NYC Drivers Killed at Least 16 People on Sidewalks and in Buildings in 2015

A woman who was struck by an unattended taxi in December died from her injuries this week. The driver was not charged by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

Suhuyn Park, 22, and her 21-year-old boyfriend were walking at W. 51st Street and Eighth Avenue at around 8:30 p.m. on December 30 when a yellow cab, a Toyota minivan, rolled onto the sidewalk and struck them both, according to DNAinfo. The cab came to a stop after it hit another taxi.

From the Post:

The 67-year-old cabdriver had gotten out of the car to help his passenger to the sidewalk when the vehicle suddenly started rolling, cops said.

Park, who lived in South Korea, died Monday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Her boyfriend was treated for injuries and released.

No charges were filed. NYPD told the Daily News police “do not believe criminal activity played a role in the tragic accident.”

In 2009 a van left idling by a commercial driver killed toddlers Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez on a sidewalk in Chinatown. That driver was not charged by NYPD or former Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau. A state law named after Hayley and Diego created the offense of careless driving, but as is the case with the city’s Right of Way Law, adopted in 2014, NYPD barely uses it.

Park was the 16th person known to have been killed by a New York City motorist on a sidewalk or inside a building in 2015. There were five such fatalities in 2014, according to crash data tracked by Streetsblog. Two of the 13 drivers involved in last year’s crashes were charged for taking a life.

At least one other person died as a result of motorist negligence over the holiday break. On Christmas Eve the driver of a commercial van struck and killed a 77-year-old woman at E. 21st Street and Gravesend Neck Road in Sheepshead Bay, according to the Daily News. Police charged Zafrom Ghafoor with careless driving and failure to yield.

  • r

    Change “cabdriver” to “crane operator” in the mainstream media coverage of this story and see if leaving heavy equipment running while unattended — and then killing an innocent person — would be considered an “accident.”

  • Joe R.

    How is it even remotely acceptable for anyone to die because of a motor vehicle on a sidewalk, and especially in a building, much less 16 in one year? For a motor vehicle to end up killing a person in such a situation, the driver has to be grossly incompetent, extremely reckless, or both. Getting these deaths down to zero is certainly an attainable goal. If we can’t fix the poor driving, we can put bollards around every sidewalk. It may be overkill, but at least it’ll stop the problem cold. It’ll also end parking on sidewalks by the NYPD and car dealerships.

  • Komanoff

    Sixteen in one year. Sickening and mind-boggling.

    Even over the 1994-1997 period covered in “Killed By Automobile” (see http://www.cars-suck.org/research/kba_text.pdf), there were “only” a total of 50 sidewalk and other off-street killings of pedestrians and cyclists. That’s 12-13 a year, and during a time when total ped+cyclist deaths averaged around 250, or way more than last year.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Though getting run over on the sidewalk IS sickening and mind boggling, the total number: 16 deaths in one year for a city of 8.5 million doesn’t seem that high. For scale, 53 people were killed from being struck by subway trains in 2013 (latest info I could find). Considering how many reckless drivers there are here, 16 deaths is lower than I would have expected.

    Doesn’t mean they’re not despicable, but they’re hardly an epidemic.

  • They’re a symptom of an epidemic. If that many people are getting killed on the sidewalk, it means there’s lots of behavior on the street that shouldn’t be tolerated.

  • Joe R.

    Out of those 53 killed by subway trains, most fall into two categories. One, they went on the tracks to either retrieve items, or to horse around, or because they were high or drunk. Anyone who intentionally goes on subway tracks is putting themselves in harm’s way. Two, they were suicides. While tragic, again this is a group which chose to put themselves in harm’s way. A distant third category would be those who were pushed. While obviously not the person’s fault, it’s not the MTA’s fault, either. The blame here lies with whomever pushed them. A fairer comparison here might be how many people standing on platforms were killed by subway trains. I think the answer to that is zero going back as far as the subway has existed.

    By definition sidewalks should be sanctuaries for pedestrians (and arguably also for child and timid adult cyclists). Motor vehicles don’t belong there at all. Even one death is an aberration. Sixteen is as you said a symptom of the much larger problem of reckless/incompetent driving. Unlike people killed on the streets crossing or cycling, this problem has an easy solution in the form of sidewalk bollards. I wonder how much it would cost to bollard off every bit of sidewalk in NYC? My guess is a few billion at most. Perhaps we could reduce the city’s cost here with some sort of public/private partnership. I tend to think private enterprise would want to keep their customers/employees/tenants safe by spending a small sum on bollards. If every private entity pays to install bollards on the section of side adjacent to it, the idea is certainly workable.

  • Andres Dee

    Sadly, I suspect that the larger the equipment, the more leeway the tabloids will probably give the operator. OTOH, they’d be calling for the death penalty of the perpetrator was a bicycler.

  • reasonableexplanation

    Hang on there, although I like bollards in general, as you noted the expense would be sizable. Thing is, cars killing people on the sidewalk is also not the fault of the DOT, the same way that someone pushing you into the tracks isn’t fault of the MTA. And uh, from a purely lives saved point of view, installing doors on platforms would save far more lives. But we don’t don’t do that either, since I guess someone decided that 50ish lives per year isn’t worth the cost. Unfortunately, by similar reasoning the 16 wouldn’t be either, no?

  • Joe R.

    Doors on subway platforms aren’t logistically feasible because the MTA uses trains with different door spacing. Also, this being the MTA, I’m sure the doors would be vandalized, or otherwise not maintained, so half of them wouldn’t be working within a year. They would also cost far more than bollards:

    http://www.fastcodesign.com/3038763/slicker-city/could-redesigned-subway-platforms-save-lives

    http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/28/us/new-york-subway-design/

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/29/nyregion/mta-says-subway-platform-gates-could-cost-1-billion.html?_r=0

    Note the $1 billion estimate, which probably means the actual cost would be more like $10 billion.

    Bollards on the other hand are inexpensive by comparison, plus they don’t need any type of maintenance. We may find we can prevent 99% of the deaths by installing them on only 10% of the sidewalks. That would certainly make sense. I’m convinced the only way we’ll ever get people to drive safer is if they have skin in the game. Bollards accomplish exactly that. Drive recklessly and there’s a great chance your vehicle will be totaled. There’s also a good chance you’ll be killed or seriously injured. Bollards effectively even the odds by making drivers pay more for reckless driving than cyclists or pedestrians. Now it’s the other way around. Drivers routinely walk away from incidents where people die.

  • com63

    I think it is a reverse bell curve. People at both ends (low: pedestrians and cyclists, high:pilots, train operators, crane operators) are held to high standards and criminality is the first reaction. The medium weight, car drivers and truck drivers are in the middle and just get an oops!

  • Maggie

    I think this reasoning is somewhat backward. If trains were jumping the tracks and killing passengers waiting on the platform sixteen times a year, yes – we’d act to save those innocent lives.

  • Andrew

    Not comparable. A sidewalk is a space for pedestrians only; motor vehicles never belong on the sidewalk at all, except to enter and exit driveways, let alone coming in contact with pedestrians on the sidewalk. A subway track is a space for subway trains only.

    A car striking a pedestrian on the sidewalk means the car went where the car wasn’t supposed to go. A subway train striking a pedestrian on the track means the pedestrian went where the pedestrian wasn’t supposed to go.

    As others have said, if anywhere near 16 subway trains struck and killed pedestrians on the platform, I think everyone would be very seriously concerned.

  • Greg

    I’m so glad to hear you advocate bollards.

    A large-scale safety program to implement bollards makes so much sense to me I don’t understand why it’s not an ongoing subject of conversation (even if it doesn’t actually get realized tomorrow).

    Perhaps most importantly, as you say, it’s not an all-or-nothing initiative. I’m sure 100% coverage would be difficult for all sorts of reasons. So just maintain a list of intersections ranked by some combination of danger and crowdedness, then incrementally go down that list installing bollards as funding and nearby roadwork projects make practical.

    The cost also needs to be weighed against the costs of lawsuits, lost productivity, emergency vehicle and hospital utilization, cleanup crews, rebuilding of damaged storefronts, lost revenue from damaged stores, and so on. I have a very hard time imagining that the ultimate net numbers would look unreasonable.

    We already have this on a small scale on the medians of Broadway. And it’s already had positive impact. This isn’t even without precedent. It just needs a larger scale vision.

  • Greg

    I don’t think the city’s total population is relevant here. You can calculate the financial and moral costs of 16 unnecessary deaths in a year (or, extrapolating: 160 deaths in 10 years, as a decent safety program should have impact beyond a single year) on its own terms. Compare that against the financial and logistical challenges of making the improvement, and the numbers should either be compelling or not on their own merits.

    The only other relevant factor is how to direct limited resources. If we don’t have the resources to solve all problems, then obviously the more compelling ones deserve attention over the less compelling ones. But this still isn’t related to total population.

    I actually think the fact New York is so large makes the logic even more compelling: the city’s civic administrations have economies of scale that can make it cheaper and easier to save 16 / 160 lives than would be the case for a much smaller municipality.

  • neroden

    Legally, I learned in drivers’ ed that the driver is considered to be criminally responsible for the movement of the vehicle if he exits the vehicle without setting the parking brake. Specifically, you’re still considered to be “driving” the car until you have parked it properly.

    “S 1210. Unattended motor vehicle. (a) No person driving or in charge
    of a motor vehicle shall permit it to stand unattended without first
    stopping the engine, locking the ignition, removing the key from the
    vehicle, and effectively setting the brake thereon and, when standing
    upon any grade, turning the front wheels to the curb or side of the
    highway, ”

    “S 1212. Reckless driving. Reckless driving shall mean driving or using
    any motor vehicle, motorcycle or any other vehicle propelled by any
    power other than muscular power or any appliance or accessory thereof in
    a manner which unreasonably interferes with the free and proper use of
    the public highway, or unreasonably endangers users of the public
    highway. Reckless driving is prohibited. Every person violating this
    provision shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.”

    The cab driver who killed Ms. Park is guilty of reckless driving. Cy Vance apparently thinks it’s just fine to let reckless drivers roam free and kill again. This is unacceptable.

  • Miles Bader

    Note that there have been platform-door designs developed in Japan (and presumably other places too) that accommodate disparate train-door spacings; I believe they work by making the platform doors much wider than the necessary openings and then dynamically adjusting the position and size of the openings to match each train.

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