The Weekly Carnage

On Tuesday afternoon
an apparently "flustered" motorist accelerated her Nissan Maxima over the curb and onto Cadman Plaza in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn. Fortunately, the sedan’s blinged-out rims
and high-performance tires appear to be salvageable. The brand new bus
shelter, clearly, is not. It had only been installed days before.

There is a certain reverence to the scene above. It is as though the masses have gathered at Brooklyn Borough Hall, just across the street from the Department of Transportation’s Brooklyn headquarters, to witness the sacrifice of a virgin bus shelter to the gods of automobility. We hope that such occasional ritual slaughter will appease the gods and prevent them from jumping up on our sidewalks and taking the lives of our children and elderly.

Five bystanders were taken to the hospital, none with life-threatening injuries. With the crash taking place in the back yard of Brooklyn’s court system, ambulance chasing attorneys arrived on the scene long before the ambulances. They descended on the glass-strewn Plaza to hand out business cars to victims and hopefuls. A court employee summed it up for the Post: "It was disgraceful."

Followers of Aaron Donovan’s Weekly Carnage feature will notice that the usual compilation of regional car crashes is not here today. Donovan has started a new job at the MTA’s public affairs office. We wish him luck and thank him for his consistent and meticulous work over the last year-and-a-half.

With Donovan moving on, this seems like a good time to ask what you think about Streetsblog’s Weekly Carnage feature. Does it provide a meaningful contribution to the Livable Streets movement or is it just a big bummer on a Friday morning? Would you like to see our carnage coverage change in any way? The original reasoning behind the Weekly Carnage can be found here. As Donovan explains:

This is a grim and depressing task. But we do it because by drawing
attention to the scope of the problem of the death and destruction
caused automobiles, we hope to also draw attention to the
solution: pursuing policies that cause people to reduce the
amount they drive, while promoting mass transit, walking and cycling.

crashes are typically isolated events with limited resonance beyond the
few people involved or their loved ones. Yet they are a pervasive
societal problem that goes undetected by the collective consciousness
precisely because they are so frequent. This column will hopefully chip
away at public apathy about automobile-caused death and destruction.

Photograph from WNBC/Brian Gibbons – see the whole slideshow

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Invaluable feature of the site. Where did Aaron go at MTA?

  • b.

    Agreed. This feature is so necessary.

  • rex

    On Monday mornings I read Clusterfuck Nation. On Friday mornings I read the Weekly Carnage. Both contain a chilling distillation of information you must seek out because the press can’t or won’t see the forest for the trees.

  • Spud Spudly

    Notice the Connecticut plates on the Maxima in the picture. That’s usually a reliable danger sign. The driver probably hasn’t seen a bus shelter in years and thought it was a car port.

  • Spud Spudly

    Did Aaron go to work for Jeremy Soffin?

  • ddartley

    I say keep it.

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    Hey those bus shelters look like they could be converted easily into non-SUV parking spaces.

  • Aaron W

    Keep it. Spread it.

  • bob bob

    [4] Notice the Connecticut plates on the Maxima in the picture. That’s usually a reliable danger sign. The driver probably hasn’t seen a bus shelter in years and thought it was a car port.

    Actually, i can bet that owner of this vehicle lives somewhere in the neighborhood, and just registered his car in Conn. to get lower insurance rates and avoid parking and other tickets.

  • Mark Fleischmann

    Keep the Weekly Carnage feature…. I wonder if this driver could be subject to civil penalties — in other words, be made to pay for the bus shelter? Usually coverage of these events focuses on criminal or traffic penalties. Would making them pay in money be a better deterrent? “If I hit another bus shelter, I’ll have to pay out another $20,000 … think I’ll take the bus.”

  • Dave H.

    I’d be surprised if the driver’s insurance company doesn’t have to pay for the bus shelter. (It seems like the driver would be found at trial to have been ‘at fault’ and therefore liable for damages caused. If the driver could not be found to be ‘at fault’, or if the insurance company decides there is some doubt and decides to litigate, this is just one more instance showing why driving should be moved to strict liability).

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    Aaron, as you know I have been pushing for small weekend features for a while so that some of us starving-for-content sblog addicted clowns can have something to look forward to something on a Saturday or Sunday. SO why not move the Weekly Carnage to post on Saturdays? Maybe throw up a streetfilm from the archives with it on Saturdays too – or a photo of the week sent in from viewers. That way sblog could still satisfy a little weekend craving? And moving the Carnage to Saturday, that way it wouldn’t eat up a lot of physical space on Fridays…

  • Vroomfondel

    The Weekly Carnage is invaluable, both as a memento mori and as a bulwark against apathy.

    Regarding possible changes: According to the reasoning behind the Weekly Carnage, it’s supposed to be about _motorized_ mayhem. Maybe it would make sense to include all traffic accidents, not just those involving motor vehicles.

    After Alex’s appearance on the Brian Lehrer Show, I was amazed to hear how many pedestrians claim to fear bikes more than cars. Now, I’m fairly certain that a lot of those pedestrians are actually disgruntled drivers, and that most of the rest are just confused. Still, if bike-on-pedestrian carnage occurs with any regularity, then I’d like to hear about it.

  • government official

    How about a “destruction of government property” charge? Let’s get ’em with criminal and civil liabilty! I’m in a minority of one so far, but I don’t find “The Weekly Carnage” a persuasive argument. Put one hash mark under, “a big bummer on a Friday morning.” The kind of hyperbole above, and the demonization of auto ownership/use doesn’t convince me of the goals that I share with you; the rightness of those goals does. Actually, the language above makes me wish I never had to talk with any of you ever again as I pursue the agenda that we share. As if you were wondering.

  • bob bob

    Weekly Carnage section should stay, but it should include more pictures of …… Carnage

  • Steve

    Keep it–regular S’bloggers become inured but I send links to it and it is an eye opener to the uninitiated. A thankless task as it must be tedious to compile and it garners the fewest comments, but definitely worthwhile.

  • Dave H.

    Government Official: “Actually, the language above makes me wish I never had to talk with any of you ever again as I pursue the agenda that we share.”

    I’m curious what language makes you feel that way and why.

  • Keep it. Grim and tedious, but important. It inspired me to collect photos of collisions in Humboldt County California where I live. That ended up in turn being helpful to illustrate to local gov’ts here that an expensive safety improvement project was going to take money away from other approaches that could save more lives.
    I think it helps put that 42,000 deaths per year into a local perspective for Tri-Staters.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Keep it. It’s not an argument, because people are very good at rationalizing away “accidents.” It’s meant to get around the rationalizations, excuses and denials and remind us that people are dying for others’ convenience.

    And yes, Vroomfondel, almost every week there are multiple stories (like this) of injuries, property damage and deaths due to cars “accidentally” going on the sidewalk. In other words, you’re in much more danger from cars – even if you never leave the sidewalk – than from bicycles. Things like “The Weekly Carnage” help to drive this point home.

  • Eric

    Here’s a vote for keeping The Weekly Carnage. I think you guys have made the point here before that if New Yorkers and Americans were being killed in these numbers by anything other than cars, there would be an uproar of historic proportions. Imagine if terrorists did this. Or MRSA. We’d have a riot on our hands.

  • Jonathan

    Keep it, for all the reasons Angus and Eric mention, but especially for this one: I too own a gray Maxima, and I always wanted to know what my car would look like smushed into one of those ugly new bus shelters.

  • and greatest

    Instead reserve the weekly feature for a first person narrative from a victim of such carnage. One powerful human story is more effective than the dry litany. I’m sure T.A. or right of way can provide you with the first six weeks of authors.

  • I like the weekly carnage feature, if like is the right word. I tried to compile something like this in Portland Oregon and gave up after two weeks because it was so incredibly depressing. Hats off to Aaron Donovan for keeping it up for so long. If you find a new compiler, make sure you give them lots of love. And cookies. And therapy.

    I like the idea in comment 22 of featuring stories about car crashes each week. Might be just as effective, in a different light.

    I also wonder if local DOTs shouldn’t already be compiling and heavily publicizing crash data on a regular basis. Seems like a great, and relatively inexpensive, public education tool.

  • Vroomfondel

    That’s what I figured; all those scary stories in the comments section at WNYC seemed anecdotal. Still, my point remains: Why aren’t we seeing any reports of bike-on-bike or bike-on-pedestrian crashes in the Weekly Carnage? Is it because those are rare, or because they don’t get reported, or is it because the Weekly Carnage only lists crashes that involve motor vehicles?

    As an advocate of biking, I’d like to be aware of any evidence that might weaken my case. If a biker should ever harm a pedestrian, then I hope I’ll hear about it on this site.

  • jeremy

    I love it I love it I love it. Keep it!

  • Please keep Carnage. An earlier poster said it perfectly: As an antidote to apathy. Carnage has also made me more conscious and cautious as a walker. Thanks to Aaron Donovan for his efforts.

  • Lola

    Please keep Carnage alive! It’s transpo’s own version of Durst’s National Debt Clock.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Vroomfondel, I just went back and read the WNYC comments – the first time I looked at it there were only a few. Several people reported being hit by bikes – which is bad – but none of them reported being injured.

    As I said in another thread, I’ve been hit by a rollerblader who was going the wrong way up Ninth Avenue and didn’t shout a warning or anything. In a city of eight million people I’m sure people get hit by bikes on a regular basis and it hurts, but they have no injuries. I’ll bet that several people are injured a year. I’m sure there are a few fatalities every once in a while, but you would think at least one would be newsworthy.

    I just did a couple of Nexis searches going back to 1991. Searching for “cyclist kills” came up with 14 results, and in all the cases the “cyclist” was actually a motorcyclist.

    There were twenty results for “bicyclist kills”: two were suicide bombings, one in Israel, the other in Bangladesh. In all the other cases, the bicyclists killed their victims with guns, sometimes after being cut off in traffic, sometimes as part of gang warfare (including Bushwick in 2006, Freeport in 2004 and Patchogue in 1991).

    A search for “killed by bicyclist” turned up five results, and the only relevant one was this San Francisco Chronicle article from March, which leads with the story of a woman who was badly injured when she was hit by two cyclists. It alludes to (gotta love this) “the grim statistic of pedestrians killed by bicyclists in San Francisco,” but doesn’t actually give the statistic or mention any deaths. There was a NY Times column by Anna Quindlen from 1983 which quotes Bette Dewing as telling stories about people being killed by cyclists, but doesn’t give details.

    Google yields a couple of hits about Arthur Kaye, a man who was killed by a cyclist ten years ago. According to this article by Mike Smith and Charlie Komanoff, Andrea Peyser wrote a hysterical rant in the Post about it. Cyclists held a memorial for Kaye, and Transportation Alternatives gave the following statistics:

    Fact Sheet
    As the following statistics indicate, pedestrian injuries and deaths caused by bicyclists are relatively rare compared to deaths and injuries inflicted by motor vehicles. The following are averages based on NYC DOT and NYPD data from the period 1990-1995.

    Pedestrians Killed by Bicyclists: 1 annually
    Pedestrians Killed by Motor Vehicles: 250 annually

    Pedestrians Struck by Bicyclists: 500 annually
    Pedestrians Struck by Motor Vehicles: 13,000 annually

    Google yields a few crashes from around the world earlier this year: Cornwall, Melbourne, Irvine. Nothing in New York.

    In any case, you’re probably more likely to die from being shot by a cyclist than being run over by one.

  • tb

    Keep it, but expand it to include the whole nation — heck, the whole world. You’ve got plenty of time for that, surely. The local numbers are pretty shocking, yes, but it’s on a national level that the numbers really stagger.

  • Rich Conroy

    Angus, These incidents of cyclists causing injury or death may be relatively rare (or they are more common than we are aware), but then there’s a huge public fallout for the rest of the cycling community, as the various newspaper editorials and powers that (NYPD, City Council, community boards) cry out for cyclists’ blood, as happened with the 1997 Kaye(?) fatality.
    That’s why I find the whole Alex Marshall discussion of exempting cyclists from traffic laws to be outrageously shortsighted. People can point out that motorists kill and injure far more pedestrians and that anti-cyclist reactions are hysterical all they want. Unfortunately, sometimes perceptions (or mis-perceptions) become a reality all unto themselves. And sure we can try to educate mis-informed pedestrians about where the real dangers lie. But that’s a poor substitute for asking cyclists to clean up their act in traffic. If for no other reason than because those statistically rare deaths and injuries caused by cyclists have a huge repercussion for the rest of the cycling community.
    While pedestrian reaction to the Brian Lehrer show may have been over-wrought, we cyclists should listen carefully to this stuff. We are always demanding that others be more careful with cyclists lives, and the pedestrians are calling us out for our own rude, and yes, possibly dangerous behavior. It’s amazing how a little politeness, civility, and traffic-law abiding behavior can change public perceptions of cyclists. And it’s something that we cyclists have control over entirely–rather than something we have to demand from a city agency or motorists. So the question is whether cyclists are going to exercise that self-control and improve their own public image, or just be another participant in the rest of the out-of-control traffic culture.

  • Vroomfondel

    Angus, thanks for compiling this data; the link to your comment went straight into my bookmarks.

    Rich, I don’t think Angus meant to distract from the problem of reckless cyclists. He was merely responding to my question of why we don’t see any reports of bike-on-pedestrian crashes in the Weekly Carnage.

    I took yet another look at the original reasoning behind the Weekly Carnage, and it seems that it is intended to collect reports of _car_ accidents.

    I suggest that the scope of the Weekly Carnage be changed to include _all_ traffic accidents. This little change would mean little in practice because the vast majority of accidents are car accidents, as are virtually all the catastrophic ones. This change would, however, inoculate the Weekly Carnage against the suspicion that it only reports events that advance its agenda.

    In this context, the idea of replacing the current format with a human interest stories (Comment 22) is terrible. Isolated anecdotes don’t mean anything (see, for example, all the scary-biker stories posted at WNYC). Let’s stick to just the numbers, please; they tell the real story.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I’m glad to help, Vroomfondel!

    Rich, the thing is that I don’t think this is a situation that cyclists can win. Obviously, some people have a huge blind spot and are oblivious to the cars running over pedestrians on the sidewalk even as they scream about “almost” being killed by cyclists. There are always going to be a certain number of jerky cyclists who are immune to any social pressure.

    Cycling advocates can spend lots of time and effort trying to get cyclists to behave on the street, and maybe they can influence some behavior, but I seriously doubt that that will change public perception to any great extent.

    The only thing that would change public perception is power. If motorists lose enough power to the point where the owner of any car whose wheels touch the sidewalk goes to jail, then people might feel comfortable acknowledging the reality of the danger from cars. If cyclists gain enough power that the Bette Dewings of the world come to identify and sympathize with them, then people might gain some perspective.

    In the absence of this, all we can do is work to transfer power from motorists to cyclists and pedestrians. In the long run, that’s the only thing that will work, and it’s a much better use of our time than browbeating other cyclists.

  • As the main author of “Killed By Automobile” and an originator of the Streets Memorial Project, I have a lot invested in The Weekly Carnage. I also curated four consecutive installments in July when Aaron D. was honeymooning with his bride Susan, so I know what’s involved in putting it out — logistically and emotionally. I’m thrilled that so many other S’blog readers wrote to urge that Carnage continues. For me, Lola said it best, “It’s transpo’s own version of Durst’s National Debt Clock.” It’s also useful to see, via the links given with each headline, just how the press covers each crash … and how little follow-up even the fatalities get. And, last point, it throws a harsh light on the so-called safety agencies in municipal, state and national gov’t who ought to be, but aren’t, doing their own carnage reckoning. Keep it going!

  • weekly carnage is why i go to streetsblog. i, er, love it.

  • sandjenk

    I have come to rely heavily on Weekly Carnage for my work. My job is to complile this type of information for state and federal highway safety agencies that develop safety measures for our roadways. Please try to keep it if you can. You have my continued support and thanks!


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