Waiting for Raymond: 7 Pedestrians, 1 Cyclist Killed in Last 16 Days

Meilan Jin was hit at Northern Boulevard and Union Street by a city bus driver who did not stop. No charges were filed. Image: Google Maps

The crashes that killed two pedestrians since Wednesday morning follow a string of incidents last week that resulted in the deaths of five vulnerable street users. In all, seven pedestrians and one cyclist are known to have died in New York City traffic since February 7. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, meanwhile, couldn’t be troubled to attend the City Council hearing last week examining NYPD traffic enforcement and crash investigations.

On Wednesday at around 8:15 a.m., 22-year-old Meilan Jin was hit by the driver of a city bus making a right turn at Northern Boulevard and Union Street in Flushing. The driver kept going. According to Transportation Alternatives’ Crashstat, 101 pedestrians and cyclists were injured and one pedestrian was killed at Northern and Union between 1995 and 2009.

At 1:15 this morning, Willie Gonzalez, 25, was walking south on St. Nicholas Avenue at 125th Street in Manhattan when he was hit by a westbound city bus driver. The Times reports that no charges were filed in either case.

Also this month:

  • February 14: Jean Jeanniot, 71, was hit by two drivers on Flatbush Avenue near East 26th Street while on the way to meet his girlfriend for Valentine’s Day. One driver fled the scene. No charges were reported against the second driver.
  • February 13: An unnamed 67-year-old woman was hit at Fulton and Crescent streets in Cypress Hills. “No criminality was suspected.
  • February 12: Luis Rosado, 75, was killed by a hit-and-run driver at Broadway and West 138th Street, one block from his home.
  • February 12: Cyclist Ronald Tillman, 29, was killed by a hit-and-run driver on Howard Avenue in the Grymes Hill area of Staten Island.
  • February 11: Dawn Affoumani, 42, was killed by a hit-and-run driver as she crossed the intersection of White Plains Road and Story Avenue in the Soundview section of the Bronx.
  • February 7: Lizardo Aldana, 89, was struck in the crosswalk at 21st Avenue near 31st Street in Astoria. The driver was charged with vehicular manslaughter and DWI.

Sadly, with approximately 160 pedestrian and cyclists deaths per year, a spate of fatalities like this is not unusual. They can be expected to continue as long as Ray Kelly’s NYPD and city district attorneys keep letting drivers off the hook for deadly crashes that don’t involve alcohol (it’s pretty clear that leaving the scene does not actually qualify as a slam-dunk offense).

Even though traffic crashes have killed more than 3,700 people in NYC over the last decade, NYPD told the City Council last week that the department doesn’t have the resources to beef up traffic enforcement and crash investigations. But apparently police do have the resources to conduct a wide-ranging surveillance operation of Muslim communities in Newark, and they also have the resources to more than double the number of stop-and-frisks since 2004.

With police and prosecutors refusing to do their jobs as the traffic death toll mounts, action by the council can come none too soon.

  • J

    I’m a little wary of blaming too much of the problem on a lack of enforcement. Certianly, a lack of enforcement has created a zone of no consequences for irresponsible and reckless driver behavior. However, enforcement is expensive and, as the death penalty has shown us, not always effective as a deterrent. Poorly designed streets, which prioritize vehicle speed over all else, certainly contribute to many crashes as well. If you can design streets such that crashes are unlikely, then we won’t need as much enforcement, and I’d hate for that perspective to get lost in this debate.

  • I respect J’s comment, but beg to differ. I am in fact wary of NOT blaming enforcement enough. Yes, street design is a big part of this, but it’s improved tremendously the past few years and already saved countless lives whereas NYPD has not changed their attitude in the least bit. The few times they do give out tickets, they block crosswalks and bike lanes themselves. Sidewalks around the precincts have become their personal parking lots and they now put their priority in ticketing cyclists for minor infractions as if 200 pounds on a bike at 5 mph was the same as 3000 tons of steel barreling down a street at 45 mph.

    NYPD needs to lead by example and the first step should be getting out of the car and walking/biking the beat more often.

  • J, I watch as cops in my neighborhood just sit there in their patrol cars and observe motorists regularly breaking the law and outrageously threatening pedestrians, failing to yield, nearly killing them, blowing red lights… and the cops just sit there. 

    How hard is it? What do they have patrol cars for, exactly?

    Look, I own a car, been driving in NYC for longer than I’ve been walking and biking, and I’ve always known I didn’t have much to worry about when it comes to rolling a stop sign, driving too fast, or squeezing a light. I’ve grown up, I drive nice and slow and careful now, but it’s obvious to everyone, especially drivers, that the cops don’t really give a shit, especially about speeding and failing to yield to peds.

    Even when there’s extra foot patrol cops at N8th and Kent for the concerts in the Summer, they just look on and don’t ticket motorist blowing through their and failing to yield to peds. Myself and a couple people I didn’t know were nearly run-over crossing N8th in front of two patrolmen who watched and didn’t care.

  • I think the problem is cultural: people in the U.S. have come to take the responsibilities of driving very, very, lightly.  The only way to reign in the carnage is to make them take it much more seriously, and part of that is eliminating the bizarre ‘free pass” that law enforcement gives drivers that kill.

  • Killer Cars

    I agree with Dave.  Street design can only go so far.  For example, take the bike lanes in NYC.  They’re all but useless: if it’s a painted lane then it’s treated as an extra parking space; if it’s a protected lane then every other intersection you have to watch out for cars refusing to yield as they turn.  

    That said, I don’t know that stricter enforcement is the answer either.  What we really want is to send a message to society that driving a car is a serious responsibility.  

    Sometimes changing the law can be an effective way to send a message.  For a familiar example, every cyclist knows the opprobrium with which people discuss those “scofflaws” who run red lights. Is it because cyclists who run red lights are such a menace?  Old ladies on the upper east side will tell you that it is but we know better.  We know that the biggest danger, by far, is from motorized traffic.  So why the vitriol?  Because cyclists who run red lights are breaking the law and that by itself makes them bad people according to some.  Never mind that the law was written with cars in mind and that there are many instances when it is safer for everyone if the cyclist doesn’t follow it.  But the law sends a clear message: stopping at a red light is not only a legal but a moral imperative.  If you disobey that imperative then you are an antisocial “jerk” (according to NYDOT).

    On the other hand some laws seem to convey no meaning whatsoever.  For instance take speed limits.  No one except some people who read this blog actually believes that a speed limit is a moral imperative.  Most people who drive think of it as a nuisance to be avoided at best, and a sneaky underhanded form of taxation at worst.  Maybe this is an issue of enforcement but who hasn’t received a speeding ticket in their life?  It’s almost a rite of passage as a teenager.  And still compliance with speed limits is almost non-existent. 

    I can’t fully explain why the two are treated differently but here’s one possible reason: we live in a majority car culture.  It’s easy for the majority to pass judgment on others and to spare itself that same judgment. 

    There’s an additional complication that a democratic society has a fair amount of control over how its own bad acts are regulated when these safety issues become political ones (that’s how in NYC we get twice as many summons for cyclists than for trucks).  Think about the states that passed laws against speeding / red light cameras.  Enforcement mechanisms like that would be wonderful but we won’t get them on a large scale until the whole culture agrees to them.  

    I think stricter enforcement is great if it actually changes the way people behave behind the wheel.  However, I don’t think society as a whole changes its behavior for fear of consequences.  I think it changes because it wants to.  And how do you make people want to drive more responsibly?  If it’s not better enforcement, then what?  I don’t know the answer to that.

  • dporpentine

    Three terrible driving behaviors that, if actually policed, would go a long way toward changing the culture of the streets in NYC: (1) failure to yield to pedestrians–especially with fast turns that might not require the pedestrian to stop but that are nonetheless very dangerous, (2) speeding, and (3) failure to signal turns or lane changes.

    Of all of them, I think that even under optimal conditions (1) would probably be the toughest to enforce–though the chances of the actual NYPD enforcing (3) make an asymptotic approach to 0.

    Lots of people have said this but it bears repeating: cops don’t enforce traffic laws because they are the city’s foremost flouters of those laws. Minimizing cognitive dissonance requires that they treat traffic laws as unimportant.

  • dporpentine

    And so long as I’m fantasizing about enforcing laws, can we talk about following distance? Remember that what killed Jasmine Herron wasn’t being doored. It was a city bus that had to have been following her too closely, presumably as part of the great Race to the Stoplight.

    Drivers need to back away from each other and from bikes. And I think we can all agree the police, as currently constituted, won’t be any help with that.

  • Speed limits and following distance can easily be implemented as controls in modern day cars.  We need to stop relying on outside agents (police) and the criminal code to do this.  All the taxi’s have GPS – why not interface GPS location with speed limit and throttle/brake.  If all the taxis are regulated in hardware to not speed, all the cars trapped behind them are stuck doing 35 MPH too.

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