, and cyclists of cars and peds. Another day in the shared space experience 😀

  • Sean

    I see this routinely weekday mornings at First Avenue and 34th Street in Manhattan. It enrages me because it’s so stupid and so dangerous. One lone traffic agent in the center of a major, busy, noisy intersection waving vehicles through and every pedestrian, motorist, and bicyclist in the area is expected to notice this one guy and follow him over the numerous traffic signals that are closer and traditionally followed.

    According to the Brian Williams piece on JSK a few days ago, the city can remotely change the duration of traffic signals to ease congestion. If duration can be changed, I image other variables can be too. Couldn’t the lights be turned off or programmed to flash yellow when a TA is in control? Either seem like a sensible way to alert people.

  • Driver

    Traffic agent’s can’t write moving violations.  They changed the blocking the box offense from a moving violation to something similar to a parking ticket specifically so these tickets could be issued by traffic agents. 

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/06/23/dont-block-the-box-bill-clears-albany/
    “The bill reclassifies blocking the box from a moving violation to a
    parking violation, a switch that enables all 2800 of the city’s traffic
    agents to issue citations for the offense. Previously, only cops and a
    small number of agents had that ability. The bill also bumps up the
    penalty from $50 to $115.”

    http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/10/police-crackdown-on-blocking-the-box/
    “Before July, “block the box” violations were treated as moving
    violations, meaning that only uniformed police officers could issue
    tickets.

    Now they are being treated like parking tickets. Traffic Enforcement
    Agents will be able to issue them with handheld devices that can scan
    the vehicle information from the registration sticker in the window and
    print the ticket. The old tickets included a 2-point penalty on the
    driver’s record. That will not be the case with these.”

  • No it’s not news: it’s advocacy. Everybody knows the TAs are charged with prioritizing auto traffic. Everybody knows they specifically can not write moving violations. The point is that we, as the NYC residents who fund and empower the city police force, demand that this absurdity changes.

    Procedural excuses are procedural excuses. I don’t care *how* the NYPD is organized (we also pay people to figure that out, too) but if I am going to keep funding its operations by living here I do require that it find a way to protect people walking around and punish drivers who break the law to endanger, injure, and kill people.

    In the mean time, of course we must continue to try to survive the unhealthy and dangerous environment the police create in some intersections. This post is not telling anyone to run out in front of speeding cars. But yes I do think we would be better off without any TAs at all (and best-off with red light cameras at every signaled intersection). This is just based on the fact that TAs direct cars into my body, whereas if they are not there it’s just a bunch of stuck cars that can’t go fast enough to kill anybody.

  • Katieborn

    yeah they do this to me all the time on Queens Plaza and on Jackson Ave. I think the traffic cops actually don’t SEE the pedestrians, they are so focused on the cars, and they wave the cars through red lights, straight into the occasional pedestrian. 

  • Biped

    Traffic Agents are by far the most useless attempt to calm/expedite traffic in the City. At best, they are no better than traffic lights – at worst, they endanger pedestrians as well as drivers. Replacing them with actual police who can write tickets for moving violations would be a benefit to both the safety of pedestrians, as well as the coffers of NYC. At the least, simply remove them and let the lights do their jobs. 

    Why are we so desperate to make the driving experience in this city a good one? Remember, you are not stuck in traffic….YOU ARE TRAFFIC.

  • Gowanusite

    Same story at the junction of 4th Ave, Atlantic & Flatbush.  You simply can not trust the light or the traffic cops.  You are almost better off going underground and crossing via the Atlantic/Pacific subway station if you want to get anywhere.

  • Joe R.

    The real message here is to just cross in the middle of the street, where you don’t need to worry about turning vehicles.  Or better yet, to cross via subway stations if one happens to exist where you’re crossing (that’s SOP for me when crossing Queens Blvd.).  Traffic agents or traffic signals are both equally useless to pedestrians if you ask me.  How many pedestrians even bother paying attention to the traffic signals in NYC?  1%?  From what I can see, most just do the same thing I do-look both ways, and cross if it’s clear, regardless of the state of the signal.  I’ve seen enough broken signals where the light is green in both directions simultaneously to know never to trust them for anything.  Same thing with assuming turning vehicles will yield to people crossing.  I just wave them by rather than take the chance they either won’t stop, or will gun it just as I’m crossing in front of them.

    The real solution is to just reduce traffic to manageable levels.  That intersection in the video has WAY too much vehicular traffic.  I’ll bet 99% of those people have other options to get around.  They should be somehow incented to use those options.  Manhattan just isn’t a place for private cars.  It wasn’t designed for them, nor can it handle them.  There has been talk about banning private cars from Manhattan since at least around 1960.  I wish we would get politicians in office brave enough to finally do that, including banning taxis.  The price for the convenience of the few percent who get around by car is just too high for everyone else.

  • Cberthet

    Chekpeds met with the Traffic Agents management http://chekpeds.com/?p=1621 and raised that very same issue at 9 th avenue and 42nd street. The officer indicated they were changing the mission th pedestrian first. We even saw signs in the hallways to that effect.

    We should definitely start a petition to Kelly and Tuller to highlight the extensive education ( I was going to write ” conversion”) job still ahead.

    And indeed this is mostly happening at intersections where there is a left turn on a two way street, intersections which are documented as more dangerous. It is time the DOT get focused on banning all left turns on two way streets. A very low cost way to improve pedestrian safety and make Traffic agents unnecessary.

  • J

    Agreed with all the commenters. This practice is disgusting and highly dangerous. I get really mad every time I see it because I’m pretty sure it goes against city procedure, which require that signals be turned off (blank out all the lights) before cops direct traffic themselves. It is not hard to understand that giving people two conflicting sets of directions is confusing and dangerous. Giving people no signal is better than that, as everyone knows to slow down and be careful. Most of the world cops are required to blank out the signal if a cop is going to direct traffic.

    I was almost killed coming off the Manhattan bridge one night when I went to cross Sands street with the green bike signal and a TA, standing on the far sidewalk (the NW corner), waved a fleet of cars through the red light. Thank God I saw them coming at the last second and was able to stop in time. There wasn’t even any congestion there, she just wanted the cars to move a tiny bit faster. I was livid and screamed in her face. I guess that wasn’t the most mature reaction, but I had almost been injured or killed and for what? If someone starts a petition, it will quickly go viral, because it seems that just about everyone has a story like this. Also, can we get a local politician or two to take up the cause? Perhaps citywide legislation is in order to curb this practice, because it’s incredibly dangerous, and I can’t imagine who would be opposed.

  • This is appalling. Sort it out ! 13 crashes in one month is a terrible record compared with the most dangerous junction in London, let alone in the Netherlands, where the worst junction in the whole country has caused 14 injuries in three years.

  • A friend of mine visiting from Hamburg, Germany was amazed that cars here are allowed to nudge through the crosswalk while people are in it. He said he’d never seen anything like it, and if it happened in Germany the driver would be ticketed instantly.

  • fj

    stopping the tyranny of oil, getting activists on board like bill mckibben @350.org, occupy wall street, greenpeace, etc. might be useful at this particular intersection at canal & lafayette

  • dporpentine

    You people writing about other countries don’t understand: in New York cars are controlled by Greek gods. There’s nothing we can do about the damage they do.

    Besides, we love it! We’re real New Yorkers and we love getting killed by cars! We always tell people who don’t like getting killed to “go back to Ohio”!

  • Andrew

    Isn’t everyone forgetting the standard multiplier effect of 50:1?  Each car is worth 50 pedestrians.  So, @twowheel:disqus, while there may be 100 pedestrians and only 10 cars, those 10 cars are equivalent to 500 pedestrians, and therefore the cars have priority.

    If you don’t like that, you’re not a real New Yorker.  Go back to Ohio.

  • Gil Penalosa

    I’m not sure where the “war on the car” comes from as what we’ve had in most cities, NYC included, is war on the pedestrian. The wonderful Janette Sadik-Khan has “the guts to try to balance” the situation in places and she gets demonized.
    We do need to change minds…starting with the Police Departments
    Great work Streetfilms, from your friends to the north.
    Gil Penalosa, ED, 8-80 Cities, Toronto, Canada

  • Such a shocking news. I am really terrified to be a pedestrian in that crazy world!

  • Bob

    just shoot them!  Isn’t this New York City!  C’mon you wimps!  If I’m packin’ and someone assaults me with a 4000 pound hunk of metal,  I’d pop that sucker.   (please insert “tongue in cheek” font here)

    OK,  failing a side arm,  what happens if the hammer I’m carrying just happens to “fall” on the hood of an SUV that nudges it’s way through an cross walk??   Gonna ticket me?  “He nudged me with his car yer honor”. 
    The mind boggles.
    You elected these people.   Get them out. 

    Thanks for letting me play along. 

  • Ruby348

    The More The Traffic The More They Work!

    This is the first I hear of this website. I usually go to u-tube. There are quite a few traffic agents who” know their job” when it comes to responsibility, pride, and proffessionalism, you need to go to 42nd Street and 5 to 11Th Ave, 34Th st, and work your way to FDR Drive and 96Th Street!

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