On Invisible Pedestrians and Disappearing Motorists

Three stories linked from today’s headline stack reveal an anti-pedestrian bias that city media types either don’t recognize or have no interest in abandoning.

A Cadillac Escalade was seriously hurt when it plowed into the rear of a bus on Central Park West on Friday. Photo: DNAinfo

The Department of City Planning will this week unveil a preliminary proposal to upzone a large section of the East Side. When the Post set out to tear down one element of the plan, the conversion of Vanderbilt Avenue to a “pedestrian plaza” (scare quotes theirs), the reporters assigned to the job couldn’t manage to file a quote from a single pedestrian.

Instead, to gauge the opinions of the street’s “everyday users,” the Post sought out a cab driver who — brace yourselves — complained that opening Vanderbilt to people would slow him down, and a food cart vendor, who provided a suspiciously ambiguous quote meant to imply that more pedestrian traffic would somehow be bad for his business. As far as the Post is concerned, the thousands of people who walk Vanderbilt Avenue every day do not exist.

Meanwhile, on Friday, two Manhattan traffic crashes injured at least eight people, including two pedestrians and an unknown number of bus passengers. Two pedestrians were hit by a curb-jumping driver in SoHo, while an SUV driver rear-ended an MTA bus on Central Park West. These crashes have a number of things in common. Both involved terrible driving, both resulted in injuries to innocent bystanders, and both were covered by DNAinfo. Another unifying element: neither of the private vehicle drivers involved in these crashes are mentioned by DNAinfo reporters.

It’s as if each collision was the work of an autonomous vehicle — which we can only assume was soon cleared of wrongdoing by NYPD and allowed to drive itself away (though the Escalade, having wedged itself into the rear of the M10, may have summoned its own tow truck).

Not to pick on DNAinfo here. Members of the New York City press corps routinely exhibit a selective blind spot when it comes to transportation reportage. When covering a change to the streetscape intended to benefit pedestrians, city reporters and editors turn to drivers first, and pedestrians become invisible. When covering a traffic crash that injures another street user, it’s the motorists who disappear.

  • Guest

    “When covering a traffic crash that injures another street user, it’s the motorists who disappear.”

    Streetsblog, you can’t have it both ways. Every time this blog talks about “making public spaces work for people instead of cars,” you’re pulling exactly the same rhetorical trick. You know those “motorists” who hit pedestrians and bicyclists all the time? They are “people” even if they’re sitting at the steering wheel.

  • bill b

    The NYC media gets special parking permits. I have seen them parked at bus stops, fire hydrants and bike lanes. The top reporters have some nice cars and suvs. Of course
    they relate to cars. Also at many police stations the police have their private cars parked on the sidewalk which I think is a bad example.You would think that they could pay for parking at a garage. Of course they relate to cars.  
    Maybe Citibank  bike share could give the media and police a special discount.

  • Anonymous

    @d7fdaeb73eb560cf4c708965b26db355:disqus, I see your point, but the “disappearing” motorists that Streetsblog is referring to are causing injuries and/or damage.  Not quite so for pedestrian plazas.  So I’d submit that you’re not doing apples to apples.

  • Anonymous @d7fdaeb73eb560cf4c708965b26db355:disqus : The act of allocating street space to different uses is not comparable to the act of driving like a reckless idiot. The latter is a type of behavior by specific individuals. The former is a matter of public policy that affects collective travel behavior and the environment we collectively inhabit, which can quite accurately be described as a choice between people and cars. Let me explain.

    Many of those people “sitting at the steering wheel” could make the same trip by transit, biking, and/or walking. We would all be better off if they did. The reasons they don’t can be traced to deliberate policy decisions — i.e. “designing streets for cars.” If we make the policy decision to design the street for more efficient modes than driving, then the overall performance of the street — in terms of safety, access to where people want to go, and less tangible things like social activity — will be enhanced. If we make the policy decision to prioritize private vehicle throughput instead, then we will degrade the overall performance of the street, even if mobility is the only measuring stick. Designing streets this way does, in fact, privilege a specific mode of transport to the detriment of people — including people in cars.

  • Anonymous

    OK, I’m going to need a *lot* more info than the frankly laughable account you have provided here. How do we even know these so-called events even occurred? I’ll need the *exact* GPS coordinates and timestamps, and the names and addresses of all witnesses. That would be a good start. 

  • Mark Walker

    Guest: “You know those ‘motorists’ who hit pedestrians and bicyclists all the
    time? They are ‘people’ even if they’re sitting at the steering wheel.” Of course they are people. But these motorists are people who kill, and the pedestrians they hit are people who die, and there is a distinction between the two. There is also a double standard. If a pedestrian hauls a driver out of his car and beats the hell out of him, breaking bones and causing massive internal injuries resulting in death, the police will make every effort to nail that pedestrian. But if a driver hits a pedestrian, causing broken bones and massive internal injuries resulting in death, he’ll nearly always escape prosecution as long as he’s not drunk and remains at the scene. No investigation made, no criminality suspected, no charges filed: It’s an “accident.” He can even get back in the bloodstained car and drive it home.

  • Danbloom

    Sir, you wrote: “….the conversion of Vanderbilt Avenue to a “pedestrian plaza” (scare quotes theirs), the reporters…..” BUT SIR, do you even know what the term SCARE QUOTES really means, or who coined it and why and when? It does NOT mean what you think it means and you are merely following the ”crowd” by using this mis-named incorrect term. Don’t believe me? Google “scare quotes + dan bloom” to see the truth about this
    wrongly embedded silly term which is meaningless, nothing scary about these things at all. Fine. You know that. But then WHY do you use the term SCARE QUOTES when it is essentially ”meaningless”? do a post on that one day?

  • Danbloom

    GET ME REWRITE: insterad of calling these misnamed term ”scare quotes”, which is not scary at all, why not call them flag quotes, as it FLAGGED by editor, or SPOT quotes, as in SPOTLIGHTEd by editor, or some new better term? REWRITE: : “….the conversion of Vanderbilt Avenue to a “pedestrian plaza” (”flag quotes,” theirs), the reporters…..” BECAUSE the POSt flagged that phrase, they didn’t SCARE it…..am i right or am i wrong? google me, dish!

  • Danbloom

    Because Brad and Ben, nobody on this EARTH really knows what scare quotes originally was meant to mean, and nobody knows WHO coined the term or why or when. Do you? You do not. Yet, you used it as if it was part of the culture. It is not. It is an old meaningless antiquated term. Jon Stewart calls them dick quotes. Why not call them what they are: flagged quotes, or spotlighted quotes, and for short, flag quotes or spot quotes?

  • Anonymous

    Bloomberg has many issues, but he had a great plan in the congestion pricing. If we get more people out of their cars and into the streets at least for some of the time, we’ll all be better off.


City Scraps Pedestrian Plaza Option for 34th Street Transitway

Pedestrians who navigate Midtown’s crowded sidewalks won’t get as much as they could have from the proposed 34th Street Transitway. The Times reported last night that NYC DOT will not pursue plans for a pedestrian plaza between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue as part of the project. The plaza was the focus of serialized attacks […]