After Jill Abramson’s Powerful Traffic Violence Piece, What Now for the NYT?

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a powerful piece by executive editor Jill Abramson about recovering from injuries sustained on city streets, based on her own experience and those of three other Times employees. Their stories, along with accompanying maps of New York City’s most dangerous intersections, conveyed the widespread and profound impact of traffic violence more effectively than anything the Times has published before. Now the question is: Will the Times continue to beat the drum for safe streets?

New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson. Photo: Wikimedia
New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson. Photo: Wikimedia

There is a precedent if you look to the United Kingdom. After a Times of London reporter was seriously injured by a truck driver while commuting to work by bike, that paper launched a sustained effort to push for safer streets for cyclists. The “Cities Fit for Cycling” campaign covered everything from truck regulations to street design and speed limits.

The Times of London collected more than 36,000 signatures, gaining the endorsement of Olympic champions and earning plaudits from both Prime Minister David Cameron and the opposition Labour Party. But most importantly, the paper focused public attention on traffic violence, an issue that can easily get lost in the daily noise of metro coverage.

An overt campaign like that may be outside the New York Times’ comfort zone, but the paper doesn’t shy away from going above and beyond typical public service journalism. A Times series like last year’s “Invisible Child” can shape the discourse about a specific set of policy issues more powerfully than just about any other form of media.

As Abramson and her colleagues know too well, traffic violence is pervasive and affects people in ways that go much deeper than the topline statistics about deaths and injuries can ever describe. Fixing the problem is complex and multi-faceted too, requiring action from leaders in City Hall and Albany, as well as fundamental changes in how we view city streets and the act of driving on them. When the city has to beg and plead with state government to let it effectively prevent motorists from speeding, you know policy isn’t improving as urgently as the situation demands. But with more sustained, in-depth coverage from the Times about how to safely design and police our streets, solutions to traffic violence could come to fruition faster.

  • Jeff

    I fully believe advocates should be working to put themselves out of a job. Likewise, advocacy media should be doing the same. As much as I love Streetsblog, the day you don’t have to do what you all do will be a good one. This NYT piece just got us a bit closer to that day.

  • Reader

    Fewer stories by Delia Ephron on the dangers of being *almost* hit by a blue bicycle would be a good place to start. As would a ban on click-baity pieces by guys like Gary Taustine on the horror of the city being overrun with – gasp! – parked bicycles.

    The data-visualization team at the Times has done some good work in the past. Using the talent in that group to crowd-source hot spots and overlay that with city data would be great.

    More reporters like Matt Flegenheimer would also help. He’s been phenomenal, and a real change since the more politically focused Mike Grynbaum days.

  • HamTech87

    Well said. I was stunned that so much awful reporting by the Times was done after Jill Abramson was struck by the motorist. It took them seven years to finally get real?

  • MiKing

    I’ll be tickled when the NYT finally refers to these incidents as crashes or collisions, instead of “accidents”. An accident is when you slip on a banana peel.

  • JK

    A powerful piece and great to see, but made me wonder how the Times would have reacted if four of their senior writers and editors had had their bodies shattered by violent assaults with knives and clubs, instead of motor vehicles. The Times has slept while the Daily News has mounted potent campaigns for safety on Queens Boulevard, red light cams, speed cams, and tougher laws for dangerous drivers. One hopes that Jill Abramson’s piece set the stage for a new consciousness at the Times, a realization that motor vehicle crime is street crime, is a social pathology, is a public health threat and a societal wrong that can be righted.

  • HamTech87

    Reading Copenhagenize and seeing how the best cycling city in the world still has problems, I think advocacy journalism always be needed.

  • JamesR

    Absolutely. The framing around this needs to be something along the lines of the lawless road culture in this city representing the last piece of the ‘Bad Old Days’ of NYC, i.e. the last vestiges of the city that was once home to ‘The Bronx is Burning’, rampant muggings, dysfunctional transit, etc.

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