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Safe Streets for Seniors? Try Telling Police and Prosecutors.

2:29 PM EDT on October 27, 2008

amd_wheelchair_accident.jpgOn Friday, two pedestrians and a man in a wheelchair, all aged 60 or above, were hit by motor vehicles in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens. Two died. One was in critical condition as of Friday night.

Two drivers fled the scene. One remains at large. The other was found by police and said he didn't know he'd hit anyone. No charges have been filed.

From the Daily News:

James Dong, 60, a customer operations representative at Con Ed, was on the Bowery in Manhattan about 1:30 p.m. As he was about to enter a company vehicle, a tractor-trailer came roaring down the street, slammed into him and kept going.

"There were body parts all over the street," said Jill Haas, 48, a small-business owner from Chicago.

Dong was pronounced dead at the scene, where fellow Con Ed workers cried and looked on in amazement.

The driver, who was unaware he hit Dong, was stopped on a highway in Brooklyn but was not charged.

It seems doubtful that Mr. Dong's age had anything to do with his
death. He, like so many pedestrian victims before him, was simply at
the wrong place (i.e. on a street, on a sidewalk, in a restaurant) at the wrong time (i.e.
when another driver neglects to pay attention to where the hell s/he is
going, or how fast s/he is traveling, regardless of the fact that
his/her vehicle is negotiating an environment where most fellow street
users are not wrapped in steel).

Which is the bigger menace to society: a driver who flees the scene after tearing apart a
live human being with his vehicle, or one who tears apart a live human
being with his vehicle without noticing? That's a trick question, of course. In New York
City the answer is none of the above -- or, possibly, cyclists.

Mr. Sydnor and Ms. Morrissey appear to be two of the many seniors, whether in New York or elsewhere in the US, for whom the streets are more dangerous than most.

A few hours earlier in Queens, Bernard Sydnor, 69, was operating his motorized wheelchair across the street at Jewel Ave. and Parsons Blvd.

About 11 a.m., a car slammed into the Community Board 8 member and Korean War veteran.

Sydnor, who lives alone but has two adult sons, was rushed to New York Hospital Medical Center of Queens, where a spokeswoman said he was in critical condition Friday night. His sons were by his side.

The driver who hit Sydnor stayed at the scene and was not charged.

Early Friday, Bridget Morrissey, 74, took her daily trip to her daughter's nearby home in Bay Ridge for her Alzheimer's disease medication.

The great-grandmother was crossing 75th St. at 14th Ave. at about 7 a.m. when a gray car crashed into her and didn't stop.

Morrissey, who worked at a nursing home for 35 years before retiring, died at the scene.

No arrests have been made.

The location of the Bay Ridge Parkway hit-and-run that claimed Bridget Morrissey is bracketed by intersections where two other pedestrians have been killed since 1995. Jewel Avenue in Queens, where Mr. Sydnor was struck, was the site of much-needed safety improvements last year -- implemented over the objections of the local community board and City Council member. Last year DOT also launched Safe Streets for Seniors, a plan to revisit streets in each borough with the elderly in mind.

But short of a Vision Zero strategy, engineering is only part of the solution. Enforcement, and, ideally, subsequent changes in driver attitude and behavior, are critical. Again, to paraphrase Michael Kodransky: Had three New Yorkers been killed by falling cranes on Friday, the city would be in an uproar. That pedestrians every day face death at the hands of motorists, who now apparently need not even remain at the scene to be cleared of wrongdoing, should be greeted with the same level of outrage and scrutiny.

And in case you need another reminder of how far gone we are, even in that rare instance when a driver is prosecuted, remember Tenzing Bhutia.

Photo: New York Daily News 

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