Film Maker Captures Everyday Motorist Law-Breaking at Deadly Crossings

Here are two excellent shorts from film maker Anna Zivarts that document conditions at intersections where pedestrians lost their lives.

On the morning of January 2, 75-year-old Xiaoci Hu was struck by two motorists at Seventh Avenue and 65th Street in Sunset Park. Zivarts took a camera there and filmed several drivers, including one in a semi truck, blowing through a crosswalk heedless of a group of pedestrians who have the right of way. People in the group yell at drivers to stop as they continue to pass, inches from a man with a small child on his shoulders. The film shows motorists honking at pedestrians who have the walk signal.

At East Fordham Road and Southern Boulevard in the Bronx, where an unidentified man was hit by a driver less than 12 hours after Hu was killed, Zivarts filmed motorists en route to Pelham Parkway failing to yield. At one point, a man on foot waits through an entire light cycle as driver after driver refuses to concede the right of way, forcing him to wait for the next light.

This is a genius idea that, unfortunately, could be replicated at most any intersection in NYC. Motorists are constantly making the case that improved enforcement and engineering are needed to make streets safer, and anyone with a video camera or a smartphone and some editing software can give them an audience.

“This won’t get us to Vision Zero,” reads Zivarts’s caption at the end of each video. But this is the kind of grassroots activism that will.

  • Clarence

    This is great stuff from Anna. I have been getting a few requests from people if I’d be interested in documenting dangerous crossings or do a story in their nabe, But as you can see from these videos, you can go out and document this quite simply. Most horrible intersections don’t take long to observe horrible happenings.

    I plan on going out in Jackson Heights and doing the same in a few days where we had traffic violence occur in the last few months. All of us should be doing shorts like this when we can – the volume of work will help sway the minds of the mayor and the council if/when they waver.

  • JamesR

    This is POWERFUL stuff, seeing it on film like this. This makes an institutional-minded type want to become a picketing radical real quick. It’s like you’re not even dealing with fellow human beings behind the wheel when you’re a ped in these situations – more like wheeled cyborg monsters with only one word in their vocabulary: HONK. DeBlasio needs to get Bratton to set up some NYPD sting operations at these sites and make examples of these callous animals.

  • JimthePE
  • red_greenlight1

    Can we finally admit Vision Zero was just an election talking point yet?

  • twk

    Powerful stuff! This should be done at the location of every fatality. Maybe by relentlessly demonstrating the systemic failures that persist will start a louder call for change. Statistics are one thing, but a clear a visual can grab a larger audience.

  • Mat50

    needs to be put on the evening news, ad nauseum, until something is done.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Great video. I found myself gasping as each clip proceeded – “Oh my God – is that pedestrian going to get hit?”
    The crazy thing is that the technology and engineering to make these intersections safer is neither super expensive nor “high-tech.” Start with sidewalk extensions on either side to shorten the wide crossing distance. Give a four way (“Barnes Dance”) pedestrian signal and make the left turn signal AFTER the pedestrians get their turn (not before!).
    I’ve written here before, but worth mentioning again….In Amsterdam and Copenhagen, every serious crash involving a pedestrian or a cyclist automatically triggers a re-engineering of the intersection from their traffic safety departments. And thus, one by one, the most dangerous intersections are made safer. That would be a great new policy for Mayor DeBlasio to adopt…tomorrow!

  • Clarence

    When you consider these intersections look like this 24-7-365 how do we as a society continue to let this go without fixing them? Children and seniors use these crossings. We need the mayor to start fixing these ASAP. He said he wanted to fix a certain number every year. He should just come out and say these two intersections are the first ones.

  • Battered pedestrian

    These videos are astonishing. You can’t help but feel horrible for the pedestrians that have to cross these streets regularly. The sad thing is that all we NYCers have one or more intersections like these in our neighborhoods.

    These videos are such clear proof that design, not the elusive and vague calls for “enforcement,” should be the priority to prevent many pedestrian killings.

  • Guest

    It didn’t take more than 20 minutes at either of these locations to get all the footage I needed. I went into it thinking it would take much longer, since both were filmed during the middle of the day (not rush hour). The Brooklyn clip was even filmed on a Sunday. Pick a dangerous intersection in your neighborhood and give it a try. Or film one of these intersections where motorists have killed: http://batchgeo.com/map/0f05e7eba3d60c353cbc0987c77404a4

  • Anna Zivarts

    It didn’t take more than 20 minutes at either of these intersections to get all the footage I needed. I was prepared for it to take much longer – especially since neither was filmed at rush hour. Pick a scary intersection in your neighborhood and give it a try. Or film one of these intersections where motorists have recently killed: http://batchgeo.com/map/0f05e7eba3d60c353cbc0987c77404a4

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    Does anyone have recommendations for free video editing software?

  • Hilda

    Anna, these are so very powerful. Thanks for documenting these, and I look forward to the changes that we will push for with these.

  • Andrew

    In my opinion, both should be the priority. Redesigning intersections takes time and money, and the benefits are realized only at and near the intersections that have been redesigned. Enforcement can take place anywhere at any time, and a diversified approach will make drivers realize that they run risks by breaking the law, anywhere and at any time.

  • thomas040

    get a mac, comes with iMovie

  • Andrew

    Risks to their own wallets, that is, since it’s already obvious that many drivers don’t care about risks to others.

  • If anyone would like some basic filmmaking tips, here is the Streetfilms University video on line. You’ll get a lot of pointers, but to be honest, all it takes is being patient and shooting some video at the dangerous intersection(s) in your neighborhood. Sadly it doesn’t take long. You can do it with an expensive camera or your iPad or cell phone. I’d love to see this become a weekly event where people send Streetsblog footage of dangerous intersections in their neighborhood.

    http://www.streetfilms.org/streetfilms-university-how-we-make-effective-films/

  • I used to shoot a lot of video of people blocking crosswalks with vehicles and endangering pedestrians. Here’s one from over 6 years ago. http://www.streetfilms.org/crosswalks-1/

  • Kevin Love

    Compare this to the standard Dutch intersection design.

    And here are real-life video clips of these intersections in use. Safe, reliable… boring. We can be exactly the same.

  • Especially the first intersection is incredibly ugly, and huge. I would hope that some kind of circular pattern is studied as a solution for both.

    “Vision Zero” has to start with a city-wide effort from the people.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Actually that sounds super depressing! I enjoy streetfilms for their positive vibe and showcase of cool stuff from other states and countries. If I want to see people driving like jerks I unfortunately need only walk out my door.

  • Joe R.

    This might work in NYC where arterials meet other arterials (then again roundabouts would probably work even better at such intersections) but not at all the intersections in between. It would be beyond annoying to ride a bike and have two sharp curves every 250′ or so. At least at arterial crossings the street is wide enough to make the curves gradual enough so you could ride through them at ~20 mph. Not so on the narrow cross streets in between major arterials.

  • Joe R.

    Pedestrian bridges or underpasses are really the only things which can be effective at clusterf*ck intersections like those. I know those things are dirty words around here, but consider that in NYC major arterials which are hazardous to cross are typically at least ten blocks apart. As a pedestrian, I would rather use an overpass or underpass every ten blocks than deal with the stuff shown in the videos. The overpasses/underpasses could be designed to accommodate cyclists also. Both cyclists and peds gain in terms of safety and time. No more dangerous crossings, and no waiting for long light cycles to cross. Motor vehicles gain because red light cycles can be shortened. They don’t need to be long enough to accommodate a pedestrian crossing at 3 feet per second, or whatever the standard is.

  • Joe R.

    Both videos nicely illustrate why many people prefer to cross mid-block. It’s all too common for turning vehicles to usurp much of the walk cycle, leaving little time to actually cross the street.

  • Rabi Abonour

    I can see why a traffic engineer would default to giving lights to pedestrians and traffic at the same time (even though pedestrians should go first), but how could anyone think it is acceptable to let drivers start turning, THEN give pedestrians the walk light?

    I don’t want to minimize the fact that drivers should yield regardless, and the NYPD should be enforcing failure to yield, but this is also just atrocious design.

  • JK

    Notice that speed and red light enforcement cameras won’t do much to help people crossing here at 65th and 7th Ave in BK. The danger, and traffic violation, here is failure to yield — which is rarely, if ever, enforced by NYPD. Unfortunately, even an active, concerned NYPD can’t do enforcement for more than a fraction of the time needed at really bad intersections. DOT needs to fundamentally reenegineer this interesection to give pedestrians more protected time and space. This is where the screwed up public approval process is costing lives. There are at least a few hundred big scary intersections like this in NYC. It’s been taking three or so community board meetings to get each street safety projects approved. So, we are looking at 600 to 1000 community board meetings to apply real fixes to just the most dangerous and threatening intersections. That’s unworkable.

  • Clarke

    I know cross buttons aren’t ideal…but what if they were set up to create Barnes-dance-esque signal phases. As in, the lights have a default cycle (including walk signals as presented here), but if a cross button is activated, all motor vehicle lights go to red and all ped signals go to walk? Is that even possible?

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    I don’t like saying any proposal to increase safety is totally unrealistic because that’s what naysayers and NIMBYS have been arguing for years about basic street redesigns that would allow people to walk and bike and drive more safely. But I don’t see any aspect of this idea — cost, practically, politically, and the kind of time it would take to create this — as realistic at all.

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    “Pick a scary intersection in your neighborhood” = almost any intersection in any neighborhood.

  • Jonathan R

    Where does the bus stop?

  • BornAgainBicyclist

    I was wondering the same thing. Could DOT ID intersections where that would be feasible and start to implement?

  • Jonathan R

    My understanding of DOT policy is that they discourage increasing lanes’ stopped time, a consequence of multiple light cycles. Their preference, I believe, is for turn restrictions.

    My experience is that button-activated red lights are often ignored by drivers. I use one every afternoon and there are always cars who drive straight through without relenting.

  • valar84

    In Japan, pedestrian bridges are a common sight over arterial streets. They’ve pushed the envelope so far that some areas near stations (like Sendai and Ueno) have huge elevated pedestrian plazas in front of them. I am perfectly fine with them personally, if you have a huge road with a lot of traffic on them, I much prefer to cross them on pedestrian bridges than trying to cross them at grade with tons of cars turning at the same time.

    I get why some don’t like them. They think that pedestrian bridges are not only an “enabler” of extremely wide urban stroads, but that they may also be obstacles to people with mobility impairments. These bridges do send the signal that, at least in the area around them, roads are for cars exclusively, and they reduce pressures to narrow streets to slow down traffic and make them more welcoming to pedestrians and cyclists. In Japan, again, there are fences to separate the road and the sidewalk when pedestrian bridges are used, it helps that sidewalks are frequently wide and that cyclists can legally use the sidewalk.

    There is also a mentality amongst traffic engineers that pedestrians don’t even use pedestrian bridges anyway, but just jaywalk instead, so there is no point to them, they’re only a last resort. So neither traffic engineers nor urban-minded activists look kindly on pedestrian bridges in North America. But personally, I’m not averse to them. If we’re to be stuck with huge arterial roads, as a pedestrian I prefer bridges to being forced to cross these roads at grade (not a fan of underpasses though, they’re really uncomfortable to be in, they feel quite unsafe unless there are a lot of people around).

  • valar84

    Way too expensive for what it is, you’re better off buying a PC and then a commercial video editing software. For very basic movie edition, Windows comes with Windows Live Movie Maker, which can do the job in a pinch.

    Also, that’s not really a proper advice, thomas040. Even the cheapest Apple laptops cost a full 1000$ or so. Someone asking for free video editing software likely has a computer already and is probably cash-strapped, so asking them to buy a 1000$ computer just to get a “free” video editing software is really completely missing the point.

  • ladyfleur

    These videos show how shamefully our culture treats people who have the audacity to walk instead of drive. My blood is boiling.

    Having been at community input meetings in my suburban city, I know that if I showed this to more car-oriented people, they would say a pedestrian over/undercrossing be built. Slowing down cars doesn’t enter their minds.

    Any tips for how to counter that response? (beyond the obvious answer that over/undercrossings are very expensive)

  • Joe R.

    Here’s the problem in a nutshell-there is no safe, effective way to deal with an intersection with large numbers of pedestrians AND large numbers of motor vehicles short of grade separation. The street redesigns you refer to are indeed effective in many cases. However, those are all cases where the volume of vehicles and/or pedestrians is relatively small. Safe streets solutions work fine in residential areas. They might even work fine on some arterials which don’t see heavy volumes of traffic. They don’t work at all in situations like the ones described. There are really only two solutions which can work-grade separation, or taking steps to radically reduce traffic volumes so street redesigns can work. I feel the latter is a better solution for a whole host of reasons, but it’s also currently not feasible politically.

    I also feel far too many people here are probably using Robert Moses as their sole basis for hating all things grade-separated because of the awful elevated highways he rammed down everyone’s throat. A good street engineer should use every tool in the toolbox. Grade separation is just another tool. It’s not inherently good or evil. That all depends upon how it’s applied.

    You do know they have prefabricated pedestrian bridges? If we decide an intersection needs such a bridge, it can be put up literally overnight.

  • Joe R.

    That’s the issue in a nutshell-for the time being we’re stuck with huge arterial roads. There is just no way to make these safe to cross at grade for a bunch of reasons. I wouldn’t say pedestrian bridges are an enabler of extremely wide urban roads, but rather another type of intersection treatment. I liken the analogy to the way we treat railroads in urban areas. Nobody here is going to suggest it’s “better” for pedestrians to cross railroads at grade. Moreover, in many cases the railroads were already there before heavy development, so nobody is suggesting removing them, or “calming” them. For whatever reason, by necessity our society currently needs wide roads through urban areas-be they surface boulevards or highways. The only issue is how to get pedestrians and cyclists safely across these roads without unduly impacting the efficiency of those modes, and also motor vehicles. In conditions with the sheer volumes of vehicles and pedestrians which exist in NYC and also many Japanese cities, nothing but grade separation is effective. To those who think these are a bad idea, would you rather take 2 or even 3 light cycles to cross a road like Queens Boulevard while still not being guaranteed safe passage, or use an overpass to do so in complete safety without waiting at all? That’s really the choice here.

    As for underpasses, subways function great as defacto, safe underpasses where they exist. At intersections where they exist, we should seriously consider the idea of making those the only permitted way to cross really dangerous streets, installing ramps for the disabled and bicycles if need be. Once again, Queens Boulevard provides a perfect example.

  • Are you on Windows?

  • travis_robert

    Same turn-signal problem at 9th Ave and 57th St in Manhattan—with much higher pedestrian volume. It’s so bad that I refuse to cross the south side of that intersection (I’ll pull out my camera next time though).

  • Joe R.

    The only counter I can give is to look at traffic volumes. In the case of many suburban streets, traffic volumes are often small enough that safe streets solutions can work without unduly impacting either traffic speed, or making pedestrians wait too long to cross. A good compromise in a situation where relatively few pedestrians cross is a signalized crossing with either a push-to-cross button, or better yet a pedestrian sensor. When someone wants to cross, the light goes red within a few seconds, and remains red until they cross the street (but not a second longer). Most of the time in suburban settings such a system won’t impact motor vehicles at all. The rare times it does it won’t kill someone in a car to wait 30 or 40 seconds for someone to cross the street.

    If you have high volumes of both pedestrians and motor vehicles, as in both videos, there really is no safe, effective way to allow crossing at grade. You end up delaying everyone for long amounts of time at every intersection. My preferred solution in such instances is to radically lower motor vehicle volume but that would go over like a lead balloon in suburbia. As distasteful as you may find it, there are sadly some situations where a pedestrian underpass/overpass really is the best engineering solution. The only caveat is to make sure these crossings are safe and accessible so people use them.

  • Clarke

    Throw in red light cameras then.

  • Joe R.

    The problem is you need a certain percentage of green time to get traffic volumes through. Yes, the obvious long term solution is to reduce traffic volumes but for a whole bunch of reasons that probably won’t happen until we see $10 a gallon gas. Anyway, there is only so much you can do with signalization when you have large volumes of both pedestrians and motor vehicles, as is the case in much of NYC. As things stand, long red light cycles already cause bunching of vehicles into platoons. This causes collisions and adds to congestion. When many vehicles in a platoon are all turning at the same street, they can usurp most of the walk cycle. The videos vividly illustrate this.

    There are no magic answers here other than radically reducing traffic volumes. If we do that, most of the issues shown will go away.

  • Jonathan R

    I will call 311 right away about that, although given the State Assembly’s unwillingness to permit red-light cameras I don’t think anything is going to happen.

  • ocschwar

    Took you only 20 minutes to get footage of a truck driver failing to yield to a 4 year old girl on her father’s shoulders?

    Wow, that is so many levels of special.

  • ocschwar

    This kind of aggression is unheard of iun Boston nowdays.

    As in Boston, land of the legendarily scary drivers.

    For a simple reason. The police ticket aggressive actions towards civilians, and arrange crosswalk stings.

  • anon

    How about retractable bollards when the light turns red

    Add some control for police/fire/ambulance if you need.

    That would help make some street crossing a lot safer.

    Adding ramps for disabled would be tough. They need a pretty gentle slope. Bikes would be easier to accommodate.

  • anon

    In cities where pedestrians are respected, on low volume arterial roads mid block crosswalks with pedestrian actuators that flash a yellow light to let cars know that a pedestrian is crossing can be effective. In nyc they would need to be accompanied by photo enforcement for the foreseeable future however.

    https://local.google.com/?ll=40.000005,-105.255289&spn=0.010734,0.017896&t=h&z=16&layer=c&cbll=39.999997,-105.255151&panoid=Ut1eG0w4sf2dDT182YPNQw&cbp=12,101.25,,0,-5.07

  • Joe R.

    You’re not seeing the major problem here-namely the enormous amount of time signalized intersections waste for every street user when traffic/pedestrian volumes get high. Even if we can ensure that no turning drivers usurp part of the walk cycle, a pedestrian or cyclist might still have to wait 2 minutes at a major arterial before they get a walk signal or green light. Or a cyclist traveling along a wide arterial which has long red light cycles to allow pedestrians time to cross might get caught waiting for a minute or more every few blocks. Overpasses avoid all these issues.

    Signalization only works with low-medium traffic volumes where red light cycles can be infrequent, relatively short, and preferably sensor-controlled. Nobody should have to wait 2 minutes to cross a road. Moreover, in NYC with lots of such roads you have people waiting repeatedly every 10 blocks. That’s a serious delay-for all users. Even if we couldn’t care less about drivers, it seriously impacts me when I’m walking, and especially when I’m cycling, if I get caught at long red lights repeatedly. That’s unacceptable from an efficiency standpoint. Moreover, as the videos clearly show, this signalization isn’t even making things safer. Arguably, it’s doing the opposite.

    As for ramps, any ramp which is suitable for biking shouldn’t be too steep for the disabled. The city has its share of streets with 8% or more gradients. I never hear anyone complain about them being too steep for the disabled. Remember we’re probably talking about an overpass roughly every ten blocks or so. For most walkers, that would mean one overpass they need to negotiate.

    NYC is having the problems it’s having due to an unfortunate combination of high motor traffic volumes, lack of traffic enforcement, and last but not least awful, awful intersection designs. We default to either traffic signals or stop signs when myriad other intersection treatments might work much better.

  • Southerner

    I see this kind of stuff in my neighborhood as well. I’ve nearly been run down by impatient lunatics for whom a two second delay is grounds for assault.

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