While DOT Is Removing Signs, How About Yanking These Pedestrian Warnings?

Photo: Nathan H.

The Times reported yesterday that DOT is in the process of taking down all of the city’s “Don’t Honk” signs. Ostensibly the signs are being removed in tandem with efforts to declutter the visual environment. For better or worse, it’s also a tacit admission that they probably don’t do very much good.

Other signs we’d like to see disappear are these victim-blaming pedestrian warnings. Posted in 2011 as part of the “Curbside Haiku” series, one sign cautions women against wearing dark clothing at night, lest they be struck by a motorist. Another one, in Midtown of all places, likens stepping into traffic to buying a lottery ticket.

These signs reinforce the false premise that motor vehicle traffic is a force of nature, as impervious to human intervention as ball lightning. They also perpetuate the notion that city pedestrians are asking to be injured or killed simply by walking outside.

Instead of brow-beating victims of traffic violence, maybe DOT could consider adding a message to the streetscape, as suggested by Streetsblog reader Jeff: “Can we just hang signs that say ‘Please don’t kill people’ from all traffic signals?”

Photo: Jennifer Aaron
  • Morris Zapp

    I wonder how often JSK decides what she will wear to work based on how late she plans to be at the office.

  • Greezio

    We should also get rid of STOP signs because drivers ignore those and they are never enforced by NYPD.

  • Guest

    Responsibility lies with the bearer of the consequences. There is no righteousness in being correct and dead. Notwithstanding the imposition of rules and such on drivers, I have no issue with these signs. 

  • Mark Walker

    The absence of no-honk signs will mean no-honk enforcement is that much further away. As someone whose hearing was permanently damaged by a single encounter with a super-loud horn, I am in despair about this. It is now even clearer that the only way to reduce honking is to expand car-free space.

  • Jonathan Rabinowitz

    When the city wanted to stop the epidemic of children falling from windows, they required changes in the infrastructure so that rental apartments that housed children had bars on the windows. When the city wanted to stop the epidemic of needle-borne diseases, they added needle-exchange infrastructure so folks could get clean works when they were about to shoot up.

    Apparently the city doesn’t want to reduce pedestrian casualties because if they did, they would change the infrastructure to eliminate them. Putting up cutesy “warning” signs doesn’t count.

  • Anonymous

    @abb249055208c7af4d35568e422dfd63:disqus 

    Responsibility lies with the bearer of the consequences.

    Wow–that’s repugnant. So you would say that all NYC pedestrians who fail to wear reflective clothing are responsible for their deaths–if visibility was the primary factor in their deaths? For instance: Roxana Sorina Buta, who was killed by dump truck in Union Square. She was crossing with the light, but maybe she wasn’t wearing reflective clothing. You want to go tell her family she was “responsible” for her own death?

  • Megan Gee

    Jaywalking when you don’t know if it’s safe or not is stupid and risky, I don’t have any mixed feelings on that front. As a frequent jaywalker in SF who recently visited NYC I found unsafe jaywalking was far more common than I expected. When I cross against the lights in any place I consider myself to be responsible for my own wellbeing given that I’m ignoring the safety of the engineering controls.
    As for the dark clothing signs, yeah sure they are kind of blaming the victim to some extent but it’s just a smart thing to do knowing that you’re not able to prevent other people’s idiocy when behind the wheel or on a bike. Like somebody else said, there’s no joy in being right and dead.
    Possibly the focus should be more positively orientated like reducing the length of signal phases to enable a faster turnover – if pedestrians didn’t have to wait so long to cross safely in NYC they might jaywalk less often?
    Honking is one of many undesirable noise elements in a streetscape / driving environment and should be considered an occasional necessity (not to mention it loses potency with excessive use), but I doubt signage is going to change such hardened attitudes. It ideally should come from within the community, friends telling friends that honking is aggressive and a sign of a poor driver, but unfortunately better enforcement is probably the only way forward in the short term.

  • Anonymous

    I dunno…  I hate that drivers shoulder so little of the responsibility for street safety, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reminding pedestrians to be careful.

  • Morris Zapp

    “Jaywalking” (an epithet invented by the auto lobby) is unsafe because drivers aren’t made to slow down and watch what they’re doing.

    “Responsibility lies with the bearer of the consequences.” Isn’t that a corollary to the “forcible rape” theory?

  • Guest

    @dporpentine:disqus you’re conflating responsibility with culpability. Regardless of right-of-way or anything else, it’s the victims who have to live with the consequences. If my mother was killed in a collision, it will bring me no comfort to know that she was innocently crossing with the light versus attempting to run across a busy road. 

  • Anonymous

    @abb249055208c7af4d35568e422dfd63:disqus No, I’m not. You used the word “responsibility,” not me. Own up to it and go tell Roxana Sorina Buta’s mother her daughter was “responsible” for her death. You can amend it and say “responsible but not culpable,” if you want. And then tell her she should have been, per these signs, wearing clothes that are clearly visible to the poor, poor motor vehicle drivers of NYC.

  • Anonymous

    The underlying point is this: the victim blaming of pedestrians and cyclists is just obscene. I’m a 100% law-abiding cyclist, but I feel quite confident that when some driver kills me, there will be some second-guesser out there to tell me that, well, it was dark and though I had all the necessary lights, I should’ve just known it was dangerous to ride at night. And if I’m killed waiting for a light to change, there will be people who’ll say that’s why they would never wait for lights.

    The *responsibility* for traffic violence lies with the people who perpetuate it. And those people, overwhelmingly, are drivers. But they’re not shamed nearly as often as the people who suffer the consequences of their bad behavior.

  • If you’re enjoying a stroll on the sidewalk and a driver jumps the curb and kills you, are you responsible?

  • Jesse Greene

    dporpentine,

    Don’t forget the newspaper article that will mention whether you were wearing a helmet implying that you have a responsibility to spare poor innocent drivers from the trauma of having killed someone.

  • Joe R.

    @google-ada61bbf78a6dd2555deffacf8be6807:disqus I agree wholeheartedly that jaywalking without checking for traffic is risky behavior. Same thing for jaybiking. I also agree that the sheer number and timing of traffic signals in NYC makes waiting for a green signal impractical (both on foot and when riding). Granted, some pedestrians/cyclists do obey the letter of the law with regard to signals, but they’ll always be a minority. Unfortunately, both of these facts are a perfect storm for blaming the victim. Our streets are set up to speed auto traffic. As a result, cycling or walking, at least if you obey the signals, are highly suboptimal. Therefore, most pedestrians and cyclists don’t obey red signals because doing so would double or triple travel time. And when something happens to these pedestrians or cyclists, the media latch on to this fact, and blames them for their own deaths.

    In the end, this won’t change unless the infrastructure changes. We need to slow down auto traffic by changing street design. We also need to greatly reduce the number of motor vehicles in the streets because traffic volume is why all these traffic lights exist in the first place. No traffic lights means everyone needs to look out for everyone else, at each and every intersection. Now we have motorists on autopilot when they have a string of green lights in front of them. That’s a recipe for disaster.

  • Guest

    @Doug_Gordon:disqus  You’re responsible if you are the one who suffers the consequences. Finding a driver guilty doesn’t bring you back to life, or get you out of that chair. Like I initially said, responsibility lies with the bearer of the consequences. This isn’t just for pedestrians versus cars, rape victims vs. perpetrators, laid-off worker, etc. There is no being “made whole”, of going back to as if it never happened. Restorative Justice is a myth. Time only moves in one direction.

    The point is, a sign asking anyone to take a moment to secure their own safety is never a bad thing. Never ever. I’m not willing to bear the consequences of a wrecked body or a grieving family. I’ll like 4 or 5 times if need be. It’s better than the alternative no matter how culpable a driver is. 

  • Guest

    @Doug_Gordon:disqus  You’re responsible if you are the one who suffers the consequences. Finding a driver guilty doesn’t bring you back to life, or get you out of that chair. Like I initially said, responsibility lies with the bearer of the consequences. This isn’t just for pedestrians versus cars, rape victims vs. perpetrators, laid-off worker, etc. There is no being “made whole”, of going back to as if it never happened. Restorative Justice is a myth. Time only moves in one direction.

    The point is, a sign asking anyone to take a moment to secure their own safety is never a bad thing. Never ever. I’m not willing to bear the consequences of a wrecked body or a grieving family. I’ll like 4 or 5 times if need be. It’s better than the alternative no matter how culpable a driver is. 

  • Just stop walking, people. If you walk, you might get killed, so why risk it? Give up already and just stop walking.

  • Anonymous

    @abb249055208c7af4d35568e422dfd63:disqus 

    The point is, a sign asking anyone to take a moment to secure their own safety is never a bad thing. 

    Yes, let’s put up signs everywhere with witty sayings letting women know that they should never be alone with a man they know–most rapes being perpetuated by men known to their female victims. A little slut shaming goes a long way!

    Meanwhile, I’m trying to figure out how the very straightforward word “responsible” has been twisted in what you’ve written to mean–what exactly? “Object of event with significant negative consequences” is about all I can come up with.Not that it really matters. In the real world, no one would have the guts to tell a rape survivor or someone who’s suffered the consequences of a driver’s criminal indifference to others that they’re “responsible” for those events.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been thinking for a long time of Sharpie-ing my own haiku responses to these things.  

  • > You’re responsible if you are the one who suffers the consequences… This isn’t just for pedestrians versus cars, rape victims vs. perpetrators…

    This immoral hogwash has no place in civilized society. If you want to live in a jungle and rape your neighbors then go ahead, if you can find a jungle that will take you.

    As animals we are all inclined to struggle to survive. It’s not a fancy instinct and it doesn’t need a self-congratulating title like “personal responsibility”, especially as this formulation has been used to drain the meaning from our responsibilities to others. Anybody who thinks it’s irresponsible to die should visit a cemetery. Maybe the one at Arlington.

    Responsibility is about the conscientious exercise of power. Parents are responsible for their children. Pilots are responsible for passengers and crew. Cyclists are responsible for not hitting slower moving pedestrians. And once upon a time, motorists were responsible for the same. Having escaped those responsibilities for a time does not mean motorists get to escape them forever. As a society, we decide what happens next.

  • Nathanael

    If this were LA, the signs would have been removed — more likely *replaced* — already, by the “department of DIY”.

    New Yorkers are extremely law-abiding.  *Extremely*.  Now that the government has become corrupt and incompetent, this has started to create problems.

  • Dontdentmycar

    one sign is of a man, one a woman, both attempt to educate people on the dangers of walking out into the road (jay-walking), and do so in a way that puts people’s thinking caps on, because all too often people do just walk out into the street with no care… they don’t look, rely on sound to alert them to on-coming traffic, think they’ll be seen, expect others to have their same casual attitude, assume drivers will be able to change lanes to avoid them, don’t account for the momentum of the vehicles, etc. I agree with others, how can a sign that attempts to inform the public about safety be a bad thing?  Well I suppose if you hate all forms of vehicles then hack away, but if you care, then both pedestrians and the driving public should be reminded about safety at every opportunity. 

    The percentage of non-law abiding people is about the same for both pedestrians and drivers… it’s because those who break the law have an attitude, an attitude that certainly results in traffic accidents and pedestrian deaths. So lets not address this and attempt to remove all vehicles from the roads, or, change attitudes. On my YT dash cam channel of roads in Brooklyn I do have examples of women walking in the street wearing dark cloths at night… they’re just walking down the street when there’s a perfectly good sidewalk next to them. I also have examples of people texting and walking right in front of me, or bicyclists almost running down pedestrians. And of course there are examples of drivers doing u-turns on crosswalks, etc. There is a percentage of people who ignore the law because it is inconvenient to them, and, they have no consideration for others. They’re sloppy pigs who put themselves and others at risk. Instead of bitching about something that attempts to educate, why not propose other ways to help educate so more people stop breaking the law and less pedestrians (who are obviously vulnerable because there isn’t a vehicular structure surround them) end up injured or dead?

  • Hey Don’t Dent, you say “The percentage of non-law abiding people is about the same for both pedestrians and drivers.” I think that’s more or less true.  But the differences are A) drivers are the ones creating the danger (no 2,000 vehicles, no danger) and therefore have a greater responsibility towards others and B) The laws that we’re talking about were created completely and utterly for cars and the desire (of the privileged few) for them to be able to operate as quickly as possible by stealing time from the other modes (no fast cars, no need for pedestrians to stop at any intersection that happens to have a red signal).

  • Dang “2,000-pound vehicles”.

  • Anonymous

    @2a1815a2c5e700d44303c6b5577ebc62:disqus  Hmmmmmm . . . why would women be walking down streets at night instead of using the sidewalk . . . let’s think . . . Maybe because walking on the sidewalk makes them feel more vulnerable to being mugged or raped? I know people used to offer that as a safety tip. And if someone did walk on the sidewalk and ended up getting mugged or raped, you can be sure there’d be a good old-fashioned victim blamer there to tell them they should’ve been walking in the street.

    I’ll be more accepting of “educating” potential victims when I see real enforcement against the people who perpetuate street violence–that is, almost always, drivers of motor vehicles.

  • As a regular jaywalker, I realize I’m taking a risk. I’m extra careful at night when I’m wearing dark clothing and in the rain, when stopping distance is much higher.

    As for those saying that these signs are blaming the victim and there should be more signs for motorists- last I checked, there are speed limit signs, don’t block the box signs, yield signs, etc. 

    As for those saying that cyclists/pedestrians don’t abide by traffic signals because it’ll double or triple their travel time- have you ever driven down a street in NYC that isn’t timed for cars (e.g. 34th st)? It takes 3 times as long, and yet the drivers still obey the red lights.

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