Bratton’s Pedestrian Ticket Blitz Won’t Save Lives

84-year-old Kang Wong after his bloody encounter with the 24th Precinct’s pedestrian enforcement team. Photo: G.N. Miller/NY Post

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton’s claim last week that 66 percent of pedestrian injuries “are directly related to the actions of pedestrians” was unsourced and at odds with existing research, but already it seems to be shaping NYPD’s enforcement efforts.

On a horrifically violent weekend during which three pedestrians and one cyclist were killed by motorists on NYC streets, officers from the 24th Precinct were dispensing jaywalking tickets at 96th and Broadway. Cops bloodied the face of one ticket recipient, 84-year-old Kang Wong, after he reportedly didn’t understand what was happening and walked away from the stop.

Police were also out ticketing motorists for moving violations, so the stepped up enforcement seems to be nabbing genuinely dangerous behavior as well. But the pedestrian stings are an embarrassment for a purportedly data-driven department that has just set out to drastically reduce traffic deaths.

Where is the traffic safety global success story that relies on punishing pedestrians? Name one.

In fact, the proven model — exemplified by the Netherlands — does not hold pedestrians at fault in the event of a collision, even if they disobeyed the letter of the law. By applying a “strict liability” legal framework to traffic crashes, the Dutch have codified the notion that when you drive a multi-ton vehicle, it’s incumbent upon you to do everything possible to avoid striking pedestrians and cyclists. This has saved lives: Fewer than half as many people are killed in traffic per capita in the Netherlands as in the U.S.

New York does not currently have a strict liability legal framework for traffic crashes, except in cases involving impaired driving. But the basic concept can still be applied to traffic enforcement by ticketing only violations with the potential to inflict injury on other people. Jaywalking is not one of those violations.

Sometimes, jaywalking might even be safer than not jaywalking. The fact is that if you’re walking in New York, you’re at risk whether you cross the street with the signal or not. More pedestrians are injured while crossing in the crosswalk with the signal than while crossing midblock or against the signal, according to a study of Bellevue trauma patients by NYU Langone Medical Center.

The reason why crossing with the signal exposes you to injury is that a lot of drivers don’t yield to pedestrians while turning. Many drivers are traveling too fast for conditions and can’t react in time. And many are distracted from the task of navigating crowded urban streets, which should demand their full attention. There is nothing ambiguous about these three violations. Speeding, failure to yield, and distracted driving kill people, and they contribute to the majority of pedestrian injuries and deaths.

In the era of Vision Zero, NYPD needs to deter behavior that kills, not harass people for exercising their judgment about how to safely walk the city’s treacherous streets.

  • Joe R.

    The most blatant example of how jaywalking laws favor drivers is the fact that it’s illegal to start crossing once the don’t walk signal flashes (and/or the countdown timer starts). At some intersections that gives a pedestrian a window of under 10 seconds out of every 90 to 120 when they can start crossing the street. Operationally this means pedestrians waiting an average of 40 seconds to cross nearly every block. That can double your walking time or worse while adding nothing at all to safety. As I said in a post above, we’ve been down this road already with cycling enforcement. Cyclists break the rules for the same reason pedestrians do-they’re car centric and will highly detrimental to efficient travel. It seems it’s OK for everyone else to be excessively delayed so long as motor traffic can flow.

    Usually when large numbers of people don’t follow rules, it’s because of bad laws or bad design. We have both here.

  • Joe R.

    Ironically, making Manhattan car free has been talked about since before I was born (1962). I’m amazed in a city with a majority of car-free households, plus a supermajority of people traveling in Manhattan by modes other than private auto, that this hasn’t been implemented yet. It’s an old idea whose time has come.

  • BrooklynDriver

    Wouldn’t a camera enforced 10 mph speed limit give us a good level of safety while still allowing motor vehicles when they make sense? I can see the logic of a complete ban during commute heavy times, i.e no cars or trucks from 7am-9am or 4pm-7pm. But why not allow motor vehicles at safe speeds other times of day?

  • Guest

    I live on Manhattan, just idly musing this over. I don’t own a car, hope I never will again. But every once a month or so, it’s convenient to rent a car at the garage on my block to drive somewhere rural that I’m heading to. It’s always my last resort: trains aren’t available and so on. Nice to have this option though without the neverending hassle of car ownership.

    So: the thought experiment of a car-free Manhattan. How to schlep stuff around, take road trips to see our grandparents at the cabin, when needed?

  • It’s time to stop using the word “pedestrian” and just say “people.” Unless you’re confined to a hospital bed or something, you’re a pedestrian.

  • Moonbat

    This is correct. I was one of the ticketed people. They were nabbing people at random – not looking for interference with a vehicle, walking while texting, etc. The turning lanes were blocked by police cars. Police gave warnings to some, tickets to others.

  • Moonbat

    Kevin, you don’t seem either annoying or disrespectful 🙂

  • Joe R.

    I’m not seeing any major issues with not allowing private cars in Manhattan. You can move heavy stuff by hiring a moving van or other type of commercial hauler. As far as road trips, it’s probably faster to take the subway or commuter railroad out of Manhattan, then rent a car somewhere in NJ, Long Island, or one of the outer boroughs, as opposed to starting in Manhattan by car. Most days it takes an hour or more just to get in or out of Manhattan.

    Honestly, I’m not seeing any showstopper besides politics to banning private cars from all the boroughs except Staten Island. Once cars are banned, there would be heavy demand for more public transit. We could initially run SBS or BRT while new subways were being built. The money the city saves from dealing with all the externalities caused by private autos would easily pay for all this new mass transit.

  • Joe R.

    The issue here with allowing private autos goes way beyond safety. Private autos have all sorts of negative externalities. Arguably, limiting speeds to 10 mph makes more pollution per mile even if it increases safety. Pollution from autos kills at least ten times as many people as autos kill directly. Sure, we can get around this problem by requiring zero emissions vehicles in NYC, but undoubtably the auto companies would fight such a mandate.

    Banning private autos from at least Manhattan, preferably also large swaths of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, is eminently sensible public policy even if it’s currently not politically viable. At the same time as autos are banned, we should require the remaining motor vehicles to be zero emissions. Electric vehicles are ideally suited to city driving where distances are short and speeds are low. Moreover, that would help with the noise pollution problem caused by diesel engines.

    Incidentally, NYC no longer has specific “commute heavy” times. The roads seem to be crowded from 6 AM through at least 10 PM.

  • JamesR

    Banning private autos in Manhattan? Sure. It could and should happen. In the boroughs? I highly doubt it. As densified as they may be, the boroughs are NYC’s own inner suburbs, and as such, and folks are simply not going to give up car ownership. Not only that, but many owners, myself included, use them to get out of the city, which means that they type of low speed electrical vehicle you propose isn’t viable.

  • Adamlaw

    in between what we have now and banning private autos is congestion pricing which regrettably our new mayor voted down. Perhaps now that he is not beholden to his former south Brooklyn constituency he is more open to it. Regrettably, when cp was voted down, we lost $100 million in Federal subsidies for public transit.

  • Joe R.

    There are certain parts of the outer boroughs with heavy pedestrian traffic at levels close to Manhattan where banning autos would make sense. Downtown Flushing and Jamaica are two areas I’m familiar with which come to mind. Moreover, these aren’t great places to take private autos anyway. Traffic crawls and parking is hard to come by.

    You obviously can’t ban autos from the entire city at once. I was thinking of a phase out. We start with Manhattan and some “downtown” parts of the outer boroughs. Over the next decade we build more subways, encourage infill development, in general make it easier to live without a car. As you do that, you can ban autos from larger and larger parts of the city. You may never get all of NYC 100% car-free, but you can probably get most of the places which matter car-free.

    Electric vehicles come in all shapes and sizes. Many exist which are perfectly viable for out-of-town trips. There’s little reason 99% of vehicles in the US shouldn’t be electric within a decade. Range now can be upwards of 200 miles, and you can recharge in 20 minutes at a suitable charging station. That’s good enough to serve the transportation needs of 99% of the population.

  • Joe R.

    Congestion pricing in NYC is probably inevitable within a decade. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the original plan because it most likely would have turned large parts of western Queens and Brooklyn, and the south Bronx/northern Manhattan, into parking zones for people driving in just far enough to avoid the congestion charge. A better plan would levy a smaller congestion charge upon entering city limits (perhaps $20 peak times, $5 other times), and another hefty congestion charge going into Manhattan (maybe $50 peak hours and $10 off-peak). You could have waivers for delivery vehicles and of course buses. The idea is to discourage people from outside the city from driving into the city at all during peak hours. The original plan probably wouldn’t have done much to decrease traffic in the outer boroughs, even though they’re nearly as much in need of traffic reduction as Manhattan. People coming from LI, NJ, and CT into the city have viable alternatives to driving, especially during peak hours. If it cost a lot to drive those last 15 or 20 miles, many would opt to just use the train instead.

    Congestion pricing has to take into account the fact that drivers often make illogical decisions. Driving into NYC during peak hours is not rational from a time or money standpoint, even without a congestion charge. The reason many drivers do so is because in their minds they’re already in their cars, and their cars are already paid for, so they might as well drive those last 15-20 miles instead of changing vehicles, even if it takes longer and costs more than taking commuter rail. A high congestion charge will be enough to make many see the folly of driving all the way in. Those few who can afford to pay $70 a day to drive into Manhattan will be rewarded with a much faster trip.

  • Maggie

    I think congestion pricing to drive in and market-rate pricing for anyone crazy enough to want to own and store a car in Manhattan, coupled with a world-class transit system and as needed, conveniently located market priced car-sharing services (ideally, someday soon, zero emissions and with driverless technology available) is a great way to go. I would never choose to drive somewhere when a comfortable and safe foot / bike / subway / train option was available, but I’m willing to concede that occasionally walking a block to rent a car is the least worst way to go.

    Walking around the Upper West Side this weekend, I was keenly aware that the victims of the pedestrian killings and maimings in the past ten days were hit by: a tour bus driver, a cab driver, an ambulance driver, the driver of a privately-owned Dodge (was he out of state? I can’t remember), a cement truck driver, an MTA bus driver, the driver of a privately-owned SUV, an unlicensed driver on a dealership test drive (did I remember that right? is that really possible?), and a 44-year-old driver in an SUV with Connecticut plates (no pedestrians injured in this fatal crash on a crowded Midtown sidewalk, amazingly). I don’t think zeroing on the local privately-owned cars would rid us of this senseless carnage. Can also say anecdotally that the most annoying/dangerous drivers I see on the high density, pedestrian-packed Upper West Side streets tend to be commercial truck drivers from the outer boroughs, and (if you must know), the solo minivan driver with Connecticut plates, beeping her horn cause she wants to turn left and then impatiently honking for a solid minute at the driver ahead of her, too clueless to know that he is yielding the left turn to about 30 pedestrians crossing the street ahead of him who have the right of way, but she doesn’t get it b/c I guess she’s got a Connecticut good-neighbor fest to get home to.

    ps – if I watched NBC’s video with a sharp enough eye, after Kang Wong was roughed up he was surrounded by 7 (it’s 7!) officers. I still can’t believe that happened. And I can’t believe you can kill someone in the crosswalk and pay $300. Horrible.

  • Andrew

    That’s absurd. If I live on the Upper East Side and am going hiking with my family on a Sunday at the Delaware Water Gap, we’re supposed to carry our hiking gear on multiple trains and buses to Fort Lee, taking several hours, before we’re allowed to rent a car? (The drive on a Sunday morning from the UES to Fort Lee takes about 15 minutes.)

    I have no objection to charging motorists for the privilege of driving on city streets, especially in Manhattan, but an outright ban, especially off-peak, is absurd and will never happen.

  • Joe R.

    What about using a taxi or car service to get to Fort Lee? There are all sorts of alternatives to private autos in cases where public transit is inconvenient or nonexistent. By the way, I regularly carry loads of up to 70 pounds on foot, sometimes for a mile or more, while shopping and I’m 51 years old. I carried 30 pounds two days ago 3/4 mile in 15 degrees, 20 mph winds, and corners full of snow mounds. Compared to that, schleping camping gear on public transit is a piece of cake. I totally understand the time issue you mention, however. That’s the real problem here. In a hypothetical world where cars were restricted from Manhattan, it would be far quicker to hop a subway from Manhattan to the Bronx, rent a car there, and cross the GW into NJ.

    Or the ban could exclude rental cars. Rental cars aren’t as much of a problem as private autos because they’re parked for far less of the day. Also, by their nature they would often not even be in the city given that most city residents mainly use cars for out-of-town trips.

    Don’t dismiss a ban outright. Any logistical issues of the kind you allude to can be worked out. I hold to my position that privately-owned autos just don’t belong in Manhattan. This would free an a huge amount of curb space to make deliveries more efficient, plus allow possible expansion of services like Zip Car.

    Another overlooked positive side of a ban on private cars would be more political support/money for expanded public transit. That alone could fix some of the issues of public transit being highly inconvenient or unavailable at off-peak times.

    I find it ironic how many people nowadays want to solve problems, but they also want to have their cake and eat it, too. It never works that way in the real world. You frequently post whenever the topic is pedestrian issues. You obviously want us to do something about the ongoing pedestrian carnage. And I support this 100% myself because I’m a pedestrian more often than I’m a cyclist. However, at some point if we really want to affect change, we’re going to have to do things which either make life a lot less convenient for private auto users, or we’re going to have to seriously look at solutions which far too many livable streets advocates just dismiss outright, like grade separation. There is a finite amount of space at street level. There are more users vying for that space than can be safely or efficiently accommodated. As an engineer, there are only two solutions-reduce the number of users, or make more space. We obviously can’t make more space at street level, so we need to make space above or below the street. If you find this too objectionable then the alternative is to reduce the number of users. The best place to start is obviously with private autos. They take up many times the space of people on foot or on bikes. But you seemingly find even this objectionable because it might cause you inconvenience on occasional weekend trips. Welcome to the world of modern politics where everyone wants painless solutions to problems. Sorry, but there are none here. The best compromise is the one I mentioned-consider excluding rental cars from a general auto ban. I honestly feel this will dilute the efficacy of my overall solution to reducing the street carnage, but I’ll settle for this over the status quo. Vision 10 is not as great as Vision Zero, but it’s certainly a lot better than what we have now, which is something like Vision 200.

  • TOM

    I didn’t even know that Jaywalking laws were enforced in most East Coast Cities. I do this everyday. I just look out for cars and trucks first before I cross. Sounds like common sense to me. Double parking seems to me be much more of a problem in New York.

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