The Daily News Editorial Board — Still Part of the Problem

I’ve been trying to put my finger on why this morning’s Daily News editorial about slower speed limits got under my skin so much. The core message is fine — New York does need to measure the impact of new street safety policies. But it’s obscured by a thick layer of ignorance.

Start with all the clumsy signifiers that come straight out of a Tea Party manifesto. To the Daily News, the New York City advocates, policy experts, and civil servants trying to prevent traffic injuries and deaths by reducing the incidence of speeding are “theorists” looking to impose a “social engineering project.” (Clearly, we’re all getting marching orders from the UN.)

“Show us the numbers,” goes the subhead, by which they mean “detailed, street-by-street, regularly refreshed data documenting the impact of this rejiggering on the push to save New Yorkers’ lives.”

The city absolutely must track progress. The thing is, there’s already “detailed, street-by-street, regularly refreshed data” on traffic crashes. After years of pestering from Streetsblog, Transportation Alternatives, and open data advocates, the NYPD started publishing a citywide feed this May. NYPD’s street safety feeds would be a lot better if the department released geo-tagged summons data as well, so people can see if traffic tickets are being issued where enforcement is really needed, but that’s not what the Daily News is looking for.

Here’s where the editorial board finally tips its hand:

By objectively tracking the experiment in motion, Trottenberg has a precious chance to undo the cynicism bred by her predecessor, Janette Sadik-Khan, who infamously cherry-picked information to justify new bike lanes, pedestrian plazas and more.

This is rich. For several years the Daily News editorial board has been impervious to data on street safety. No matter how many before-and-after studies piled up showing fewer injuries and better economic performance after streets were redesigned, the Daily News didn’t acknowledge the evidence.

The pattern veered way outside the bounds of healthy skepticism and into outright denial of the truth. The editorial board bought into a cynical lawsuit full of cherry-picked numbers filed by a few privileged people who didn’t like the bike lane on their block. They got the facts so wrong, and their misinformation got so bad, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the city would have safer streets today if not for the Daily News.

With some fresh faces on the editorial board this year, I was expecting better. And the Daily News did deliver a great piece on speed cameras in May. Still, the editorial page continues to print birther-style denials.

If the Daily News can’t correctly assess the effects of relatively simple changes to individual streets, why should New Yorkers trust it to evaluate an overlapping set of street safety policies applied on a citywide scale?

The paper has a credibility problem on traffic safety. After years of ineptitude evaluating street redesigns, the burden of proof is on the writers at the Daily News to show they can interpret the numbers in good faith.

  • Morris Zapp

    The New York World, the Columbia J-School project, did some great data-driven stories with Alyssa Katz at the helm.

    Guess you have to check your integrity at the door when you join a tabloid editorial board.

  • kenney.sleater

    I worked for several years at city hall doing legislative work and was present at all the transportation committee hearings that Sadik-Khan appeared at to testify….any time she was asked by council members about producing numbers and data that was relative to the issue that was being heard she always claimed “she didnt have those numbers available at the present time” even though she knew weeks in advance of what the topic the hearing was going to be on. She was even scolded publicly by committee chair Jimmy Vacca from the Bronx on multiple occasions for being disingenuous and an obstructionist (go to the city council web page for transcripts of these hearings)….she did everything in her power to deceive the public and put forth her own personal agenda. She was a transportation fascist who had no regard for the will of the people or our democratic process. The daily news is calling for some type of independent study to determine if all of these “safety measures” actually are having an impact. If the author truly believes they are having a positive impact he should embrace the daily news’ call for some data backing this claim up instead of engaging in straw man tactics.

  • Joe R.

    One area where I happen to agree with the Daily News editorial is in my skepticism that drivers will obey the new speed limit. After all, I routinely see people driving at 50 to 60 mph on arterials posted at 30 mph. Nothing but saturation enforcement (which we don’t have the manpower for), speed cameras which are on 24/7 (prohibited by the watered-down speed-cam legislation) or major street redesign is going to succeed in changing this. 75 years of data suggests that drivers drive at a speed they perceive as reasonable for the road conditions. Unfortunately, many NYC arterials as currently designed allow drivers to feel safe driving at upwards of 45 mph. We need to accompany the new 25 mph legislation with major street redesigns or we’ll accomplish nothing at all.

  • I’ll split the difference with Joe R. It’s true that many folk will continue to ignore any speed limit. But SOME won’t, and if the car ahead of a given speeder is going at or near the speed limit, then the potential dragster will likely be going more slowly, as well.

    This is working, admittedly with variable success, in the “sixth borough,” of which Hoboken, N.J., is a part.

    Joe R. makes a salient point regarding street redesign, to be sure.

  • Mark Walker

    Did you even read the piece? “The city absolutely must track progress. The thing is, there’s already ‘detailed, street-by-street, regularly refreshed data’ on traffic crashes.”

    I’m also interested in your use of the term fascist. Merriam Webster defines fascism as “a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which people are not allowed to disagree with the government.” This is a pretty good description of car dependency, a way of organizing streets in which drivers control the lives of pedestrians and cyclists and in which non-drivers and advocacy journalists are not allowed to disagree with the police, kenney-sleater, or the editorial board of the Daily News.

  • Male Model

    The post I read made clear that the data is there, and the Daily News ignores it. There are, like, whole sentences and paragraphs about exactly that. What are you reading?

    Also your handle is like Rush Limbaugh appropriating Chrissie Hynde. And it’s not even spelled right.

  • Joe R.

    There’s some truth to what you say but but I need to point out here that a disproportionate number of pedestrian deaths occur late nights when the hypothetical speeder often won’t have a slower driver in front of them.

    During busier hours hopefully some large enough percentage of conscientious drivers will drive close to the speed limit to keep extreme speeding in check. I think if we at least ingrained it in professional drivers to stick to the speed limit we might have marginal success slowing most traffic for much of the day.

  • JDC

    It’s simple: Willful ignorance sells newspapers.

  • Mark Walker

    Having grown up reading the Sunday edition of the Daily News, I knew as soon as I learned how to read that it could be relied on as a source of right-wing claptrap. The News hated the antiwar movement as much as it loved Reagan. After Murdoch bought the Post, the News began to be seen as the less scuzzy of the two tabloids, but those of us who’ve known it longer know better than to trust it.

  • kenney.sleater

    crash data does no convey the safety of a street….relatively safe streets can have a drunk driver or someone in medical distress crash….that doesn’t mean the street is not safe. streets that don’t have a lot of crashes still might be dangerous for pedestrians. An independent study taking multiple criteria into consideration would give a better picture of whether or not safety improved and at what cost to the taxpayers. By the way that is my real name…so it is spelled right.

  • Daphna

    I am astounded at the lies coming out of the Daily News editorial board. This is not a newspaper. That is just tabloid material. They should be regarded like a gossip paper like Star that features stories on UFOs and such, since the Daily News has departed from delivering news and is just making stuff up.

  • sammy davis jr jr

    With all the recent layoffs at the NYDN, are they simply regurgitating old opinions without the labor intensive fact-checking?

  • Brad Aaron
  • Note how much they love the term “social engineering” to refer to something as basic as getting drivers to obey the law and drive safely. They use it a couple of times in different editorials.

    Of course, one could argue that things like free parking, toll-free bridges, streets designed for one class of user, and high traffic speeds meant to provide quick access for the motoring minority is a form of social engineering, but then one wouldn’t be a “real” New Yorker. Or a Daily News reader.

  • Alex

    Wait, a street with no crashes might still be unsafe? That’s like saying, “A glass with nothing in it might still be full.” What is your definition of “unsafe” if not crashes?

    If traffic calming is added to a particular street and the number of crashes drops, to most people that would mean the street is not as dangerous as it was before. And if that same result is replicated across multiple streets (it was) that would lead any reasonable person to believe that adding traffic calming to streets is an effective means of making them safer (it is).

  • Andres Dee

    Powerful interests have invested decades of effort and billions of dollars to “norm” certain behaviors and “marginalize” others. Normal: House in suburbs, mortgage, car & payments. “Marginal”: City, renting, public transit, (non-recreational) cycling, walking. Huge sectors of our economy count on these norms being followed. Mainstream papers rely heavily on ads from those interests. The “margins” have been fighting back, with visible victories over the past decades. That scares the “interests”.

  • lop

    If pedestrians know a street is dangerous they might avoid it. If no pedestrian uses a crosswalk, then no pedestrian will be hit in it. Many dangerous streets have no crashes.

  • Larry Littlefield

    There is desperation out there in the journalism world, and a need to sell out to whoever is buying.

    Joining the pension actuaries, bond raters, property appraisers, accountants, executive pay consultants, etc.

    You click on a Daily News article these days, and you get a whole sidebar of celebrities and “candid” photos.

    Heck, even public television is showing a series on “Sex in the Wild,” hoping that people will be excited enough by copulating animals to donate.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, exactly. Most expressways in the city probably haven’t had a bicycle or pedestrian crash for years. Going by this data then, one would think expressways would be perfect places to walk or bike but they’re statistically “safe” only because they’re not used at all by bikes or peds.

  • Tyler

    Medallions should come with GPS trackers to monitor speed, like they VisionZero is supposedly promising for the City fleet of vehicles… Want a medallion or TLC permit to operate a taxi or car service, deal with the “invasion of privacy”. If you are not on the FDR and get clocked at 40 mph, you get a fine. 3rd time you get a suspension for 3 months. 5th time, the medallion is put up for auction.

  • J_12

    One of the most dangerous driver behaviors is reckless driving in the sense of aggressive lane changing, weaving, and accelerating which occurs on multi-lane roads when there are significant speed differentials between vehicles.
    If some people are obeying the 25 mph limit, while others are trying to drive 50 mph, this can create more dangerous conditions than if everyone is traveling 40-50 mph.

  • Whenever I’m on a bike and someone is stopped at an intersection, I am nervous as hell about that 2nd car. All you need is one jerk in a bad mood and he’ll whip around at speed without any visibility.

  • Joe, that would have been a useful editorial for the Daily News to publish. There’s a real risk that Albany won’t let the city enforce the new speed limit sufficiently, and that DOT will back down from the robust street redesigns needed to tame traffic. A lower citywide speed limit is necessary but not sufficient to drastically reduce traffic deaths.

    Unfortunately that’s not the editorial that the Daily News published.

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