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.

  • Robert Wright

    Thank you for this. I’ve just mailed the following letter to Bill Bratton demanding to know what’s going on, with similar letters going to Bill de Blasio and Polly Trottenberg:

  • Mark Walker

    The pedestrian interval at that corner has been shaved down to a fraction of what it used to be. It’s hard for peds to play by the rules when the game has been rigged.

  • Bolwerk

    This is one of those really predictable things we knew were pretty likely to happen and that’s why we knew Bratton should not have been called back. Like I keep saying: we need to know the types of people who are going to fill roles like police commissioner, transportation commissioner, and the DEP before voting for someone.

    There should be a Vision Zero for police brutality. If these pigs get a paid vacation or wrist slap out of this, my last ounces of respect for de Blasio are gone. They should be fired and prosecuted.

  • SteveVaccaro

    Nice work for a busman’s holiday Ben–I agree completely with the thrust of this post. Summonsing for pedestrian violations is not a logical response to three pedestrian deaths in a two-block section of a residential neighborhood in 8 days, where two of the pedestrians were crossing in the crosswalk with the right of way.

    I do have a nit to pick: you describe motorist traffic violations as “genuinely dangerous behavior” in contrast to jaywalking. That’s a little too broad for me. In a city where any higher-than-walking-speed travel is permitted in designated areas–whether by motorists (including ambulance drivers), cyclists, or skateboarders–pedestrians who walk into those areas in an unpredictable fashion at least potentially create an unnecessary and preventable risk of collision. Pedestrians do have some responsibility for the safety of themselves and others on the road, and therefore an obligation to heed the rules designed to minimize pedestrian risks–at least, in real-world circumstances where those risks are manifest. On top of the risks, it is in most cases rude for pedestrians to carelessly block the right of way of cyclists or motorists–no less rude than when cyclists or motorists do it to pedestrians.

    But a sudden ticket blitz targeting jaywalking is not the way to teach pedestrians those responsibilities. Surely the best way is, at least initially, to educate. NYPD could have done some good at this intersection with pedestrians had they handed out fliers explaining the three crashes in this area and cautioning vigilance and the *shared* responsibility of road road users to make the system work. This would have been comparable to the months-long period that ended last Wednesday, during which motorists running red lights near schools received only a warning, but not a summons, when detected by one of the city’s new red light cameras.

    Jaywalking tickets are pointless because pedestrians already know that the penalty for miscalculating a jaywalk is serious injury or death. No ticketing is required. And I doubt that police were ticketing only those pedestrians who were jaywalking in a particularly risky manner. If they were, it would mark a departure from the usual “fish-in-barrel” NYPD summonsing MO, in which efficiency of summonsing is paramount and a qualitative assessment of the real-world seriousness of the traffic violation is irrelevant. Because NYPD (of necessity) ignores 99% of traffic misconduct, a jaywalking ticket blitz suggests that jaywalking is the source of the greatest traffic danger. As your post explains so well, it is not.

  • Canonchet

    This use of ‘pigs’ is offensive – just as indefensible as the use of unwarranted force against a harmless octogenarian pedestrian. Making ‘Vision Zero’ a reality requires mutual civility.

  • Alex

    Well stated, Steve. I agree that a ticket blitz on pedestrians is the absolute wrong approach, but that we shouldn’t dismiss the fact that pedestrians do share some responsibility. Too much “drivers bare all the blame” rhetoric discredits the cause of improving street safety.

    Just last week I watched a teen tauntingly dash across an intersection against the light on 4th Ave in Brooklyn. It was dark and rainy and he drew horn honks and slammed brakes as his friends on the corner shouted at him for being so stupid. It helps the safe streets cause to acknowledge that such behavior is unacceptable in all circumstances. On the other end of the spectrum are instances when someone jaywalks a quiet, one-way street late at night with no cars in sight. Then there is the middle ground when a pedestrians scuttles across the street when a car is bearing down. Should they be there? Probably not. But you’ll frequently see drivers keep at speed or even accelerate while hitting the horn to make a point. That’s a case when, if there’s a collision, it shouldn’t matter if the car had the right-of-way. By virtue of operating a heavy, powerful machine they have a responsibility to exercise due care to avoid a crash.

  • Bolwerk

    Calling out thugs for acting like thugs is the moral equivalent to behaving like a thug? That a lot of people probably agree with you is probably why this contempt of cop might be one of the easiest ways to get assaulted in this city. They know they can get away with it.

    But you’re right: my apologies to genus Sus.

  • Clarke

    Zero vision, indeed, especially in the case where it’s likely that jaywalking could have potentially provided safer crossings for those killed while in the crosswalk with the right of way.

  • qrt145

    Somewhere else I read that these tickets are $250. Is that true? Jaywalking tickets are stupid anyway, but $250 would seem outrageously ridiculous (or ridiculously outrageous?). If the ticket were $10, then we’d at least be talking some sort of sense of proportion.

    And then we have $50 camera-enforced speeding tickets for comparison…

  • Joe R.

    Time to change the law. It shouldn’t be illegal for a pedestrian to cross against the light, or midblock, unless they interfere with a vehicle which has the legal right-of-way. Nothing else but law changes are going to stop the NYPD from harassing pedestrians or cyclists whenever they get the urge.

    I’m still waiting for the PSA telling us that this is “for the pedestrians own good”, as if people are incapable of judging when to safely cross the streets. We went down this path already during the cycling ticket blitzes.

  • Joe R.

    I saw this coming last week right after Bratton claimed that pedestrians are at least partly to blame in the majority of car-ped collisions. I was never a fan of the broken windows theory because all too often the end result isn’t stopping future criminals while they’re still committing minor offenses. Rather, broken windows mostly results in law-abiding citizens who will never turn into felons receiving tickets for a plethora of silly offenses. I can’t think of a better way than that to turn the average citizen against the police force. And then whenever you have police-citizen interaction, there’s always the chance of something going seriously wrong, so less is better.

  • anon

    Mayor Giuliani is poised to
    launch a major crackdown on a habit many New Yorkers consider their inalienable
    right: jaywalking.

    Giuliani yesterday hinted that
    tomorrow’s State of the City address will include a plan to increase the $2 fine
    now levied on those who cross at the wrong place or the wrong time.

    Bloomberg declared, “The practical reality is I think the Police
    Department has plenty to do. You’re going to have to generally depend on
    people’s common sense to be self-enforcing, because the police can’t
    possibly give out tickets to everybody that jaywalks.” He added that
    photos like that of the woman having her legs crushed by a double decker bus should help to scaremonger some sense into people.

    A little-known fact: It is also illegal in New York to step off a curb
    the moment the light starts blinking red. But it is rarely enforced and
    even when it is, the fine is $50.

  • anon

    That woman who got clipped by the ambulance then run over by the dodge charger, in one story about that it was reported that driver of the charger didn’t stop until someone flagged him down, he didn’t realize he had hit someone. It’s hard to see how that would be possible had the driver been watching the road in front of him.

  • frankyburns

    My take is that Bin Laden is laughing in his watery grave. He’s the won who made the American citizen’s write a carte blanch to their police, to “protect” them from the terrorist bogeyman. Bin couldn’t take way our freedoms, but he succeeded in driving us to take them away ourselves, from within. Trouble is, the cowards and weaklings see their instinctive reaction as “strong.” Americans are dumb.

  • People have been trying to educate pedestrians for a century, ever since the first automobiles first came on the urban scene. It’s been about as effective as herding cats, since any effort to reign in pedestrian behavior cuts right up against basic human nature.

    While I’m not against encouraging a sense of shared responsibility among city residents and visitors, and while I certainly agree that the occasional reminder to be careful — even in the form of a stern warning from a police officer — is a good idea, I’m not sure how effective any form of pedestrian education is in the long run. As Steve so artfully said, most pedestrians understand that the consequence of making a mistake is not a ticket, but death.

    New York is constantly inhabited by new people. That’s simply the nature of things in universe where time progresses in a linear fashion. Did the pedestrian crackdowns of the Giuliani era lead to any meaningful reduction in traffic fatalities? Anyone who’s 20 years old probably has no idea it happened. Will yesterday’s crackdown on pedestrians at this corner have any bearing on what happens as soon as the police presence disappears and the memory of the recent fatalities fade?

    Today’s lessons will be forgotten tomorrow, so we have to make our streets self-enforcing through smarter, more forgiving design.

  • anon

    ‘a study published in 2013 by NYU Langone Medical Center found that 44 per cent of pedestrians treated for injuries after collisions had
    been hit in a crosswalk while crossing with the light. Another 6 per cent were
    hit on the sidewalk.’

    How many people will stop jaywalking because of the threat of a ticket, when the alternative is so far from safe? Once crosswalk and sidewalk deaths number zero, and injuries are rare, if not eliminated, then it could be time to go after pedestrians who cross dangerously. But no sooner.

  • red_greenlight1

    OK its time for some cold hard truth that you all aren’t going to like one little bit but here it comes.

    Some pedestrians take actions that result in them ending up in risky situations. While the lights do need to be changed and most of the enforcement put on the true killers cars pedestrians due share some of the blame. I’m sick of seeing cars blow through cross walks and refuse to yield and run red lights. But I’m just of sick of pedestrians with their eyes glued on their phones or crossing mid block with out a second of thought for their own or others safety.

    The NYPD should have the majority of summons written against the true killers on our streets cars. But pedestrians also need to change some of their unsafe habits as do some cyclists. If we want safer streets we are all going to have to change our dangerous habits. So yes I’m ok with the NYPD issuing tickets to pedestrians for jaywalking.

  • red_greenlight1

    By the way if your really disagree that pedestrians somes put themselves at risk your just not paying attention.

  • Andy

    “More pedestrians are injured while crossing in the crosswalk with the signal than while crossing midblock or against the signal”

    Yes, but more people spend more total time in crosswalks than crossing midblock. Not that jaywalking is necessarily dangerous, but this doesn’t mean crosswalks are more dangerous.

  • Kevin Love

    Notice that it took no less than three of them to viciously beat up an elderly man.

  • Kevin Love

    My mistake. I see from the “News” link at Today’s Headlines that it actually took five (5!) NYPD officers to viciously beat up an 84-year-old man.

  • Andres Dee

    When the most prevalent place peds get hit is in the crosswalk with the light in their favor, it seems that emphasizing “jaywalking” is a way for the people doing the damage to deflect their own responsibilities. Also, a lot of “man on the street” types seem to harp on “peds walking onto the street not watching where they’re going”, when this really seems to mean “I can’t understand why I need to follow the legal rules of the road and yield to peds in the intersection when the law calls for it.” All in all, a bad start for team de Blasio, especially when the bike/ped lobby went all out for him.

    Contrast how Kang Wong was bloodied with how cops treat motorists who won’t yield. Like this story from Las Vegas, where the PD dressed decoys in Santa and Leprechaun suits, announced that a sting would go on, where the sting would take place, what the decoys would wear, and after all that, let motorists who failed to yield off with warnings.

  • Andrew

    Seriously? Meanwhile, Koffi Komlani’s fine for killing Cooper Stock will be between $100 and $300.

  • Pedestrian Helments NOW

    Conclusion: Always wear your pedestrian helment. It’ll save you both from vehicular and NYPD violence!!1!

  • Andres Dee

    Yeah. My wife and I were nearly clipped by a motorist turning left. It was our light, we were halfway through the crosswalk and this guy peels rubber and blasts through the intersection. Gosh, we must have been distracted by the phones we’d left at home.

  • red_greenlight1

    I don’t think you carefully read what I wrote. Otherwise you would have noticed the word “sometimes.” Which is different from always. What happened to your wife happens a lot. Cars refusing to yield to pedestrians are a daily occurrence. Yet pedestrians sometimes walk against the light into traffic without looking up. As a cyclist I see this almost daily.

  • Kevin Love

    Although highly annoying and disrespectful, I do not believe that all that many cyclists have been killed by pedestrians in this way. Car drivers kill cyclists and peds on an almost daily basis.

  • red_greenlight1

    Yes, as far as I know know one has been killed by this. But if I hit a pedestrian who steps out against the like doing 12 to 15 mph it’s going to hurt us both a lot. So it’s both disrespectful and dangerous. If we truly want safer streets we all must work towards them regardless of whether we drive, walk or cycle.

  • anon

    Yes, but it’s inappropriate to start with anything but the most dangerous behavior. That means cars and trucks for the most part. If a pedestrian jumps in front of a car or truck that has to slam on the brakes or swerve out of the way, both of which are dangerous and can lead to crashes, then yea, feel free to give them a ticket so they cut that out. But sending officers around for a ticket blitz to take care of jaywalkers who didn’t almost cause an crash? Ridiculous. Focus those limited resources on the cars and trucks that are killing people.

  • car free nation

    It’s really upsetting to me that even on streetsblog we’re blaming the pedestrians.

    Let’s do a thought experiment. Imagine if the top speed for cars in New York City were 20 miles per hour and it was strictly enforced. Imagine if no one driving had access to a mobile device, and no driver failed to yield. Imagine if there were no long light intervals, so the crossing light was red no longer than 20 seconds.

    Now, would any of those pedestrians that were hit last week be dead, whether they unpredictably dashed across the street or not? Seems unlikely to me.

    As a driver, going 20 mph, you can stop on a dime.

  • John

    How about ticketing cars that run red lights? I guess giving tickets to speeding cars is too hard, so the fat-ass donut-eating cops go after slow moving 85-year-old pedestrians instead.

  • J_12

    Your statement is false. The use of the term “pigs” is at worst ambiguously defensible … while the use of unwarranted force against a harmless octogenarian pedestrian is completely indefensible. To create a false equivalency between these things, as you have done, is to act as an apologist for the apartheid tactics of the NYPD. Making vision zero a reality requires de-prioritizing the needs of drivers in order to respect the needs of everyone else. It does not require any civility, mutual or otherwise.

  • Jane

    Disgusting and shameful. I guess if all you have in your toolbox is a hammer then every problem looks like a nail.

  • Andrew

    I was at 96th and Broadway this afternoon.

    The police were making sure that pedestrians didn’t cross against the light. They didn’t seem to care about the two drivers I saw run a red light, nor about the one I saw make a left turn from the right lane. (And I was there for all of a minute.)

    If any motorists were being ticketed for moving violations, I didn’t see it.

  • a

    Eh, not the biggest problem, doesn’t contribute to many deaths. Failure to yield and speeding are the two biggest to go after.

  • Eileen

    In his book, “Fighting Traffic,” Peter Norton quotes W. Bruce Cobb, NYC Traffic Magistrate, reacting to similarly questionable statistics in 1924: “It is now the fashion to ascribe from 70 to 90 percent of all accidents to jaywalking…I am not so sure but that much of the blame heaped upon so-called jaywalkers is but a smokescreen, to hide motordom’s own shortcomings as well as to abridge the now existing legal rights of the foot travelers on our streets.” Maybe we can take up a collection and send Messrs Bratton and DeBlasio a copy of Norton’s book, with the good stuff highlighted?

    Also, minor point, but if NY has a “white cane” law, that would be another example of a strict liability law.

  • AlgorithmicAnalyst

    One reason a common language is needed in this country, is so people can understand what the police are saying to them …….

  • qrt145

    “Bratton said he believed Wong sustained his injuries in a fall”.–

    Wow, the old “he fell” movie trope! (Always said after a gang of inmates beats another inmate.)

  • Joe R.

    I think most people will agree with you about ticketing cyclists or pedestrians interfering with a vehicle which has the legal right-of-way. That’s not what the NYPD is doing here. They’re doing the same crap to pedestrians that they’ve been doing to cyclists-ticketing for technical rule breaking even when there’s no cross traffic. I fail to see how that’s going to make things safer. Sure, pedestrians crossing without even bothering to look is an issue, but it’s one best dealt with through education, not enforcement which tickets everyone, even those crossing safely but illegally. The only positive I’m seeing about this is it might get pedestrians to understand a bit about what cyclists have been going through the last few years. If we can both unite and have the laws changed to allow crossing on red (for both cyclists and pedestrians), provided there’s no interference with cross traffic, then at least something good can come out of this.

  • Robert Wright

    I wrote a little while ago about how much of the responsibility for making themselves safer fell on vulnerable road users:

    My bottom line is this. It’s certainly important that pedestrians and cyclists do their best to keep themselves safe. I also think it’s worthwhile for everyone to follow the commonly-agreed rules to encourage a law-abiding roads culture. But, given that research usually attributes the main blame for crashes involving cars and vulnerable road users to the motorist, it’s pushing water uphill to try to solve the problem by tackling the behavior of the people who largely aren’t causing the crashes.

    It’s far more important to tackle motorists’ behavior and attitudes. There’s a great side benefit, too: motorists paying attention and driving at sensible speeds will kill fewer other motorists than at present – and will be less likely to career off the road and into houses.

  • valar84

    You mean well, but I think you miss the point. Pedestrians are very vulnerable on the street and they know it very well. At the same time, they are the slowest users of the road, you can’t expect them to take a half-mile detour just to get a “safe” crosswalk when where they want to go is 50 feet from them.

    When there are spots where pedestrians commonly fail to heed the letter of the law, authorities would do well to remember what should be the motto of all designers “there is no such thing as user error, only bad design”. And that include urban street designers. If pedestrians at one place frequently break the law in crossing the street, then the reality is that the problem is likely not that pedestrians at that place are delinquent, but that the design of the area incites pedestrians to break the law, because they consider that they are safer or better off if they do.

    So don’t ticket the pedestrians, unless there really is egregious behavior (like walking the middle of arterial streets and the like), instead, note where they are likely to break the letter, then send those places to the engineers responsible for those streets so that they can propose how these places can be modified to correct the problem.

  • I think the point is that if crosswalks are the legal place to cross because of safety, there darn well shouldn’t be _any_ injuries.

  • when you mention ‘genuinely dangerous behavior’ your referring to both vehicular and pedestrian, right? My guess it’s the reckless behavior of some drivers spilling out when they start walking, at least I see this when they double park and hop out of their vehicles in the middle of heavy traffic like they were sitting in their own driveway. It may be hard to discern individual attitude and behavior when there is a collision, but it is there. In fact one could probably deduce that it’s poor individual attitudes and not so much a biased pov that is at the root of collisions.

    Encouraging jay-walking when the vast majority of citizens use crosswalks? I wonder if that would influence the ‘statistics?’ Which one (jay-walking or crosswalks) is more dangerous and more likely to cause a vehicle to swerve and potentially loose control?

    Nothing I say here lessons the responsibility of being a driver. I have no patience for drivers who act recklessly and who disregard laws designed to allow everyone a safe world to live in. Current moving violations should be much harsher because so much is at stake. Get reckless drivers off the road permanently. In fact I’m more inclined to fault the driver, but life isn’t so simplistic that one can just point a finger at a group and say ‘go away forever’ unless one is biased. If you want to see just how reckless a driver can be, look up BrooklynPilot on YT, let him know what you think!

  • Issue like these need to be instilled earlier in life, at least that is my opinion. There will always be a small percentage of people who disregard everything, but I do believe that if there is a full-on cultural change that the influences of reckless behavior by both drivers and pedestrians can be changed. NYC is crazy in all respects when it comes to bad road behavior by everyone. Parents double parking and then pulling their babies out on the street side is just fundamentally wrong on so many levels, but somehow they missed the lesson of ‘get out on the curb side’. It’s time, with an ever growing population when these problems will only become magnified, that on a national level we start teaching our children the rules of the road so that when they become drivers they will have built into their own culture an attitude that respects the safety of others.

  • Bolwerk

    Well said. This was certainly not about defense.

  • JamesR

    Everyone needs to read Doug’s comment and reflect upon it. In a come-and-go town like NYC, with such a transient population, we face structural issues with creating safe and livable streets that places with a stable population and shared cultural norms do not. In short, folks aren’t brought up knowing what to do correctly because most aren’t even from here and whatever rules they may have learned before arriving don’t apply the same here. This is one of the biggest barriers we face by far.

  • Andy

    Totally agree, but we can’t know how dangerous something is simply by looking at the NUMBER of incidents. We also need to know exposure.

  • Kevin Love

    What it is about is vicious, cowardly bullies enjoying their power to commit criminal acts of violent assault against a defenseless 84-year-old man.

    What it is about is fundamentally a civil rights issue. We have a right to use the street without being the victim of violence. Without being threatened and intimidated by car drivers, police or anyone else with a lethal weapon.

  • Kevin Love

    Actually, we can say “go away forever” by implementing a car-free island of Manhattan.

  • J_12

    Fully agree with you on this point. Jaywalking is an example of apartheid style laws that work the benefit of drivers and to the detriment of everyone else. Crossing the street on foot should never be against the law, regardless of where or when it happens.
    It’s easy for the police, and drivers, to fall back on the canard that all we need is for all street users to respect the law. But that totally ignores the institutionalized vehicularism of our laws – they are nearly all for the benefit of drivers.


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