Eyes on the Street: Speeding SUV Aftermath


A camera phone tipster sends this shot of wreckage on a residential street in Boerum Hill. This morning, a speeding SUV managed to build up enough force to plow through parked cars, take out the iron gate, and demolish a good chunk of the ground floor. FDNY, fearing a cave-in, has propped up the front of the building. Mercifully, no one was hurt. We’re told that the driver lost control due to a seizure, though our source says that traffic engineering has also made this block more susceptible to crashes.

…since DOT replaced the stop sign at the intersection before our block [with a traffic light], we have had three incidents where cars have gotten up to such a speed they’ve flipped over and took out a bunch of cars.

When this same traffic light was installed two years ago, Andy Wiley-Schwartz, who now heads up the public plaza program at DOT, found it inexplicable.

Update: Curbed has more photos and details about how this happened. The driver kept trying to maneuver the berserk vehicle until the wheels were in the air:

…a lady tried to parallel park on front of the house, and her accelerator got stuck. After punching the hole, she sped back onto the street and smashed up a few cars, before flipping over.

After the jump, the mammoth SUV that caused this destruction.


  • Rhywun

    Hm. I’d never heard the theory that stop signs are safer than traffic lights before, but it’s almost kind of convincing. Except… I used to live in Astoria at an intersection with an all-way stop, and that corner always felt horribly unsafe to me, with cars careening by in every direction seemingly at random, and very few of them paying any attention to the crosswalks or whether a person was currently using them. Yes, the cars might be traveling slower but they’re also traveling in a less predictable manner. I’ve always felt much safer at a corner with traffic lights.

  • fdr

    Wiley-Schwartz has been at DOT for a year and a half. Has he tried to get them to go back to a stop sign?

  • Rhywun… I too hadn’t heard the argument of a traffic sign being safer than a stop light, but in this case it does make sense. However, I don’t think it’s always the case and many time blanket statements about road conditions become not applicable in certain areas. Many argue that two way streets are safer than one ways since it cause cars to slow down with less room to maneuver, yet it also increases the dangerous intersections of pedestrians crossings. Bottomline, every intersection has its own peculiarities so the stop lights might’ve been better at your old place in astoria, yet they’re not as effective in boerum hill.

    FDR…you’re point is dead-on thought… if he’s been there so long, has he pushed to change the intersection back?

  • Rhywun, I understand what you’re saying about less predictable. But don’t underestimate the importance of speed. To pick some arbitrary numbers, a car sailing through a yellow light at 30 MPH has about 4 times the momentum of a stopped (or, more realistically, nearly-stopped) car accelerating to 7 MPH in the same intersection. That is a huge difference in potential damage.

    Nobody stomps on the gas to beat the stop sign. And a stop sign cuts down speed for a good portion of the block since you have to decelerate in advance. By contrast, I’d wager the vast majority of car drivers have done something reckless to beat a yellow light. I have. In an aggressive-driving culture like New York, it’s considered normal.

    Sounds like signage wouldn’t have mattered either way to this particular event, though.

  • Doesn’t seem like the street design (with regards to a stop sign or traffic light) doesn’t have much to do with this, since it happened while parallel parking. The driver wasn’t speeding (in the conventional sense of the word, anyway), she was parallel parking and lost control. Seems like the vehicle size is more of an issue in this case.

  • Look to Seattle & Netherlands

    Stop signs stink. So do signals, in general, but stop signs are not much safer, often don’t feel any more comfortable or safe to peds, and are generally less efficient. Plus they’re a pain for bikers. Hooray for yield-controls, roundabouts, mini-roundabouts and traffic circles! And strong right of way laws (e.g. person on right goes first)!

  • gary fisher

    I think the traffic signal vs 4-way stop at intersections is most often determined by volumes and cue length. Most engineers would agree stop signs are safer for pedestrians but cannot handle the same capacity as a signal. The Green Wave(timing three or more traffic signals in a row to be green when travelling the speed limit, which was devolved by Henry Barnes, who also created the Barnes’ Dance, Henry Barnes) could be attributed to a majority of motorists accelerating while approaching signalized intersections. Even though many traffic signals are not timed for a Green Wave, divers expect that they should be able to continue without stopping for red lights and this encourages speeding.

  • Jason A

    Looking at that photo I can’t help but wonder how: Curbed commenters, NY Post Reporters, Community Board stick-in-the-muds (etc…) can argue that bicycles are the biggest menace on nyc streets…

  • gary fisher

    Roundabouts have the ability to service higher capacities equal to or greater than a traffic signal and using the vehicle guides as refuge areas they can reduce crossing distances. The drawback is having traffic that never stops can make crossing for pedestrians difficult. You can eliminate the number of pedestrian/vehicle conflicts but pedestrians are not given a priority crossing opportunity.

  • Jason A – an SUV attacking a building might be what it takes to get Curbed to change their stance. I’m not holding my breath with regard to the Post, though.

    Look to Seattle & Netherlands – I think you’re on to something with roundabouts, but the problem (as always) is the cost to build something like that vs. installing a signal.

  • Stop

    There are lots of studies comparing four way stop signs to signals. Signals are about moving cars. Signs are safer for everyone. Not yet mentioned is that motorists with green lights are more likely to turn into pedestrians also crossing with the light. Signals encourage motorists to take the right of way, go faster and run down more people on foot. The “negotiation” that takes place at four way stops can be unnerving and feel unsafe, but it makes everyone pay more attention. NYC has too many signals. (Still odds are the community board or a local elected official asked for this signal out of ignorance and DOT capitulated. DOT doesn’t like installing signals. They cost money to install and maintain.)

  • gary fisher

    The cost of a round about is comparable to the cost of the traffic signal depending of the diameter of the roundabout. Concrete and pavement are relatively cheap materials.

  • I believe (I could be wrong) the City of Portland has halted installing roundabouts for traffic calming purposes. I’m not talking about larger engineered ones. They could still be building those. It’s the simple 10-12foot circular islands retrofitted into older intersections that I believe they stopped installing. I think I heard that they really didn’t slow traffic all that much and actually may have caused crashes including with pedestrians since the landscaping in the island has the potential to screen drivers from seeing the pedestrians.

    I looked on the City of Portland DoT page and they talk about the small roundabouts that they refer to as “Traffic Circles.” There was no mention of not using them anymore but I could swear I heard that somewhere on a Bike/Ped planning professionals discussion group.

  • Tod

    Andy B – if you’re referring to Seattle’s neighborhood traffic program then, to be blunt, you’re recalling completely wrong. Seattle’s program has made a huge difference. http://www.usroads.com/journals/rmej/9801/rm980102.htm

  • Gwin

    I don’t understand how someone’s accelerator can get “stuck.” Can someone please clarify this for me?


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