As Bloomberg Touts Traffic Safety, Ray Kelly Says “Accidents” Happen

Who's in charge here? Mike Bloomberg at this morning's International Downtown Association conference, and Ray Kelly speaking at CityLab. Images: ##http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSSNp4PHeRU##Pratt Institute/YouTube## (left), ##http://events.theatlantic.com/citylab/2013/##The Atlantic## (right)

In a moment that crystallized the schizophrenic traffic safety policies of the Bloomberg administration, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly revealed completely different philosophies concerning New York City’s streets while speaking at two different conferences this morning.

Bloomberg, at the International Downtown Association annual meeting, spoke about the safety gains, economic benefits, and popularity of initiatives like plazas, bike-share, and protected bike lanes. He started with Times Square, which has seen rents and sales receipts continue to rise after plazas were installed.

“Pedestrians who were once crammed for space and constantly got hit by cars are far safer,” Bloomberg said. “And that’s not only far more relaxing and pleasant, it also translates into major economic benefits.”

But it’s not just plazas, Bloomberg said, touting protected bike lanes that encountered initial opposition from some merchants who were worried about losing drive-by customers. “In most of these cases, we didn’t allow you to stop and jump out of your car and shop, so you weren’t exactly losing anything,” Bloomberg said. “Progress never comes easy. People are comfortable with what they have, and anything new is worrisome.”

Bloomberg also said bike-share is “off-the-charts successful,” despite an avalanche of negative press before it launched. “Today, all the reporters and even the publishers ride the bicycles,” he said.

“Lots of neighborhoods want us to close the streets to automobile traffic and turn them into pedestrian malls. Unfortunately, we still need to have streets open for trucks, for buses, and for cars, and so it’s a fine balance,” said Bloomberg. “The truth of the matter is, the more you make a neighborhood friendly, the better it is for the people that live there, who visit, and the merchants.”

A few minutes earlier at the CityLab conference, Ray Kelly was asked a question by Sarah Goodyear, reporter for Atlantic Cities and Streetsblog alumna, about the NYPD’s approach to traffic safety. “There’s a perception that a lot of drivers don’t get prosecuted for criminal activity,” said Goodyear. “Do you think the NYPD could be doing a better job of preventing traffic violence on the street, and how could they do that?”

Kelly took a different line on traffic safety than his boss. “We could always do a better job in every area,” he said, noting that the force has less manpower than it did a decade ago. But contrary to the supposed new attitude toward traffic violence at NYPD, Kelly also said “accidents” are a fact of life. “We do have 8.4 million people here. We do have a daytime population that’s over 10 million people, so you’re going to have a lot of traffic. And you’re going to have accidents.”

“We’ve worked closely with Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan; I think they’re doing a great job,” Kelly said, mispronouncing his fellow commissioner’s name as “Sadiki-Khan.”

Kelly defended NYPD crash investigation procedures and the partial reforms enacted last spring, but when it comes to cracking down on reckless drivers, the commissioner said there was little police could do. “Many of the advocates, and I assume you are one of them, want us to make these determinations when we haven’t observed the violation,” Kelly said. “It takes in-depth examination of a violation. It takes witnesses. It is much more complex than you might think.”

A bill to change state law so it explicitly states that officers do not have to personally witness an infraction in order to issue a careless driving summons cleared the State Senate this year but failed to pass in the Assembly. Although an NYPD lawyer testified last week that the department supports this bill, Kelly did not mention it during his remarks today.

Responding to a follow-up question about using cameras and technology in traffic enforcement, Kelly said the department has installed dashboard cameras in its highway patrol cars, but did not mention automated enforcement of red light running or speeding.

  • ? Like for example that cabbie who accidentally ran over Sian Green’s foot while accidentally road-raging against a bicyclist.

  • Brad Aaron

    Kelly’s assumption that a reporter who asks about traffic violence is an “advocate” speaks volumes, about NYPD and the press.

    As if there was any doubt, this is basically confirmation that NYPD does not take traffic violence seriously, that Ray Kelly is just fine with toddlers being pulverized like garbage on his watch, and that the recent meager changes are window dressing.

  • Eric McClure

    “Many of the advocates, and I assume you are one of them, want us to make these determinations when we haven’t observed the violation,” Kelly said. “It takes in-depth examination of a violation. It takes witnesses. It is much more complex than you might think.”

    Which is why I always shoot people out of view of cops, since I know that if they don’t see me do it, it’s not a crime.

  • Frank Dell

    Kelly can’t leave soon enough.

  • If there were a wave of gun violence killing and injuring kids, the elderly and everyone in between, and a reporter asked Ray Kelly about it, would he dismiss that person as an “advocate”?

    It’s so clear that Kelly sees the death of 150 people and the injury of thousands more of just the cost of doing business in New York City, as controllable as the weather. Don’t express any concern for your fellow citizens, you silly advocates!

  • Bolwerk

    If Kelly didn’t have the “eh, accidents happen” mentality, he’d be a hypocrite. His force has accidentally shot people plenty of times just this year. And it really sucks when accidental stop ‘n frisk targets are actually innocent. You know, like 9 out of 10 times.

  • I agree, but the sad truth is that only the advocates are asking these questions. Why isn’t there a popular uproar over traffic violence? Why is it that the Netherlands saw massive uprisings decrying the mass murder of children on their streets when the car first became popular, yet Americans, and especially those not living in the major cities, are just willing to accept traffic violence as a fact of life?

  • ocschwar

    But we can be sure the NYPD will be very diligent in reporting any change to the menu at an Afghan restaurant.

  • Albert

    There’s no popular uproar over traffic violence because, after 100 years of the automobile, we, our parents, and even most of our grandparents, were all born into a society that assumes that motor vehicle mayhem and the environmental degradation that comes with it is the way things have always been, always will be, and, at worst, is simply what we have to put up with to feed our abiding “need” for cars. “And it is good.”

  • JamesR

    No, it’s more than that. The Netherlands had a strong car culture as well. The difference is that they also had (and have) an actual society. The Dutch are a people. NYC (and by extension America) is a polyglot collection of people(s) more like a giant refugee camp than a a socially cohesive unit. You just don’t get that kind of civic action with low social capital communities. Look at the miserable voter turnout in the recent primary. Hence, the carnage continues.

  • I don’t believe that is true. There were massive civil rights rallies in the ’60s. Americans can unify to rectify a broad societal injustice. It’s just odd that we haven’t, yet, in the case of traffic violence.

  • Joe R.

    The reason we haven’t is because any attempts to reduce the carnage on the streets would make driving slower, less convenient, and less accessible to the masses (i.e. more stringent licensing requirements). So long as a majority drive, or want to drive, any measures to fix the problem will be a political nonstarter. The good news is fewer people are driving, and more people are seeing driving as a chore which they would avoid if there were viable alternatives. We need to use these trends to our advantage. Once driving is off the radar for a majority, it will be easy to take the steps we need to take to make things safer.

  • Robert Wright

    It’s a tiny point, but do you need to call it “schizophrenic”? People with schizophrenia don’t have multiple personalities. People with multiple personality disorder do.

  • Robert Wright

    I lived in London until just over a year ago and cycled there, as I do in New York now. I had many misgivings about UK traffic policing (as detailed here: http://invisiblevisibleman.blogspot.com/2012/06/cops-pedallers-and-why-theyre-picking.html). But, thanks to some basic, commonsense measures – speed cameras, for example, and at least some prosecution of motoring offenses – traffic in London kills around 150 people a year, as opposed to 250-300 a year in New York. The two cities have around the same population and London has, if anything, a slightly higher proportion of journeys by car. That suggests there’s no inevitability about New York’s traffic death rates.

  • Anonymous

    Kelly calls Goodyear, “…one of them…” Us vs. them, the classic divide. We poor, simpleminded advocates clearly don’t have the mental capacity to grasp the deep complexities of police work. We should just keep to ourselves in our bike/elderly/pedestrian/kid/transit-user ghetto and let the automobiles go about their deadly business. So illuminating.

  • Daniel

    It made sense to me, Ray Kelly is the evil voice speaking in Bloomberg’s head.

  • Anonymous

    That’s an accepted usage for “schizophrenic” according to Merriam-Webster: “contradictory or antagonistic qualities or attitudes [both parties…have exhibited schizophrenia over the desired outcome — Elizabeth Drew]”. Obviously this is not the strictly technical meaning of the word, but hey, you can also say someone is energetic without necessarily meaning energy as defined by physicists! 🙂

  • SteveF

    “Accidents” are what 3 year olds have during toilet training.
    Crashes are what happens on the streets, and crashes have causes.

    Shit happens too.
    This shit happens to be the Police Commissioner.
    Some accident.

  • Anonymous

    WTF ever happened to metrics? I thought these guys were all about metrics. And since the metrics say that cyclists are approximately harmless compared to automobiles, we should expect zero prosecutions for any cycling anything. Till cyclists have had a few dozen pedestrian-killing accidents, it’s clear that any time spent worrying about their behavior is utterly wasted.

  • Joe R.

    “Many of the advocates, and I assume you are one of them, want us to make these determinations when we haven’t observed the violation,” Kelly said. “It takes in-depth examination of a violation. It takes witnesses. It is much more complex than you might think.”

    If that’s the case, then how about have an impartial observer (i.e. a camera) at every intersection? This would make sense because the NYPD wouldn’t have to expend resources to determine the basic facts when a collision occurred. I’m also distressed that Kelly sees a lot of traffic, and the resulting “accidents”, as inevitable. Much of the traffic on the streets is totally nonessential. It’s people driving in personal cars in places where many viable alternatives to driving exist. That’s the very definition of nonessential traffic which could be reduced if proper disincentives to driving were put in place. Start with a congestion tax (a fee to enter NYC proper during certain hours, and another fee to enter the more congested parts of the city, like Manhattan). Reduce curbside parking. In fact, reduce all parking, particularly in places like Manhattan. Just radically reducing traffic volumes would decrease the number of “accidents”.

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