Yesterday’s Times Square Toll Was Terrible — But So Is a Typical Day of NYC Traffic Violence

There's a risk that too much energy will go into addressing the specific circumstances surrounding this high-profile but unusual event, as opposed to the more routine traffic violence around the city that adds up to hundreds of lives lost each year.

Photo: NYC Mayor's Office
Photo: NYC Mayor's Office

Within half an hour of Thursday’s noontime motorist rampage in Times Square, Governor Cuomo was on the scene. At 1:30 p.m., Mayor de Blasio convened a press conference with Police Commissioner James O’Neill and Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro, confirming the awful toll: one person killed and 22 injured, with four victims in critical condition.

Given the high-profile location, the number of victims, and recent instances of people using vehicles to kill for ideology, it’s understandable that yesterday’s crash drew so much attention. But it’s important to recognize that as terrible as the Times Square carnage was for a single incident, the same human toll occurs on a daily basis on NYC streets — it’s just dispersed across the city.

Through the end of April, motorists injured 3,411 people walking in New York City — or 28 people a day, on average — according to city data. Drivers in NYC have killed no fewer than 49 people on sidewalks and inside buildings since 2012, according to crash data tracked by Streetsblog.

On WNYC this morning, de Blasio signaled a willingness to examine pedestrian safety measures in Times Square and other locations. “[W]e’re going to look at Times Square and see — obviously we’ll look at some other key locations — if we have to do different things in our approach,” said de Blasio. “We’re going to make decisions case by case, but we take this very, very seriously.”

While the city should take steps to protect pedestrians at crowded places like Times Square, there’s a risk that too much energy will go into addressing the specific circumstances surrounding this high-profile but unusual event, as opposed to the more routine traffic violence around the city that adds up to hundreds of lives lost each year.

Fortunately, we know what causes traffic injuries and deaths, and how to address it. The problem is that there are too many cars in our neighborhoods, and too many drivers traveling at lethal speeds. A surface transportation system with fewer cars, each traveling at non-lethal speeds, will be much safer — and it’s very achievable.

Right now, the single most important policy on the table to prevent traffic deaths is in Albany’s hands. Governor Cuomo, who issued a brief statement of condolence yesterday, has the power to sway state legislators to let NYC expand its life-saving speed camera program. Speeding, a leading cause of fatal traffic crashes, drops by 60 percent where cameras are deployed, and traffic deaths in the city have fallen substantially since the automated enforcement program launched in 2013. Yet lawmakers including Marty Golden continue to stand in the way of a bill to expand automated speed enforcement while Cuomo remains silent.

At the city level, the de Blasio administration continues to take one step back for every two steps forward. City Hall’s recent decision to issue tens of thousands of new parking placards is a case in point — handing out parking perks will increase traffic risk, cutting against the grain of the city’s Vision Zero initiatives.

And as much as NYC DOT has done to design streets for greater safety, most plans to prioritize human life remain subject to being watered down or rejected for the sake of perceived motorist convenience.

In a Daily News op-ed published today, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul White urged the mayor to put safety projects ahead of politics:

To prevent further loss of life, in the wake of yesterday’s tragedy we must realize that it was the controversial street safety improvements applied to Times Square in recent years — including wider sidewalks protected with steel and concrete bollards — that prevented the tragedy from being far worse.

These types of pedestrian safety measures, even now still sometimes opposed by drivers, must be urgently applied on all streets without interminable community process. Just as we do not debate the merit of using modern infrastructure to separate our sewage and water to prevent cholera, we should not argue over the merit of proven, life-saving design and enforcement.

White joined City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, State Senator Brad Hoylman, the Daily News editorial board, and others in calling for more traffic-calming on city streets.

It’s critically important that NYC pursue these street safety strategies without resorting to the heavy-handed fencing and barriers that NYPD put up all over lower Manhattan after 9/11. Bulky barricades hemming people in on every sidewalk to keep cars out would be a visual symbol of “taking action,” but not much more than a symbol.

The right response to this high-profile rampage isn’t a highly visible spree of security theater. It’s the politically brave and often thankless work of reshaping streets across the city with narrower roadways, wider sidewalks, and other measures that make high-speed car travel unthinkable.

  • Larry Littlefield

    That’s amazing. You have 28 injured per day, compared with 22 for that incident. If everyone drove a little more carefully thereafter, it was a below average day.

    The one killed would make it above average, but not by much. In fact the number killed in traffic in 2016 still rounds up to one.

  • davistrain

    Sensible regulation of motor vehicle traffic would be a lot easier if government officials, both appointed and elected, were required to ride transit, use bicycles, or walk, rather that isolate themselves in taxpayer-provided cars and SUVs. Don’t bet the ranch on that happening any time soon.

  • Ken Dodd

    Yes and the trouble is that when these bozos are driven into their offices in the city, they probably spend much of the trip either cursing cyclists who slow their driver down, or mentally urging him to blow red lights and stop signs so that they can get to work quicker. So why on earth would they show any interest in making life any easier for cyclists, or any harder for reckless law breaking motorists? It’s like when a judge goes easy on the perpetrator of sexual harassment because it’s the kind of behavior he too enjoyed as a young man.

  • Vooch

    it’s actually 128 per day if one includes all victims of traffic violence

  • iSkyscraper

    Here are a couple recent Facebook posts from Inwood, in Ydanis Rodriguez’ home district. Note that this area is already a Slow Zone. It’s all well and good for Ydanis to call for more traffic calming but he backs every liquor license application in his own backyard that comes up, including ones on saturated (and residential-zoned) Dyckman Street. He has also long been a big part of looking the other way as La Marina took over a city park concession to run as a massive illegal nightclub/concert venue that draws hundreds of vehicles each weekend to a dead-end street, which is seized for illegal valet parking while jamming up access to and from the Henry Hudson Parkway.

    If he was serious about traffic calming he would not jump to support turning Inwood into a giant nightclub that attracts aggressive drivers. But it’s a lot easier to collect campaign donations from businessmen while pointing fingers at others. Our local politicians love to address the symptoms and not the cause…

    ——–

    There was a hit-and-run accident tonight involving a speeding car that came flying north on Seaman, running a red light, swerving around other cars, and taking a sharp left onto Payson …. at which point the vehicle struck a pedestrian and then zoomed off. (It sounded like a car was being hit, to give you an idea of the sheer speed and force of impact involved.) The man was tossed into the air and landed on the street, in shock, suffering a fairly sizable head wound and likely some additional injuries. As of about a half hour ago, the EMTs and ambulance were on the scene and the man was receiving care. Some witnesses attempted to chase the speeding car, but as of last update the car had sped onto the West Side Highway, running all of the stoplights on the way.

    ————

    So…. an SUV just passed by me on Beak Street speeding and the driver threw a glass bottle on the sidewalk (possibly beer) which not only almost hit me but also whose pieces of glass hit my dog on the paw. There were a guy driving and a woman as passenger inside. Then another car passed on Seaman with music blasting and speeding like crazy through an orange light.

  • Rodriguez is miles ahead of most other Council members; the only one who is more aware of streets-related issues is probably Reynoso.

    But this seems to me to be a very valid criticism of him.

  • Andrew

    There is nothing intrinsic about a nightclub that necessarily attracts drivers. It sounds like what you really need is enforcement of existing driving and parking laws.

  • iSkyscraper

    In Inwood, all nightclubs (including “restaurants” with DJs and bottle service) also have (illegal) street valet parking. It’s not like other parts of Manhattan and has to do with catering to a widely-dispersed diaspora that travels by car to go out to the clubs. So yes, encouraging the nightclub business in Inwood very much attracts aggressive drivers. There are some great clips on YouTube of guys filming themselves going 80 mph on the west side highway on their way to La Marina, etc.

    As for enforcement, it’s non-existent, partly because of the pressure exerted by the club businesses on the police. The cops describe the situation as too-big-to-fail and simply focus on keeping traffic moving rather than addressing the root causes.

    https://dyckmanmarina.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/is-this-really-a-parking-lot/

  • Andrew

    Yes, I realize that (and thanks for the link, which goes into more detail than I had known). That’s why I called for enforcement of existing driving and parking laws. One Police Plaza reports to the mayor, and if the mayor were interested in solving this problem, he could direct the police to solve this problem. It also might be worth investigating whether somebody in a position of power at One Police Plaza or at the 34th Precinct is being paid off.

    Has Council Member Rodriguez asked these questions? Have his constituents asked him to ask these questions?

  • iSkyscraper

    The mayor holds campaign events at La Marina and other clubs and receives major donations from them, just as Bloomberg did before him. (The operator of La Marina, who owns several other Dyckman St clubs, was tied up in the bundling scandal.)

    http://nypost.com/2016/06/28/de-blasio-fundraiser-admits-to-pay-for-play-bundling-scheme

    Five years of pointed complaints and meetings have gone nowhere with Rodriguez, because as I am saying his progressive transit and other policies run into the reality of the local power structure when it comes to his home district. Perhaps this photo explains it better.

    https://dyckmanmarina.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/april-17-private-event-politicians1.jpg

  • Andrew

    Ah, so the mayor himself is being paid off. I wish I had an answer.

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