Response to NYC Traffic Violence Rooted in Ignorance

Even with New York City pedestrian deaths dropping in recent years, there’s no end in sight to the horror from driver-caused deaths, and little letup in police fecklessness and politicians’ and media grandstanding on traffic dangers.

Unmentioned by police, elected officials or the media in coverage of recent traffic deaths: Private dump trucks have the highest pedestrian kill rate in NYC. Photo: DNAinfo/Jennifer Glickel

This morning brought news of the death of Laurence Renard yesterday evening on the Upper East Side. The 35-year-old French fashion stylist was crushed under a dump truck that turned from 90th Street onto First Avenue and into her path. While details are sketchy, as usual, Renard presumably had the right-of-way over the turning truck, which a witness said “came around the corner like a bat out of hell.” Nevertheless, the only charge filed thus far is for driving with a suspended license.

Renard’s death is eerily similar to that of Jason King last month. King, a 21-year-old student who also worked at nearby E.A.T., had been crossing Madison Avenue at 81st Street when he was run over by a dump truck being driven illegally in reverse. “No criminality was suspected” in King’s death, the NYPD told Streetsblog then, despite a report that King was in the crosswalk when the truck driver backed over him and dragged him thirty feet before stopping. The driver was not charged.

Meanwhile, reports are surfacing of a traffic-related death two weeks ago in Queens Village. According to CBS2, 72-year-old Robert Hudson suffered a fatal heart attack after a dispute that began when police attempted to cite his wife Doris for not wearing a seat belt. Mrs. Hudson claims that officers forced her husband to walk a half-mile home to retrieve her ID, although police officials contend Mr. Hudson did so of his own volition. Regardless, shortly after returning and driving off, and likely stressed from the encounter with NYPD, Mr. Hudson suffered a massive seizure and died at Franklin Hospital.

What links these deaths, beyond their human tragedy, is a traffic “safety” ideology that blames victims instead of perpetrators, fetishizes silver bullets like seat belts and bike helmets at the expense of promoting a genuine safety culture, and misdirects enforcement toward trivia and away from the actual sources of danger. Consider:

  • Robust statistical analysis established over a decade ago (PDF, pp. 33-34) that private dump trucks had the highest NYC pedestrian-kill rate per mile driven — a distinction they almost certainly hold today. Yet no city or state initiatives have ever targeted dump truck driver licensing, enforcement or prosecution.
  • Turning-into-crosswalk kills more pedestrians than any other driver maneuver, the same analysis found. Yet failure to wear seat belts — a behavior that, unlike dangerous driving, puts no other persons at risk — is accorded far more enforcement and “education” than the legal necessity to yield to pedestrian in crosswalks.
  • Bike lanes make streets and roads safer for all users, including pedestrians and motorists. Yet a proposal for a protected First Avenue bike lane, which might have induced the driver who killed Laurence Renard to take his turn more slowly, was withdrawn last June, a possible victim of the drumbeat of criticism that has enveloped DOT’s program to expand the city’s bicycle network.

Just as gun sales reportedly rose after the Tucson shooting rampage, look for politicians like Brooklyn Senator Carl Kruger to react to the deaths of King and Renard by redoubling efforts to rein in pedestrians; and for know-nothings like gossip columnist Cindy Adams to resort to shameless name-calling in the Post’s vendetta against DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Better, perhaps, to recall the wisdom of Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Sadly, these words will offer little consolation to the families and friends of Renard, Hudson and King.

  • Paul

    Perhaps mob connections to sanitation have something to do with the lack of scrutiny.

  • Thanks, Charlie. Fabulous writing and thoughts, as usual! — Anne Hansen, Victoria, BC.

  • Aaron Naparstek

    Charlie hits this one out of the park.

    This article needs to be sent repeatedly to the New York Post, CBS2, Neighbors for Banning Bike Lanes and all of these other schmucks who are working with concerted effort to make NYC streets less safe.

  • Ryan

    And what about the dozens of kids killed each year going to and from their bus stop when motorists ignore the bus lights and run them over? They get a slap on the wrist such as involuntary vehicular manslaughter and serve maybe a couple of years but most often get suspended sentences and probation.

  • David Gurin

    Charles Komanoff has treated a serious subject with the serious analysis that it rarely gets. Journalists commonly write about war and crime or about war crimes. Komanoff is writing about a kind of war crime: the war of cars (or the people that drive them thoughtlessly) against innocent walkers in the streets of cities.

  • Josef

    As time goes on and more pedestrians are dying in New York without consequences for drivers, both old laws ( and new laws ( are falling tragically short. The focus must shift from Albany and City Hall to the Manhattan DA and the NYPD.

  • Thanks for pulling it all together so succinctly, Charlie. And you’ve achieved prescience–my wife tells me she saw Carl Kruger on TV today talking about legislation he’s proposing to ban pedestrian use of iPods and other listening devices.

    I find it incomprehensible that so many of our elected officials, community board members and police continue to believe that insufficient regulation of cyclists and pedestrians is the source of our “traffic problem.” The evidence is so clear. How can you ignore this many bodies?

  • Chris

    Incomprehensible? The motor vehicle represents the ultimate in American consumer freedumb and the American Dream, and you’re a UN commie pinko to think otherwise… human powered transport, either bike or feet is unamerican, or so our political “leaders” have been brainwashed into believing or boughten off.

    I can’t help but be facetious but the only thing we can do is continue grassroots efforts to put pressure on, and to call out our elected leaders regarding their apparent lack of common sense when it comes to pedestrian and bicyclist safety. “license and register the bicyclists” – as if that will have any real impact on the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians alike.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Nothing to add to that great piece. However, I believe that dump-trucks, although a pretty broad vehicle classification, are usually operated on an incentive basis. The drivers have and incentive, perverse I think is a fair characterization, to operate quickly, cutting corners and shaving time to make more, longer, runs. Incentivized freight hauling should be outlawed.

  • Larry Littlefield

    This is why I taught my kids to jaywalk in the middle of the block, after making sure there were no vehicles coming within sight, back when they were younger.

    I think to understand the general mentality, it goes something like this. Outside NY, drivers are just about everyone. Even here, I’d guess that most Streetsbloggers are also drivers even if they don’t own their own car.

    And while some driving is more dangerous than other driving, there is in the mind of many the idea that motor vehicles are inherently dangerous, and that cracking down on the inevitable harm means taking away their cars.

    And to be fair, after a few years of the former “weekly carnage” posts I was more concerned than ever that I might somehow run over someone while driving.

    Meanwhile, we have yet another case of someone driving when the system had worked and said they shouldn’t be.

  • Woody

    Paul got it about right.

    Mob connections to Sanitation, especially the private haulers.

    But if the term ‘dump truck’ also includes those that haul away construction debris or deliver loose materials to building sites, well hey, Mob connections to the Construction unions and contractors.

    And so of course, Mob connections to many politicians and to the NYPD make them afraid to challenge any lawbreaking by dump trucks or their drivers.

  • vnm

    On my commute home tonight, I had to cross exactly four streets on foot. At two of them, people standing near me were a foot or two away from being severely injured. In Midtown, a cabbie drove precariously close, and quite quickly, to the pedestrians who were in a few steps in front of me. He only stopped at the last possible moment. Then, gesticulating with great emotion, he berated the pedestrians for walking in the crosswalk with the light. Then, up in the Bronx, a car sailed — just sailed — right through a stop sign where a woman two paces ahead of me was about to cross at a marked crosswalk. In both cases, the pedestrians around me grumbled and cursed under their breath, but nobody really thought it was anything worth getting that upset about. Certainly nobody seemed motivated enough to take any sort of official or political action. Myself included, unless you count this blog comment. Nothing remotely so risky has ever happened to me from someone riding a bike. Sure, I’ve been startled by salmon. But a routine night with two near misses with cars is worse than anything bikers could do in 15 years. Yet, somehow, people are worried about bikes!

  • Charles M. Fraser

    So well written and yet disaster literature’s reach through society is so limited explaining why the history repeats itself.

  • jen r

    great piece, was looking for that man;s name, jason kingm i recalled his death by motorized vehicle on UES too…. stop the demonization of bikes and ikers…
    one thing, wish you did not even mention that abhorrent C.A, tabloid bochinche writer, no need to give any credence at all there.

  • Perhaps mob connections to sanitation have something to do with the lack of scrutiny.

    Well, geez, can’t we pay off the mob to get the drivers to watch out for pedestrians? Make them an offer they can’t refuse? “There’s more where that came from – if no pedestrians die for the rest of the year.” I’ll chip in!

  • Richard R.

    It’s been, oh, I ‘d say about ten minutes since a cab driver, turning from First Ave. onto 66th St., swore a vile, really vile, horribly vile (wayyy beyond “hell” and “damn”) at a mother walking her ca. five year old across a crosswalk on their green. Why? Because the little girl was walking no faster than the speed of a five year old walking.

    I started to tear after the cab to get its medallion number. Unfortunately, the cab sped away before I could catch it. The mother told me not to bother that “what goes around comes around.” Even more unfortunately, it doesn’t.


    Another great, great piece, Charlie.

  • Colin

    People need to wake up and take this city back from the cars. It’s an outrage that I pay taxes for a roadway that I never use and find dangerous.

  • Joe R.

    “What links these deaths, beyond their human tragedy, is a traffic “safety” ideology that blames victims instead of perpetrators, fetishizes silver bullets like seat belts and bike helmets at the expense of promoting a genuine safety culture, and misdirects enforcement toward trivia and away from the actual sources of danger.”

    Thanks for the great article, Charles, and the above quote says it all. As a society, we’re focused on using external means in our quest for traffic safety instead of focusing on the real problem-namely a generally poor level of competance from all road users ( that includes also pedestrians and cyclists ). The problem is we’ve become so dependent upon the idea of both traffic laws and traffic control devices telling us what to do that many road users have lost the ability to figure out what to do on their in. This is especially important in an urban environment where there is no cookie-cutter one-size-fits-all answer to every situation. When the system breaks down, people often die. As a pedestrian, I never assume right-of-way even in situations where I’m legally entitled to it. I almost never see motorists yielding on turns. Also, the system itself is flawed. It makes no sense to cross at corners where turning vehicles present a hazard. And yet it’s illegal to cross in the middle of the street even though it’s my preferred method of crossing. Clear case where the law actually puts pedestrians in more danger. Same with the requirement for cyclists to stop on red. This is often more dangerous given that you start out at the same time as motor traffic compared to taking a calculated very minor risk passing the light after looking for cross traffic.

    Bottom line-take all the petty laws like seat beat laws, jaywalking/jaybiking laws, and so forth off the books. To police they represent an easy way to reach ( supposedly nonexistent ) ticket quotas. Only keep in existence laws which prohibit manifestly dangerous actions like drunk driving, distracted driving, not yielding when turning, speeding in excess of 10 mph over the speed limit on local roads ( the flip side of that is it could be argued that on limited access highways speed limits make no sense at all ), etc. Let the police enforce a limited set of laws which focus on the most dangerous actions. And let’s gradually get rid of traffic laws/ controls telling people what to do. When people must think for themselves what to do it creates a culture of safety where everyone watches out for everyone else. It also creates a sense of community instead of the every person for themselves attitude I see on the roads nowadays.

  • Andrew

    Excellent piece.

    Regarding turning-into-crosswalk: I think you’re onto something here. Everybody knows that running a red light is illegal. Even drivers who routinely run red lights (and there are plenty of them) know it’s illegal; they continue to do it because they know it’s extremely unlikely that they’ll be penalized for it. But I suspect the vast majority of drivers have no idea that they’re legally required to yield to pedestrians while turning through a crosswalk. On the contrary, they probably think the pedestrians are in the wrong. After all, green means go, doesn’t it?

    How do we get the city to start an education campaign? Of course, if we don’t want drivers to ignore crosswalks the way many of them ignore red lights, an enforcement campaign will need to follow the education campaign. Can we get the NYPD on board, or will this prove to be too much of a distraction from the bicycle crackdown?

    Incidentally, this is why I, as a pedestrian, prefer one way streets. Drivers making left turns don’t have to worry about conflicts with other vehicular traffic, so they’re more likely to notice me crossing. And since traffic arrives in platoons, coming from only one direction, it’s easy to cross midblock, avoiding the impatient turners.

  • Yep. These guys are dangerous and have to be very careful when they are around.

  • Jeff

    From today’s Post:

    The new bike lanes and the exponential confusion they’ve caused are hazardous to the largest transportation bloc in the City: pedestrians. Last month I was hit at night by a bike with no light that was racing the wrong way down 6th avenue. As they put me in the ambulance to rush me off to surgery, the biker cheerfully informed me that he was now allowed to ride both ways. Empowered by the commissioner and an insane amount of leniency with the actual laws, bikes are bombing up and down their newly widened lanes, while pedestrians, unable to track them from every direction, are getting hit and seriously hurt.

    Terry Reed

  • AcuBill

    Great piece, Charles, as always. We part ways, though, concerning the so-called fetishizing of bike helmets. In cultures and countries where bike riding is integrated into the traffic flow, perhaps bike helmets are not as important. And even in those environments, I’m not sure riders are making the right choice. In the U.S., where bike riding remains dangerous, helmets protect the individual from serious injury.

    I simply don’t buy the idea that wearing helmets leads to more fatalities or injuries because they keep people from getting on their bikes, thus depleting the streets of increased number of riders who, by their increasing numbers, make all bicyclists safer. Having once spent three days in the hospital from a concussion received while riding on the shoulder in rural Pennsylvania, in the days when I was helmetless, I know firsthand what it’s like to be the n of 1 who was not afforded the protection of a helmet.

    Coming of age as seatbelts in cars proliferated, I grew to have no problem clicking in. Likewise, my children have no problem wearing a helmet.

    As far as mandatory seatbelts while riding in cars: they ought to be mandatory, because injuries sustained in motor-vehicles accidents are significantly mitigated through the use of seatbelts. I recall the days of riding in my father’s 1951 Chevrolet, in the front seat, and feeling his outstretched right arm when we came to a stop at a red light. It is not safe to ride in car without a seatbelt. Many people pay for the individual’s injury in motor-vehicle accidents, not simply the individual him- or herself. Acting recklessly in a motor vehicle ought not to be a constitutionally protected right.

    I agree with much else in your article. I agree with your point that police likely spend too much time on seatbelt offenses, rather than the clearly dangerous and reckless offenses your article articulately targets. I’ve seen too many garbage trucks driven like Indy 500 contenders.

    Frankly, I’d like to see the police stop more motorists who drive while on their phones. Watching people steering through intersections with one hand while holding their phones to their heads with the other makes me really angry. I think this is an example of a behavior which ought to be targeted for enforcement.

    Wonderful and passionate post. Thank you!

  • That does not sound likely at all! I want to see the crash report.

  • Streetsblog/Streetfilms has a more or less pro-DOT and anti-NYPD (NYPD-neutral in the case of Streetfilms) editorial and coverage policy, but the commissioners of both were appointed by Bloomberg who seems to get praised in relation to Sadik-Khan but mostly unmentioned in relation to Kelly. I don’t get it.

  • Todd,

    Spot on. Kelly better resign before JSK does. Half the questions to her from the City Council at the bike hearing last month were about enforcement issues. Why should JSK have to answer for NYPD failure? Why does Bloomberg get let off the hook for NYPD failure?

  • StevenF

    Traffic law has degenerated into Sound Bites and Bumper Sticker slogans. There is damned little traffic education, and much of that is dangerously incomplete or wrong. It’s not just the drivers and cyclists and pedestrians that know nothing, but this failure includes the police officers, the DA’s and the judges as well. The key agencies that should be educating and not just enforcing, the schools, police and the DMV are not doing their job. Mellow Yellow’s pointed out how JSK is being held responsible for enforcement, but also she is taking on education because no-one else is doing it.

    Transportation needs 3 E’s: Engineering, Education and Enforcement, and DOT’s primary role is the engineering – building the bike lanes and paths, bike routing signs and signals as part of the city streets. DOT has decided to take an advanced role in education, only because no-one else is doing it. But there are 2 million cyclists in NYC, and what is the DOT education staffing and budget? Not enough and there is no help from the other agencies. In fact, the NYPD seems determined to stay ignorant of traffic law in general and bicycle law in particular. The lead of this article shows the cops blissfully unaware that turning vehicles have to slow down always to a speed they can stop and yield to crossing pedestrians. The straight through pedestrian and cyclists always has the right of way over the turning vehicle. Always! I have not seen citations for violations of ROW.

    Example of the Sound Bite law was on the front page of the Brooklyn Paper 2 weeks ago, in a side-bar box under the Bike Crackdown headline, as the Bike Laws You Need to Know. For bike lanes the info was “If there is a bike lane, you have to use it.”, period! They completely ignored the 2 paragraphs that followed with all the exceptions to why a cyclist need not stay in the bike lane.

    Without making those exceptions clear, the “Must use bike lane” implies to drivers that any cyclist out of the bike lane is operating illegally. It also fails to tell cyclists that they don’t have to ride in the door zone or other hazardous spaces, like on the wrong side of the turning car. But if drivers think that a cyclists who moves over even a few feet out of the bike lane is illegally “riding in the middle of the road” then they will certainly be complaining about bad cycling, and very possibly try to attack that cyclist on the road.

    Failing to teach or teaching bad law is not just bad publicity, but is actually getting people killed.

    As pointed out above, Bloomberg just does not get it – he fails to see the huge gap between strongly supporting JSK’s DOT to build the bicycle traffic engineering to encourage more bicycling, and supporting every move by Ray Kelly since the RNC to have the police crack down irrationally on bicycling in NYC. There is some sort of split personality within Bloomberg – he can accept two totally contradictory set of facts at the same time.

    Can anyone point out to Mayor Mike that most New Yorkers have a greater chance of being killed by being run down by a car or truck than by being shot by a gun! Can we get him to put in the same serious face time pressing for traffic education and enforcement as he has been putting into gun control? He may even manage to save more lives with the traffic safety program, or at least get it implemented sooner than gun controls.

  • Thank you, Charlie. The grandstanding and inconsistency would be laughable if people weren’t getting killed.

  • Joe R.

    @ Acubill ( post #22 )

    The problem with mandatory seat belt laws ( and other similar laws which prohibit actions which don’t necessarily cause harm ) is that they violate the principal of natural law. Natural law means the law can only punish if there has been actual injury, death, or loss of property. Taken to its logical conclusion, the only time we should punish motorists ( or cyclists for that matter ) is when they injure or kill someone. There’s a long history which shows that so-called preventative laws don’t actually make things safer. Instead, they merely give police an excuse to harass people for revenue-generating tickets ( which is why politicians LOVE these kinds of laws ). If you want a reasonable selt belt law, then here’s one – if you’re involved in an accident and not wearing a seat belt, then your insurance company is not liable for paying your hospital bills. Note that even this law would be going too far if seat belts haven’t been demonstrated to be effective in preventing injuries. You couldn’t pass a similar law for bike helmets, however. So far there’s no demonstrable evidence that they’re of any value in real world incidents which kill or injure cyclists. Most cyclists who die are killed by motor vehicles. The cause of death is usually internal organ trauma, possibly but not always accompanied by head injury. If there is head injury, it is generally caused by impact forces far beyond what the helmet is designed for. In any case, even if the helmet prevented the head injuries, the cyclist would die from the internal injuries anyway. Bike helmets at best seem to help slightly in incidents involving only the cyclist, and then only at fairly low speeds ( i.e. exactly the kinds of incidents a more experienced cyclist would easily avoid completely ). I’ve been riding over 32 years without a helmet, with little more than road rash from the few falls I’ve had. I haven’t fallen at all in years ( I don’t remember the exact date of my last fall, except that it was before 9/11 ). Cycling is one of the safest activities you can engage in. In my opinion, helmets tend to increase the perception that cycling is a dangerous activity. This in turn probably keeps many people from even trying it.

    Don’t get me wrong-I’m all for safety devices which have demonstrable value, such as brakes or lights or reflectors. Helmets don’t fall into this category. Besides, why aren’t we pushing helmets for pedestrians and motorists? Both groups are statistically more like to incur head injury than cyclists.

  • Please read my comment about this horrible tragedy in this other thread and get involved with Transportation Alternatives’ work for safer streets on the East Side.

  • Andrew

    Joe R.:

    What about the loss of time to pedestrians due to motorists who failed to stop or yield when required by law? According to your formulation of natural law, there’s no incentive for a motorist to even consider yielding to pedestrians while turning.

  • Joe R.

    “What about the loss of time to pedestrians due to motorists who failed to stop or yield when required by law? According to your formulation of natural law, there’s no incentive for a motorist to even consider yielding to pedestrians while turning.”

    Failure to yield a motor vehicle while turning qualifies as something which can be demonstrated to nearly always be harmful to the pedestrian, as opposed to something which is rarely be harmful, such sidewalk cycling. As such, a law against failure to yield would make sense even if you’re applying natural law. The problem however is really one of infrastructure, not lack of laws, or lack of enforcement of laws. It’s inherently dangerous to have pedestrians and cyclists share the shame streets as multi-ton untracked motor vehicles. It’s also highly inefficient from a time standpoint as you pointed out. Either remove the pedestrians/cyclists, remove the motor vehicles, or constrain the motor vehicles to follow a predetermined track.

    We can actually probably do the last thing, constrain the path of motor vehicles, with today’s technology. Embed sensors in the roadway which are picked up by motor vehicles. When the vehicle is driven at more than perhaps 5 or 6 mph, it will be constrained by software to follow the sensors, hence the fixed path. You can also use the same software to keep the vehicle from exceeding the speed limit. In order to deviate from this fixed path, such as to turn or park, the vehicle will be forced to slow to a safe speed. Many of today’s vehicles are already drive by wire, so it’s almost trivial to do this within, say, a decade. Now you solved two problems frequently cited here on Streetsblog as the cause of many problems solely via infrastructure, without laws or enforcement. Honestly, infrastructure should be the primary means to dealing with traffic safety. And I don’t give a rat’s you know what if motorists will object to not having full control of their vehicles. Pedestrian/cyclist safety trumps motorist convenience any day in my book.

  • JK

    Mayor Bloomberg should be publicly challenged to create a public health strategy to sharply reduce deaths and injuries from motor vehicles. This means telling the police department to climb out of their bunker of secrecy and obstructionism. The Health Department and the DOT are already deeply engaged in efforts to change things. The police are not. Not only do they refuse to engage in a public discussion about this street safety, they impede overall efforts by refusing to share crash records they have compiled at public expense. The mayor is in his last term. He has the chance to speak honestly about things. Among his great interests as a philanthropist is public health. The basis of public health is gathering information about the spread of disease and carefully analyzing ways to prevent it. During his time as mayor, Bloomberg’s public health department has become the best in the United States. Interestingly, Bloomberg has given millions to global efforts fight traffic deaths. Yet, yet, Mayor Bloomberg has not ordered the police department to release up to date records on traffic crashes, or to work in a public process with the health department,DOT and experts outside government, to come up with a unified, and public approach to further reducing the achingly high number of deaths and injuries from motor vehicles.

  • “It is not safe to ride in car without a seatbelt.”

    It’s not safe to ride in a car with a seatbelt. It’s not “safe” to ride in a car at all. What crash harnesses (marketed as safety belts) do for everyday motorists, as for race car drivers, is allow vehicles to be operated at higher speeds with the risk level otherwise experienced at lower speeds. If everyone drove the same speed as before they would have lower risk, but that’s not what has happened. It hasn’t helped that the auto industry has tirelessly developed and marked ever more powerful engines for all classes of cars, even as their advertising fills people’s heads from birth with a bunch of lies about click-it on, strap-it-on, airbag-it safety. This has had particularly nasty consequences for the death rate of pedestrians and cyclists over the last 30 years.

    Where cars are operated in close proximity to pedestrians, it should not even be a question. Pedestrians are not strapped into a two-ton armored shell. If the car is operated at a speed that does not pose a great risk to the people in its vicinity, then certainly its occupants are fine as well. We did not need to hand the police another tool for selective enforcement, to ticket old people driving in parking lots for not wearing their crash harnesses, while others are allowed to drive in ways that endager everyone. It is truly an ignorant disgrace, and I appreciate that Komanoff has brought it all together here.

    If people are interested in risk compensation and the unintended consequences of laws that try to save people from themselves, this is a good short post to get you started:

    This PDF fully lays out the argument for danger reduction over marketeers’ “safety”:

  • boof

    “I simply don’t buy the idea that wearing helmets leads to more fatalities or injuries because they keep people from getting on their bikes, thus depleting the streets of increased number of riders who, by their increasing numbers, make all bicyclists safer.”

    Perhaps a math class would help.

  • Driver

    If people would pay attention to their surroundings and be aware these kind of accidents wouldn’t be so common. Was the truck driver reckless and at fault? Most likely. Does this fact help the victim after the fact? Not in the slightest. While everyone here finger points and talks about the danger of cars and policies regarding infrastructure and safety devices, not one person is willing to state the one thing that we can all do to protect ourselves from the current dangers faced everyday on the city streets. Pay attention and be aware, even if you have the right of way or when traffic seems to be quiet at the moment.

  • seymour schwartz

    you’re RIGHT ON keep fighting

  • In the tragic case of Laurence Renard, whatever happened to the so-called “Rule of Two”? I would think (1) driving with a suspended license and (2) hitting (and killing) a pedestrian would count? Why isn’t Vance bringing forward more serious charges?

  • Ian Turner

    Urbanis, the same thing that happened in the tragic case of Axel Pablo, i.e., nothing. The “rule of two” seems to be a ruse, but there does appear to be a “rule of four” at work.

  • Ben

    I’d like to know if the dump truck was part of the Second Avenue Subway construction project? There are dozens of dump trucks per day that are traveling on First and Second Avenue in the 90’s hauling dirt and materials from the subway construction. If this truck wasn’t part of it, there are plenty of others just like it. There is a general recklessness of the drivers and the construction site in general. It’s gotten a lot better in the last few months, but there’s still a ways to go. NYC recently took away many of the traffic officers that were in the area controlling the traffic, which had a calming effect on the trucks. Now nobody’s watching.

  • AcuBill

    @Boof (#34): All sarcasm from you aside, I don’t think wearing a bicycle helmet presents a problem in our culture in the here and now, save for the ardent who would like to see, tomorrow, an Amsterdam transplanted in New York City or elsewhere in the U.S., and think it’s a viable possiblity (for tomorrow). I do think dangerous conditions on the street keep people from riding, and I do think it’s been shown again and again that increased bike ridership begets increased bike ridership, greater safety being one of the inducements. I don’t think helmets are an issue in the U.S. Perhaps in Amsterdam or elsewhere in Europe riding with a helmet would meet with ridicule, but that’s not relevant in New York City, except for the hotshots and diehards.

    @Joe R (#28): I would not wish to cope with internal organ trauma because I failed to strap on my body armor while going out for a spin. We must all admit that a significant squishing of the midsection may lead to fatality. However, I repeat, my n of 1 experience in rural Pennsylvania, riding helmetless on the shoulder (witness reported this — I was out cold) led to a three-day hospitalization. Skip ahead about 10 or 12 years: I skidded on an oil slick at a bus stop, in a light rain, at 7th Avenue South and Bleecker Street, and slammed into the back of a van waiting at the red light. I flew over the bars, landed at a perpendicular on the center of my head (helmeted), got up, spoke to the driver, and got on the bike again for my remainder of my ride to work. No injury, save to my pride.

    I live upstate. A friend who is a superb and dedicated rider hit a deer on his way down a hill. Serious impact: his frame was bent. (Can’t remember what happened to that deer!) He landed hard on his helmeted head. He showed me the cracks in the foam that demonstrated how the foam liner split as designed, saving a head fracture. Another n of 1 that suggests he was well advised to wear a helmet.

    Given the well-documented dangers to bicyclists on NYC streets, and the likelihood that injury to internal organs may be accompanied by additional injury to the head, making a serious injury potentially fatal, I think it’s foolhardy to go helmetless.

    @Nathan H (#34): Yours is a challenging and interesting comment. I stand corrected: it is not safe to be in a car, when looked at in terms of absolute safety. It’s safest to stay at home, although this may not be true for people living near the San Andreas Fault. But it’s clear that some injuries will be mitigated or even eliminated through the use of seatbelts. I think it’s likely that there is potential for additional injury due to the use of seatbelts (strains to chest or shoulder due to restraint in the event of collision) and airbags.

    I’m involved in possibly quixotic efforts to create more possibilities for biking and walking in my upstate community. Yet it’s clear that the car will not be abandoned tomorrow, and that people will drive as fast as possible within the constraints of the law, and beyond those constraints. I don’t believe the (vast) majority of those people need to be held in contempt for their actions, which reflect how one makes one’s way in a certain place at a certain time within a certain culture. Changing behavior involves education and the expansion of possibilities for alternative behavior. The expansion of bike lanes in NYC is an example of the latter.

    “If the car is operated at a speed that does not pose a great risk to the people in its vicinity, then certainly its occupants are fine as well.” The occupant(s) of the car referred to in your statement may not pose a risk to people; however, it is at risk from the drivers of other cars who may not be driving safely. There is no doubt in my mind that, all factors considered, occupants of a car struck by another motor vehicle will likely suffer lesser injury if they are wearing seatbelts. And for many people in this country, for the foreseeable future, they have no choice but to be in a car to get from Place A to Place B, for a variety of reasons beyond their immediate control.

    It’s always a matter of education. Charles’s post–and his ongoing series of posts–is part of the process.

    “Driver” says in #35: “If people would pay attention to their surroundings and be aware these kind of accidents wouldn’t be so common. Was the truck driver reckless and at fault? Most likely. Does this fact help the victim after the fact? Not in the slightest. While everyone here finger points and talks about the danger of cars and policies regarding infrastructure and safety devices, not one person is willing to state the one thing that we can all do to protect ourselves from the current dangers faced everyday on the city streets. Pay attention and be aware, even if you have the right of way or when traffic seems to be quiet at the moment.”

    Agreeing with Driver does not imply a desire on my part to limit safe access to roadways for bicyclists and pedestrians, or to limit the expansion of bikeways throughout U.S. communities.

  • “The occupant(s) of the car referred to in your statement may not pose a risk to people; however, it is at risk from the drivers of other cars who may not be driving safely.”

    As are, more significantly, pedestrians. Every man for himself, I suppose!

    “There is no doubt in my mind that, all factors considered, occupants of a car struck by another motor vehicle will likely suffer lesser injury if they are wearing seatbelts.”

    The question is whether it should be illegal (as it is) for motorists to decline the use of a crash harness for any portion of a trip, and if so, why is walking still legal when it is even less “safe” in the same circumstances? I want to understand the principle being applied here, and where it ends.

    As for the inevitability of American driving, yes, whatever. It’s all very cute compared to the physical reality of resource depletion, but I don’t see what it has to do with reducing the danger automobiles pose to everyone who leaves the house. As long as you can afford gas, you can get from A to B in an automobile at widely varying speeds and degrees of risk. We should strive to lower those scientifically, should we not?

    Driver: “Was the truck driver reckless and at fault? Most likely. Does this fact help the victim after the fact? Not in the slightest.”

    This is true of any crime. What exactly do you think should happen to reckless drivers who kill pedestrians? I don’t understand your objection to this line of discussion; we pay taxes for courts so that they can “point fingers”. It’s not fun but it’s part of civilization. We’re talking about the very real dangers of our streets and infrastructure so we can make them better, in this supposed democracy. What is the problem?

  • boof

    AcuBill: No sarcasm at all. Helmet laws have been shown to reduce the overall number of cyclists. Also, cyclists have be shown to be safer when there are more cyclists.

    These studies are not negated by the experience of one cyclist who was unfortunate enough to crash.

  • AcuBill

    Boof: Specifically what laws do you mean? I’m not aware of any laws in NYS requiring helmets, save for kids, and I would never want my kids riding without a helmet. Since they’ve worn them from the start (i.e., children’s seats over the rear wheel), putting a helmet on doesn’t seem to present a problem.

    After all these years, I’d be interested to see, say, two studies that demonstrate your point. I’ll read them and get back to you.


    Nathan H: That’s a pretty complicated response, with certain presuppositions.

    For starters, what makes you think I wouldn’t want to see drivers prosecuted for killing someone with a car?

    For seconds, as we hopefully move towards a society friendlier to walking and biking, why shouldn’t people exercise maximal prudence? When I step into a crosswalk in my upstate community, I expect cars to stop, and I’m fairly assertive about it, and I expect the cops to ticket those motorists who don’t. But I look carefully and judge the situation before walking.

    Third: I think it’s a reductio ad absurdum to suggest that exhortations for cyclists to wear helmets mean we need to urge pedestrians to wear them as well. There’s an added element of risk to being on a bike, from the added velocity, that can be addressed with a helmet. Assuming a “scientific” approach to solving society’s ills seems to entail a willy-nilly application of principles the scientist seems important; i.e., is values-laden.

    Ditto for seatbelts in motor vehicles and pedestrians in helmets. “I want to understand the principle being applied here, and where it ends.” The principle is common sense.

    I didn’t own a car for many years, living in NYC. I subwayed, biked or cabbed where I needed to go. Living in an upstate community, my wife and I now own two cars, so we can go through the normal activities of daily life, including the care of three children. I live in a context not entirely of my making and am forced to function within its requirements, and you’ll just have to take my word for it that I work as an activist — again, within time constraints of earning my bread and tending to family responsibility — to find ways to make it easier to walk and bike around here. I think gasoline should be taxed more, etc. Car-fee is a more useful and pragmatic policy than car-free. (Ooops! Hasn’t someone of my acqaintance said something like that before?)

    At the very moment, American driving is indeed inevitable. Just look at China. When I was in China in the 80’s, the streets were carpeted with bicycles, and cities embraced their local brands as the best. Now, everyone wants a car. Seems pretty inevitable, when you look at the proliferation, even if it’s a terrible development. Mobility trumps altruism for lots of people. Is that a good thing for the planet? No. Does it entail greater risk than if everyone walked? For sure. Driving needs to cost more, everywhere.

    Sorry. Don’t have any more time right now to develop my arguments more. Apologies for the gaps!

  • boof

    Ah, see — it wasn’t sarcasm, it was poor reading skills on my part. Apologies to Bill.

  • IsaacB

    Charles: Failure to yield to the ped when turning (and honking the motorists who do yield) is a Pita of a problem, as by the time you’ve explained it, your audience has tuned out. Someone with expertise in communication needs to boil this down to a sound bite.

    In other cities, this is not a problem, as peds are “trained” to expect only a short crossing interval, if any yield from a motorist at all (or, they’re just banned from walking).

    I was with a group in LA a few years back, when a traffic enforcement vehicle cut us off, then warned us not to cross, as our interval had begun to flash red.

  • Joe R.

    “There’s an added element of risk to being on a bike, from the added velocity, that can be addressed with a helmet. Assuming a “scientific” approach to solving society’s ills seems to entail a willy-nilly application of principles the scientist seems important; i.e., is values-laden.”

    That’s just it, bike helmets as they’re currently made simply don’t address the issue of added velocity. Testing is done at what amounts to speeds of 10 mph or less. Not too many adults ride a bike at such low speeds. My “normal” cruising speed on the level falls into the 18 to 23 mph bracket. I don’t drop to 10 mph even up hills. I’m not publicly mentioning the speeds I’ve achieved on downhills lest some inexperienced idiot try to match them. Let’s just say 99% of the time I’m well above the zone wear helmets are of any value. What’s the point then of wearing a helmet when it would cause me to overheat in warmer weather, block some visibility, block some hearing ( which is probably the sense I use the most when riding ), and function as little more than a decoration? If you’re the type of cyclist who never goes above 10 mph, who is also very prone to crashes involving hitting your head, then a helmet could conceivably be of SOME benefit ( generally children fall into that category ). Even there all helmets might do is prevent some cuts or bruishes, rather than serious injury. The human skull is actually designed to deal with impacts up to fast running speed. I’ve personally taken a spill from 37 mph after hitting a pothole, came through it with just road rash. If you know how to fall, the chances of hitting your head are zero. I instinctually stretch my arms forward in any fall, protecting my head from impacting the street. Statistically, knee and elbow pads make more sense for cyclists then helmets as those parts are most likely to get injured in a fall.

    As yes, if we insist cyclists wear helmets because of some unsupported idea that they’re prone to head injury, then we should insist pedestrians and car occupants wear them even more. The data says the two latter groups are far more likely to incur head injury on a statistical basis. If anyone wants to wear a helmet, to me that’s just fine. It ends there, though. Don’t insist I wear one for what amounts to nebulous reasons with zero scientific basis.

  • I think you muddled the death of the man–who did voluntarily walk to get his driver’s license, –with the other deaths would could have been avoided.
    A driver has 24 hours to produce their driver’s license, and at the age of 72, the driver probably knew that.

  • SimonJester753

    The government mandates all sorts of things in cars, seat belts, air bags, mirrors, lights, etc. Then they tell us they want us to obey the speed limit in cars that can vastly out pace the limit. 

    Why not mandate a speed governor in the car? They could even make it so that it picks up a local signal broadcast on each road so that no car could exceed the posted limit.

    But they make money off of speeders. They want you to speed. And they don’t want to put you behind bars for it, because that costs them money. They want to let you go, so you’ll do it again.

    A friend has gotten tickets for speeding upstate. She goes to the hearing and bargains it down to paying the fine and having the charge changed to parking on the sidewalk, so she gets no points and her insurance stays low.

    Points and increased insurance rates are a disincentive to speeding. But they don’t care about that if they get their money.

    Government caring about public safety is a joke.


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