Pedestrian Abraham Samet Killed by Driver in Borough Park Last Monday

Streetsblog has learned that the man killed by the driver of a van in Borough Park last week was Abraham Samet, 68.

NYPD told Streetsblog that Samet was struck while crossing New Utrecht Avenue at 12th Avenue at 12:33 p.m. on Monday, March 12. He was pronounced dead on arrival at Maimonides Medical Center. No arrests were made and the investigation is ongoing, according to police.

Bystanders interviewed by DNAinfo and VIN News, along with the driver himself, relayed details that point to speed as a potential factor. Witnesses said they heard a loud noise at the moment of impact and that Samet was thrown approximately 15 feet. The driver, who spoke with DNAinfo but would not give his name, said he tried to avoid Samet but could not stop in time.

Another witness, shown in the VIN video, commented on dangerous conditions at the site of the crash, where New Utrecht and 12th meet at 50th Street in the shadow of the D train. The intersection was the scene of 21 crashes resulting in 25 pedestrian injuries between 1995 and 2009, while nearby blocks saw numerous pedestrian fatalities and scores of pedestrian and cyclist injuries, according to Transportation Alternatives’ CrashStat.

Samet is one of three elderly New Yorkers killed by drivers in March. An unnamed 65-year-old man was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Flushing on March 8. A day earlier, Margaret Myers, 69, was mowed down by a Domino’s delivery driver in East New York.

This fatal crash occurred in the 66th Precinct. To voice your concerns about neighborhood traffic safety directly to Deputy Inspector John Sprague, the commanding officer, head to the next precinct community council meeting. The 66th Precinct council meetings happen at 7:30 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at 59-10 13 Avenue. Call the precinct at 718-851-5601 for information.

  • So sad to hear of another death just one day after the Memorial walk and ride.

    To NYPD’s credit, it seems to have dispensed with the immediate exoneration of the driver shortly after the crash, which had ben it’s MO forever.  I guess they realize they can’t announce “no criminality suspected” the day of a crash and then stonewall the family members’ requests for further information for months on the theory that there is an “ongoing investigation.” 

  • Ben from Bed Stuy

    Jewish tradition holds that “to save one life is to save the world entirely.” Put another way, the preservation of human life is the most sacred and important thing someone can do. Why then, in this neighborhood, as well as in Williamsburg, are so many politicians grandstanding in opposition to traffic calming, bike lanes, and other life saving measures. There is nothing in the Torah or the Talmud that says it is a mitzvah to drive really fast. (And if I just touched the third rail by mentioning religion, let me say that I’m Jewish and proud to be working in the direction of saving lives…)

  • Isaac B

    This (and similar diagonal intersections with New Utrecht Avenue) is an awful intersection. The obtuse angle formed by 12th Avenue and New Utrecht (unlike typical 90 degree intersections) allow drivers to take the turn at relatively fast speed. There’s little but an obscure paragraph in the motor vehicle code to keep drivers from bullying (and tragically, hitting) people in the crosswalks. For years, the intersection lacked complete pedestrian signals.

    Borough Park is a dense, compact and mostly walkable community. I have roots in this neighborhood and am with Ben from Bed Stuy. There is a critical mass of an ethnic group here that prides itself on the way it cares for the young, the elderly and the infirm. I wish someone could identify activists with “street credibility” who could advocate against the careless and aggressive behavior of motorists who live in or drive through the neighborhood. 

    I “get” why Dov Hikind got the Fort Hamilton Parkway islands bulldozed. Perhaps it was, really that the volunteer ambulances had difficulties with them, but I would suggest that it came more to pushing back against the city spending money and re-configuring a street without consulting with the “right” stakeholders. Perhaps the people who understand the “technology” of making streets safer (e.g., TA) could leverage this tragedy to build a constructive relationship with people “inside” the Borough Park community and make things better for all.


  • Andrew

    @isaacbrumer:disqus Thank you.

    You refer to an “obscure paragraph in the motor vehicle code,” but it isn’t taken seriously. If I threaten your life with a gun in order to persuade you to give up your wallet, I will be arrested if caught. But if I threaten your life with a car in order to persuade you to give up your legal right of way in the crosswalk, nobody bats an eyelash, even if a dozen police officers are watching. (If I actually hit you, there’s a chance they’ll do something – maybe.)

    Why don’t we arrest drivers who threaten pedestrians’ lives?

  • Joe R.

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus “Why don’t we arrest drivers who threaten pedestrians’ lives?”
    Because at best the definition of feeling threatened will vary from one individual to another. Moreover, this isn’t even getting into the fact that under principles of natural law, the state can take no action unless there is actual loss of property, injury, or death. We’ve already gone down the slippery slope of enacting so-called “preventative” laws which punish people when no harm is done, on the pretense that what they’re doing MIGHT be harmful. Some Streetsblog members have even been at the receiving end of this nonsense, such as when they were fined for passing through red lights, even though they didn’t hit anything in the course of doing so.

    Remember, if you threaten someone with a gun to give you their wallet, they’ve suffered an actual loss of property, and hence may be punished by the state. In the case of your hypothetical pedestrian, exactly what was lost unless the motor vehicle actually hit them? A few seconds of time perhaps, which legally is not worth the bother of prosecuting? And “legal right to the crosswalk” isn’t something you want to bring up here. A motorist could use something similar to claim they had a “legal right to the street” when they mowed down a person crossing mid-block or against the light.

    This isn’t to trivialize what is a huge problem in this city-namely pedestrians and cyclists killed or injured at the hands of motorists. Rather, I’m just illustrating the types of legal hoops you’ll need to jump through if you go about things the way you think we should.

    A far better way to deal with this problem is to do what other countries have done-namely make an automobile driver automatically responsible for injuring any user more vulnerable than themselves. From that simple principal, which incidentally passes muster under the principals of natural law, civil behavior towards vulnerable users will follow. No need for a complex system of who has right-of-way. NYC has already gone down that route via crosswalks, highly complex signal patterns, plus gross overuse of traffic lights, with little success. Rather, motorists operating in areas full of pedestrians will need to anticipate that any pedestrian they see could suddenly make a beeline right in front of them. They will therefore need to adjust their speed accordingly. No need for pedestrian signals or even crosswalks. If a person decides to cross in the middle of a street, traffic should be going slow enough to be able to stop for them. It works elsewhere, it could work here. In cases where motor vehicle traffic absolutely cannot be delayed by people crossing, then it should be grade-separated. My guess though is motorists driving a little slower, occasionally needing to yield to pedestrians, but never having to stop for long lights, might get where they’re going faster than they do now.

  • Joe R.

    I forget to mention in my previous post that in my opinion the single biggest reason for “failure to yield” are the numerous traffic lights the city installed in an ill-fated attempt to make things safer. It’s really no big deal at all for a turning car to slow up a little, or even briefly stop, to let a person cross. Really, all that is lost here is seconds. The problem is thanks to signaled intersections nearly everywhere, this is no longer true. A person turning onto a side block might just miss a green light at the end of the block if they yield to a pedestrian. Now suddenly what otherwise would have been a 5 second delay may become a 90 second delay. Multiply that by a dozen or so turns, now you’re looking at tens of minutes. If you’re a commercial driver on the roads all day, you might be looking literally at an extra hour or two. For the same reasons motorists often speed mid block. You just would not see this type of behavior if the city didn’t have so many traffic signals. I hear time and again how crazy NYC drivers are compared to drivers in (insert your choice of other large city). Sure they are-NYC has over ten times the number of traffic signals per square mile as Chicago, for example. It’s not just beyond annoying to have to slam on the brakes every 3 blocks for yet another red light, but it also costs serious time. And it makes the air quality worse for everyone. Ironically, all these signals don’t even make things safer for pedestrians, cyclists, or even motorists. The signals are far more annoying/time consuming for walkers and cyclists than they are for motor vehicles. As a result, both groups pretty much treat them as advisory only, basically making them pointless.

    Like I said in my last post, just have a hierarchy of responsibility: trucks-cars-bikes-pedestrians. If something bigger hits something smaller, they’re automatically at fault. From this simple principal civility will follow.

  • Andrew

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus It doesn’t matter how the pedestrian “feels.” Drivers are required to yield to pedestrians when turning, or when facing a stop or yield sign, or when driving across a marked or unmarked crosswalk at an unsignalized intersection, or (obviously) when facing a red light. This is already the law, but when was the last time you saw it enforced?
    Let’s go back to my analogy. Say I threaten your life with a gun in order to persuade you to give up your wallet, but a police officer catches me in the act. I will be arrested on the spot, even if you haven’t handed over a penny. Why? You haven’t lost any property.

    The answer, of course, is that I am arrested simply because I threatened your life. That the threat didn’t actually produce your wallet (because a cop stopped you before it reached that point) is irrelevant. I threatened your life with a gun in an attempt to obtain your wallet, and therefore I should go to jail.

    That so many drivers are willing to threaten pedestrians’ lives in order to gain a few seconds merely points to the absurdity of the matter. It doesn’t matter if the victim loses $100 or loses a few seconds or loses nothing at all – if I threaten his life, whether with a gun or with a car, then I deserve to go to jail.

    Removing traffic signals would only exacerbate the situation, since a red light is the only condition that virtually every driver understands to include a requirement to yield to pedestrians. Red lights can also be enforced automatically, with cameras. Drivers virtually never yield to pedestrians at unsignalized intersections, but in your model that’s where most pedestrians will have to cross. Pedestrians will not step into the street with traffic approaching, since they know that traffic won’t stop. It doesn’t matter that, in your system, drivers are automatically responsible, since pedestrians are (understandably) unwilling to test them.

    As for being fined for passing through red lights, that’s the way it should be. A red light doesn’t mean “don’t hit anybody”; it means “it’s somebody else’s turn now.” Most traffic infractions don’t result in actual bodily injury, but they’re still traffic infractions and they should be enforced. (Is parking in the bike lane or on the sidewalk OK?)

  • Joe R.

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus The difference here is in the intention. A gun being pointed at someone represents a willful imminent threat of serious injury or death. A turning motorist who fails to yield isn’t willfully attempting to murder or injure a pedestrian. The bar to charge someone with attempted murder when driving is pretty high. Basically, a motorist would need to intentionally try to run over a pedestrian or cyclist, doing things such as speeding up or changing direction to facilitate that. A good test of attempted murder when driving would be if the pedestrian needed to physically run out of the way of the car to avoid being hit. Most failure to yields simply result in the person being blocked from crossing for a few seconds. That’s why they only merit a traffic ticket under present law, not an attempted murder charge.

    Traffic lights don’t make things safer despite your assertion otherwise ( read this: ). Most pedestrian/cyclist deaths are at signaled intersections. So are most car accidents. The big problem with signaled intersections is that you’re depending upon drivers to voluntarily comply with the signals. This is impossible in practice, regardless of the level of enforcement. Humans make mistakes. Sometimes a motorist will simply run a red light by mistake. If you read about railroad signalization, this is exactly the reason why railroads installed mechanisms to trip the brakes if the engineer ran a red light. There is no such analog for motor vehicles. Even if there were, by definition you will have already had to have been in the crosswalk before the failsafe kicked it. Such a device might prevent car collisions, but not pedestrian collisions.

    The above example also neatly illustrates why a signal system essentially based on railroad block signaling simply is inapplicable to motor vehicles. Simply put, there is no reasonable advance warning of an impending stop aspect (2 seconds of yellow does not constitute reasonable advance warning). The system only works on railways because you have several limited speed aspects in between stop and clear to allow the engineer to anticipate a stop. This is logistically impossible to do on roadways for a bunch of technical reasons. Also, under the railway system a red signal always means the block ahead is occupied, and hence there is a real danger of collision if the signal is not obeyed. This is not the case with dumb timed traffic signals, which are often red even if nothing is crossing. End result-such signals aren’t treated seriously because they can often safely be ignored, sort of like the boy who cried wolf too many times. Of course, we have the means to only make a signal go red while there is vehicular or pedestrian cross traffic, but NYC refuses to install these measures. Legally they should be forced to. If red lights actually mean something is crossing, then compliance will greatly increase. Without timed light cycles, there would be no incentive to beat the light because the light at the next intersection will remain green indefinitely unless something is crossing.

    A signal system with detectors would be much better than what we have now, but removing the signals altogether is still a better solution. Traffic signals are essentially an instrument flight system for cars which allows them to pass through intersections at speeds which would otherwise be unsafe. Removing traffic signals, when coupled with redesigning streets in such a way as to enforce slower speeds by geometry, especially at intersections, would make things safer for people crossing. Roundabouts at intersections (the intersection in question would do well from such treatment) would reduce speeds to levels where hitting a person wouldn’t cause serious injury. Because speeds are slower, there would be less chance of hitting people in the first place. More importantly, the biggest disincentive to yield (namely the fact that you might miss a light if you do), is gone.

    Right now I’m seeing too many people essentially trying to drill a hole in water by harping on enforcement. The main reason streets in NYC are so dangerous to vulnerable users is their design, not because traffic laws aren’t enforced (although we admittedly could do with a bit more of that as well). The streets let motorists achieve dangerous speeds. Green signals lull motorists into a sense of complacency. Red signals are often like the boy who cried wolf. Wide, straight roads make it easy to drive, and hence people attempt to do other things while driving. Intersections have absolutely nothing preventing motorists from passing through them at highway speeds.

  • Joe R.

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus “As for being fined for passing through red lights, that’s the way it should be. A red light doesn’t mean “don’t hit anybody”; it means “it’s somebody else’s turn now.” Most traffic infractions don’t result in actual bodily injury, but they’re still traffic infractions and they should be enforced. (Is parking in the bike lane or on the sidewalk OK?)”
    From the paper I linked to:

    “The traffic signal was originally put up to replace the police officer on intersection duty. A police officer has the power to stop people on the street for probable cause. If he stops someone without cause, he is abusing his powers of office. Is the needless delay at a red light on speculation that a driver will cause an accident an exercise of governmental power under color of law any less abusive than the action of a police officer who stops people on an unfounded suspicion that they are about to commit a crime?”


    “Requests to the FHWA under the Freedom of Information Act have failed to find a need for the needless delay at a red light when we wait while no one is using the green.”

    As for not allowing parking in bike lanes or sidewalks, neither are considered moving violations. These regulations exist because the city has a right to say where and when a person may store private property (i.e. an automobile) on public streets. In fact, intersections would be far safer if lines of sight were increased by prohibiting parking within 50 feet of a crosswalk.

  • Mark Walker

    The argument that drivers-who-kill shouldn’t face murder charges because they don’t intend to murder simply raises another question: What about other charges that don’t hinge on the intention to cause harm — reckless endangerment? Criminal negligence? When a driver takes a life, there’s got to be a sensible penalty that fits a plausible crime, something less draconian than murder but more of a deterrent than a traffic ticket.

  • Joe R.

    @m_walker:disqus Nobody here thinks drivers who kill shouldn’t face severe charges. At the very least I feel such drivers should lose their driving privileges permanently. This is quite different from @Andrew_J_C:disqus ‘s suggestion that we should arrest drivers who threaten pedestrian’s lives. Well, actually, in retrospect, I agree we should, if it’s really a case of a driver intentionally trying to run down a pedestrian. That’s attempted murder, plain and simple. This is quite different from a failure to yield which simply blocks the person from crossing. Now if the person is already crossing, and a motorist fails to yield, then nearly hits them, then that merits more than a traffic ticket.

    The key here though is stop focusing on how we should punish drivers for dangerous actions, and focus much more on how to fix our streets to prevent these dangerous actions in the first place. I’ve already offered my two cents on how I think we could accomplish that goal. I’m as sick and tired of tragedies like this as anyone. Since it’s obvious what we’re doing isn’t working well, maybe it’s time to see what works well elsewhere, then apply it here.

  • Andrew

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus No, intention has nothing to do with it. If a police officer sees me threatening you with a gun, I will find myself in jail, whether my intention was to deprive you of your wallet or to cut in front of you in line or anything else (or nothing at all). The point is that I am presenting you with the choice of obeying my command (whatever that may be) or potentially losing your life.
    Violating a pedestrian’s right of way is no different. Even though you legally have the right of way to cross the street, I aim my car at you and give you the choice of getting out of my way or potentially losing your life.

    Abraham Samet, unfortunately, lost his life. But the driver who took Samet’s life undoubtedly challenged many other pedestrians before encountering Samet. Did he realize that what he was doing was against the law? Did he realize that what he was doing had the potential of claiming a life? I’m sure he didn’t, since this law is virtually unenforced in New York City. In the first 60 days of 2012, only 2226 moving violations for “Not Giving R of W to Pedes.” were issued – that’s 37 per day. There are hundreds of intersections in the city that have more than 37 violations of this law per five minutes! Why isn’t the NYPD enforcing this law, before pedestrians are injured, so that there can be any hope of drivers respecting pedestrians’ legal rights?

    I’m not suggesting that failure to yield is attempted murder. I am suggesting that failure to yield be enforced, and I am suggesting that the penalty be more significant than a mere fine.

    Yes, humans make mistakes. But mistakes of the wrong sort while driving can cost lives, so drivers need to be very, very careful not to make those kinds of mistakes. And to encourage them be careful, we have laws, laws which should be enforced. If I kill you by mistake, you’re nonetheless dead. Had I been more careful, you would still be alive.

    On streets with widely spaced signals, drivers don’t have any more respect for pedestrians than on streets with signals every block. Removing signals only makes it more difficult for pedestrians to cross the street.

    Example: Say 3rd Avenue in Manhattan only has signals at major cross streets. I’m standing on the east side of 3rd at 91st, with a steady flow of traffic up 3rd, and I need to get to the east side of 3rd at 91st. How do I get there? Since the nearest signal is 5 blocks away, there is no platoon effect that forces large gaps in the traffic flow. So do you suggest that I step into the crosswalk and pray that four lanes of traffic comes to a screeching halt? Or must I walk half a mile to and from the nearest signalized crossing?

    Roundabouts are wonderful things – where they work. At the vast majority of New York City intersections, they make no sense.

    Why is it OK for a city to specify where a person may store private property but not to specity who has the right of way across an intersection?

    The Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank. They are hardly an unbiased source when it comes to issues of traffic enforcement. There are plenty of apolitical traffic engineering websites that you could have used to make your point – so why did you pick Cato?

    I agree that what we’re doing is not working well. We’re not making any effort to enforce the law, so drivers consider it optional. Why don’t we give it a shot?

  • Joe R.

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus I have an easy answer for why “failure to yield to pedestrian” isn’t enforced-the NYPD are among the biggest violators of that law. They see absolutely nothing wrong with not yielding to pedestrians themselves, making them sympathetic to others who do the same. A larger reason why traffic laws are often not enforced is because of the logistics of doing so. In your hypothetical case of failure to yield, a patrol car may need to give chase. In the case of speeders they certainly will. I’m not sure I want speeding police cars going through streets full of pedestrians and cyclists. This is a case where the cure might be worse than the disease.
    Another important issue here is that the NYPD apparently is told from above that it cannot do anything which severely impacts the flow of traffic. There are stories here of traffic cops waving cars through red lights straight at crossing pedestrians. In light of this, do you really expect the NYPD to be pulling people over left and right for all sorts of moving violations? I won’t argue that we could do with a bit more enforcement, particularly against idiots who jockey for position at intersections just to be first in line when the light changes. Realistically, I’ve lived in the city for all of my 49 years, but have yet to see the NYPD really do anything but occasional high-visibility crackdowns. Regular enforcement of traffic laws just isn’t happening any time soon, sad to say.

    Bottom line-the real problem is our streets aren’t designed to be inherently safe even in the absence of much enforcement. That’s what I mean by good street design. Roundabouts are self-enforcing. Narrow streets are self-enforcing. I fail to see why roundabouts won’t work in NYC. Mini-roundabouts would work even where two narrow streets meet. Regular roundabouts would work great where arterials meet each other. Manhattan avenues are wide enough to accommodate roundabouts. In the outer boroughs especially you have lots of awkward intersections with oblique angles or even 3 roads intersecting. These especially would benefit from roundabouts, as opposed to needlessly complex light patterns which often force people to sit and wait up to 2 minutes. Roundabouts aren’t a universal solution, but they could be used in NYC a lot more than they are (which is just about never).

    The example you gave of trying to cross an unsignalized intersection on 3rd Avenue is yet another example of poor design. Any street which must be regularly crossed by pedestrians should not have 4 lanes of continual traffic flow. You have a traffic volume problem for starters. If there are not enough natural gaps in traffic, then you take steps to reduce it until there are. And you NEVER require pedestrians to cross 4 lanes without a refuge. A good design would put pedestrian refuges (with bollards) in between every lane to facilitate crossing. That would also slow down traffic at intersections as it is forced to funnel in between the refuges. Incidentally, despite 3rd Avenue only being signaled at major intersections, I’m sure the next traffic light is easily visible even from 10 blocks down. That would explain your observed lack of civil behavior towards people crossing. Motorists still see a light they need to make, only it’s a few blocks away instead of on the next block. Maybe if the light cycles weren’t so long you wouldn’t have so many drivers trying to make lights. 

    The big problem with forcing pedestrians to depend upon a signal to cross is that the system breaks down in practice. Motorists will generally stop at red lights, but occasionally they make mistakes. Pedestrians on the other hand generally treat red lights as advisory (and it’s even legal in 9 states for them to do so). That means you’re essentially back to motorists needing to operate with the expectation that a person may cross at any time, even when the motorist has the green. Problem is most motorists assume a green light is unconditional. When you remove all traffic controls, the motorist must be alert for both vehicles and pedestrians at every single intersection. It’s actually the expectation that they may collide with another vehicle which forces more civil behavior at intersections.

    Incidentally, I’ve noticed in my neck of the woods (Eastern Queens), it’s far more likely for a motorist to let me cross when the street in front of them has no visible stoplights as far as they can see. The closer a visible light is, generally the less civil the behavior. This is especially true if the light is green. Like I said a few posts back, when yielding to pedestrians in practice only costs a few seconds, the vast majority of motorists are all too happy to do so. When doing so might make you miss a light by 2 seconds, then be forced to wait up to 2 minutes, all bets are off.

    Regarding right-of-way, the convention under common law was whomever is at an intersection first gets right-of-way. That would work fine even today if we kept car speeds to 20 mph or less.

    I didn’t intentionally chose that piece based on the source. It happened to be one of the better ones which came up when I did a search. The fact is the rest of the world is moving away from the types of traffic controls NYC still embraces because these controls just don’t work. I’m a little tired of the provincial attitude I see with people saying ideas which work fine elsewhere won’t work in NYC. I say convert a couple of dozen intersections to roundabouts, then compare the injury/death rates before and after. There are also other solutions to try, like vehicle or pedestrian detectors which only let a light go red when they detect something. This would generally shorten red light cycles on arterials, giving drivers less reason to try to make the next light. Dumb timed signals which make drivers sit idle for lengthy periods when nothing is crossing are just, well, dumb.

  • If only one intersection was the place where 21 crashes took place and 25 pedestrians were injured that sad because it means no one tried to do something for people to stop this “trend”.
    Too many people died because of careless or drunk or speeding drivers and that’s not fair because all drivers are responsible for the lives of many innocent people.

  • Anonymous

    A vision of @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus’s Libertarian utopia: I drive my car at full speed at pedestrian after pedestrian but so long as I stop short of hitting them, it’s cool. Sounds very, uh, rational and efficient.

    (Of course, in a real Libertarian utopia, I’d be paying to be on individual roads–because there’s so much extra land for roads, they’re perfect for free markets–so maybe as part of my user agreement to be on the road, I get to kill a few pedestrians, since presumably they also signed user agreements that freed the company of any liability.)

  • Joe R.

    @dporpentine:disqus Actually, the current situation is already practically a libertarian utopia for drivers, and hell for everyone else. My ideas aren’t radical-they’ve worked elsewhere in the world. More than anything, I’d say the problems we have are caused by an excessive volume of motor traffic. There just isn’t any safe, optimal way to mix a large volume of motor vehicles AND a large volume of other users other than grade separation. If we don’t want any more Abraham Samets we could start by charging drivers fees to enter the most congested parts of NYC. We probably should also charge a fee to enter city limits during peak hours. Get the traffic volumes down to something reasonable, pass a vulnerable user law, try the other ideas I mentioned to redesign the streets, and the crazy driving will mostly go away. Continuing to do what we’re doing while expecting different results is the very definition of insanity.

  • Andrew

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus Do you really not realize how radical your proposals are? The various congestion pricing proposals that have been presented all result in traffic volume reductions on the order of 10% or less, but you want it reduced by 50% or more. Furthermore, you want most of the intersections around the city completely redesigned, at major capital expense, most likely requiring corner properties to be bought up. How on earth do you expect to push that through?

    A red light is unambiguous: STOP. With cameras, it can be enforced automatically, and most drivers are already accustomed to stopping for red lights. That alone provides safe passage for many pedestrians. Cars that are turning already have to slow down at most intersections (this one is a possible exception), and enforcement, if made a priority for the NYPD, is relatively straightforward. Kelly and Bloomberg have dropped the ball here, as have their predecessors, but in 2014 we will have a new mayor.

    At a roundabout, there is no unambiguous signal. Drivers are expected to yield to pedestrians, but if they don’t yield to pedestrians now while turning, why do you think they would yield to pedestrians while going straight? At best, they’ll ensure that they’re not going to collide with another car. And you don’t even think that drivers should have to yield to pedestrians in the first place. So pedestrians will just have to wait until all of the important drivers have gone by before they can consider darting across the street.

    Drivers don’t fail to yield because they’re afraid of missing the light – if that were the case, they’d be happy to yield to pedestrians when they can clearly see that the next light is red. In fact, they’ll just as readily push pedestrians out of the way then. Why do they fail to yield? Because they can get away with it.

    Your proposal is unfeasible and, even if it were feasible, would make it far more difficult for pedestrians to get around the city. Strict enforcement of existing laws is both feasible and effective.

    I’m curious. Which roundabouts are you familiar with in practice? How many of them have even half the pedestrian volume of most of Manhattan, downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City, downtown Flushing, etc.?

  • Joe R.

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus  You’re still just not getting it so I’ll repeat the primary reason for the problem-there just isn’t any safe, optimal way to mix a large volume of motor vehicles AND a large volume of other users other than grade separation. Period. It’s never been done yet anywhere in the world, even in places where motorists are more conditioned to obey traffic laws. The volume of traffic on NYC streets is RIDICULOUS and UNNECESSARY, particularly in Manhattan (and actually a lot of the traffic in the outer boroughs is through traffic to Manhattan). Tell me why people from LI, NJ, CT, and Westchester NEED to bring their personal automobiles into Manhattan. And tell why there are so many taxicabs. We could get rid of 75% of the motor traffic, while only inconveniencing 5% of the populace. The problem is most of that 5% who use cars are self-important 1%ers, so any attempts to reduce motor traffic end up being nonstarters. Too bad. In most of the rest of the civilized world outside of the US they’ve figured it out-you want to go to the CBD, you don’t get there by car. In fact, 75 years ago NYC had nearly the same population as today, but a fraction of the motor traffic. Things seemed to be just fine, perhaps even better. Why now the sudden need for all these cars? Nothing I propose is radical. Before I was born there were already some people proposing to ban personal automobiles from Manhattan altogether. And had Robert Moses not existed, it may well have happened. Fix the Manhattan traffic problem and at the same time the outer borough traffic problem will be mitigated.
    You seem to think our system would work just fine if only the laws were enforced. Well, if they were (and that includes laws against pedestrians jaywalking and crossing on red), it would take 2-3 times as long to walk anywhere. Not such a great system now, is it? Even if you don’t give a rat’s behind about how much pollution our idiotic signal system causes, or how much it delays essential services like delivery vehicles, you should be concerned about how much delay it causes pedestrians (and incidentally cyclists). Of course, you might say in practice it doesn’t because pedestrians and cyclists pass red lights when nothing is coming. Fine, and because they do the entire system pretty much breaks down. Not to mention any time the city feels like it needs extra revenue, it can start ticketing pedestrians and cyclists.

    The only roundabouts I’m familiar with are the ones local to me at 188th Street and 69th Avenue and 188th Street and 64th Avenue. They’re not really set up as true roundabouts where all traffic entering the circle must yield to traffic already in it. Bottom line-I have zero experience with true roundabouts because NYC just refuses to use them. Mini-roundabouts wouldn’t require any corner property. Even regular ones would have enough room to be built where wide arterials meet each other without taking extra property. In some cases there won’t be room, but like I said, roundabouts aren’t a universal solution. Four-way yields work nicely as well. Traffic lights should be reserved for intersections with poor sight lines where you just can’t reliably see cross traffic.

    Finally, the entire idea the pedestrians always have right-of-way makes little sense. Naturally, if a pedestrian is already in the process of crossing, a turning motorist should yield to them. Even under common law that’s required since the pedestrian entered the intersection first. Besides that, the only way the motorist could proceed in that scenario would be to run the person over, so obviously the motorist must be made to wait. If the pedestrian is about to cross, but not yet in the path of the turning car, then they should wait until the car passes. Again, this is consistent with common law. It’s also consistent with common sense. By the time the car brakes to a stand so the pedestrian can safely start crossing, more time will have elapsed than if the pedestrian had simply waited for the car to turn. The pedestrian would gain nothing, lose time even, and the motorist would be delayed at the same time. This is why I wave turning cars (and bikes) by when I’m crossing. For similar reasons at crosswalks in our parks, a person not yet crossing should just let any bicycles go by, while bicycles should definitely yield to anyone already in the crosswalk. Nothing is saved by either party always forcing bicycles to yield to pedestrians (note I’m assuming unsignaled crosswalks here).

    The only time a problem arises with the above set of rules is when, as you mentioned, you have a continual stream of turning cars. This generally also implies a heavy traffic volume. There are really no good ways to deal with this problem. You can only allow left or right turns on turn signals, but this reduces the green time for everyone, potentially backing up traffic to the point of gridlock. Same thing if drivers must yield to pedestrians (and a continual stream of crossing pedestrians can easily prevent a car from turning). You can use flyover junctions for turning movements, but this is quite expensive. You can use pedestrian overpasses or underpasses. This is less expensive, but decidedly inconvenient if pedestrians must go up and down every block. Probably the best way to deal with high densities of motor and pedestrian traffic is to do what is often done in Asian cities-just have elevated interconnected pedestrian skywalks in the densest areas, complete with building entrances and stores at the skywalk level. Expensive, but it neatly solves the problem. Or just do something to reduce the traffic density which causes the problem in the first place. Simply prohibiting turns on many side streets might actually be a great, cheap solution here. You make driving decidedly more inconvenient, which in turn should reduce traffic volumes. You also avoid the not yielding to pedestrian while turning problem altogether.

    Anyway, I think we’re at the point where we’ll have to agree to disagree. I do hope you at least understand my point here. You’re basically attempting to solve an intractable problem with what can at best be described as kludges. At best these kludges work sometimes under some circumstances. Often they end up making things worse.

  • Joe R.

    Almost forget, but I mentioned in another thread that there is one law we could enforce which would significantly reduce pedestrian deaths-namely driving with a suspended or revoked license. It seems to be the case in the vast majority of these incidents that the driver has an invalid license, or even no license. This shouldn’t be a hard law to enforce, either. Use “smart” cards for licenses. Have RFID readers at random locations which alert police to cars being driven by unlicensed drivers. Pull the cars over, and seize them. My guess is the number of dead pedestrians/cyclists falls by over 50%.


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The Weekly Carnage is a Friday round-up of motor vehicle violence across the five boroughs and beyond. For more on the origins and purpose of this column, please read About the Weekly Carnage. Fatal Crashes (1 killed this week, 39 this year, 4 drivers charged*) Flatiron: Amos Veloz, 21, Fatally Struck By City Bus Crossing […]

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The Weekly Carnage

The Weekly Carnage is a Friday round-up of motor vehicle violence across the five boroughs and beyond. For more on the origins and purpose of this column, please read About the Weekly Carnage. Fatal Crashes (3 killed this week, 124 this year, 18 drivers charged*) St. Albans: Yoyia Jones, 40, Struck by Hit-and-Run Driver Blocks […]