Monday’s Headlines: Last ‘Headlines’ of the Year Edition

SB Donation NYC header 2The theme for today is “It’s the end of the year as we know it,” which means lots of looks back at 2018. Streetsblog has already given you its Streetsie Award winners in the general category, plus our Vision Zero Hero of the Year, our placard abuse of the year, our biggest piece of unfinished business of the year, the best street redesign of the year (thank you, DOT), and the best transit project of the year — and today we continue with the worst thing Mayor de Blasio said all year and the pro-car NIMBY of the year.

And we’ll also offer our annual “In Memoriam” post to mourn the lives we lost to road violence this year.

Today is the last day of 2018 and it’s also your last chance to contribute during our annual December Donation Drive. Just click the yellow box above to contribute. And thank you for a great 2018.

Here’s the news:

  • The Daily News crunched the numbers on the safest year for road deaths on record to focus on the bad news: pedestrian deaths rose slightly from last year. Lawyer and Friend of Streetsblog Steve Vaccaro focused on the local angle that pedestrian deaths were up 14.5 percent in Queens — a borough famous for rejecting DOT street safety projects.
  • Seriously, Mayor de Blasio, what’s going on with Fair Fares? As the Post pointed out, the half-priced transit program is supposed to start on Jan. 1, but the mayor has not revealed how anyone is supposed to sign up for it. NY1, Gothamist and the Daily News also picked up on the problem. Not a peep from the Times.
  • In case you missed it: Terrible carnage caused by a speeding driver on the West Side Highway. The driver was charged with manslaughter, a rarety. (NY Post)
  • And there was more road violence in Sunnyside, though this speeding driver thankfully mauled only himself. (NYDN)
  • The MTA will start an awareness campaign about the danger of moving between subway cars after four people died in a month. (NY Post)
  • The date for the special election for the city’s greatest no-show job Public Advocate will be on Feb. 26. As someone said on Twitter, the list of candidates who are not running is shorter than the list of those who are. (NY Post)
  • And finally, some sad family news. (NYDN)
  • Urbanely

    Re: Road deaths, Steve’s tweet said Queens pedestrian fatalities were up 14.5%, but the article said Queens “traffic fatalities” were up by that number, with traffic fatalities seeming to be defined as those who died while driving or riding in vehicles.

    Does anyone have the actual number and year to year numbers for the Queens pedestrian fatalities vs traffic fatalities?

  • cjstephens

    Any politician who runs for Public Advocate is giving a clear sign that he or she is not a serious person and should never, ever, be trusted with public office again. I’ll make an exception for the occasional candidate who declares “I’m running for Public Advocate so that I can abolish the job”, but otherwise, no, there’s no excuse. I also use anyone who defends the existence of the Public Advocate job as a filter to determine whether that person’s opinions should be given any weight.

  • What nonsense. The public advocate job is meant to be a kind of ombudsman evaluating all aspects of City government. The bully pulpit alone can influence policy; but remember the public advocate is still a legislator, with the power to introduce bills in the City Council.

    If the holders of the office of public advocate have so far not used the office to its full potential, that is entirely on those individuals. There’s no reason that an engaged public servant couldn’t take hold of that office and make valuable contributions from it.

  • cjstephens

    Thank you for proving my point so eloquently, @fe@FerdinandCesarano:disqus .

  • cjstephens

    Thank you for proving my point so eloquently, @FerdinandCesarano:disqus .

  • You consistently demonstrate that you haven’t the slightest grasp of what is appropriate for this or any other city. I am just piling on.

  • cjstephens

    Given that the editors of Streetsblog refer to Public Advocate as “the city’s greatest no-show job”, I think I’m in good company. But if you’re interest is just name-calling, hey, it’s a free country (but isn’t that what Twitter’s for?).

  • Your goofball bona fides were established long before this issue of the public advocate came up.

    Anyone who promotes the use within a city of the discredited pseudoscience of the 85th-percentile rule is classifiable alongside the flat-Earthers and the Mandela-Effect enthusiasts. And anyone who asserts that speed cameras should be illegal is a straight-up lunatic.

    Your agenda is hostile to the goals of safe streets; and your method of presenting these dangerously backward concepts is dishonest.

  • cjstephens

    Hitting the New Years Eve champagne a little early, @FerdinandCesarano:disqus ? Or maybe you’re just confusing me with someone else? I’m a fan of speed cameras, and probably 95% percent of what Streetsblog stands for (seriously, when did I ever speak out against them? I think I would remember that).. Or are you just thinking about running for Public Advocate yourself one day?

  • Joe R.

    The important takeaway on the 85th percentile practice for livable streets advocates isn’t that it should be used to set urban speed limits, but rather that speed limits in general have pretty much no effect on driver behavior. That’s exactly why deBlasio threw us a bone in the form of the 25 mph speed limit, and nearly everyone here fell for this fraud hook, line, and sinker. The only way a speed limit which most motorists feel is too low gets good compliance is by saturation enforcement which is impractical to do wholesale. Been there, done that with the national 55 mph speed limit in the 1970s. Putting aside that NYC would need probably a million police officers for saturation speed limit enforcement, such enforcement would kill more people than it saves as catching speeders by definition involves overtaking them at an even higher rate of speed.

    That leaves speed cameras but even here you couldn’t install enough of them for saturation enforcement for two reasons. One, Albany won’t allow it. Two, if NYC somehow manages to get back home rule long before we reach saturation enforcement there will be enough public outcry to kill speed cameras off entirely. This isn’t to say speed cameras can’t help. Selectively deploying them in locations with the most pedestrians can help enormously. However, make no mistake that lowering the speed limit did close to nothing for safety because it didn’t change motorist behavior one bit due to the lack of saturation enforcement.

    Given all this, a true Vision Zero mayor would be advocating street redesigns which push 85th percentile speeds to 25 mph or less. However, those designs will often inconvenience motorists. Instead, he found a painless “solution” which didn’t do so, but which also didn’t accomplish anything positive, either. It did however placate a lot of livable streets advocates.

    In the end there are two things which must be done to drastically reduce motor traffic deaths. One is street redesign. The second is drastically reducing the volume of motor vehicles, which is something I know you personally support, also.

  • Joe R.

    Unfortunately, for some people unless you agree 100% you’re a traitor to the cause. As my long post above indicates, I personally feel we’ve focused far too much on speeding and not enough on other things which might have been more effective.

  • Oops! Evidently I did indeed confuse you for someone else. That is sloppy of me. I apologise to you for my error, and for improperly spilling onto you the vitriol that has been earned by someone else.

    But on the question of the public advocate, I will reiterate that the office is precisely as useless or useful as its holder wishes it to be. A champion of livable streets could conceivably do an enormous amount of good in that job, pressuring the DOT to follow good bike-lane design practices and to avoid falling behind in the rollout of new lanes, pressuring the police to step up enforcement against encroachment into bike lanes and bus lanes, as well as against the myriad other forms of driver misconduct that non-enforcement has allowed to harden into custom, and even sponsoring legislation on much-needed reforms, such as the Idaho stop.

  • Andrew

    speed limits in general have pretty much no effect on driver behavior.

    …unless they’re enforced.

    Kind of like every other law out there: if it’s not enforced, people will do whatever they feel like doing.

  • First of all, the idea that you’d need millions of cops to enforce a speed limit is completely erroneous. Drivers speed for the simple reason that they have been trained to know that there is virtually no chance of being caught. While the police could never catch every single speeder, they wouldn’t need to. With a change in enforcement priorities that places speeding in its appropriate place near the top of the list, the police would catch enough speeders to alter drivers’ expectations, and therefore their behaviour.

    Secondly, nowadays we have a new weapon against speeding: technology. The position and velocity of every single vehicle can be known with great accuracy, and the lawbreakers targeted. Even better, every vehicle could be fitted with a speed governor that simply does not permit it to go faster then the speed limit on the road it is on (with an emergency kill switch so that a rush to a hospital would be possible, so long as the police could meet the vehicle at the hospital in order to verify the legitimacy of the emergency).

    Ending speeding is possible by means of policy alone, and is 100% down to political will.

  • Joe R.

    We don’t need to wait for legislation for an Idaho stop. Right now, DOT could install bike signals which flash red or yellow when motorists get a red light. They can justify this by saying they deem it safe for cyclists to treat reds as yields or stop-and-proceeds, depending upon the visibility. We’re already heading in that direction with LPIs which give cyclists and pedestrians a head start on motor traffic.

  • Joe R.

    The problem is that getting enough enforcement to catch speeders often enough for them to stop speeding is either logistically or politically impractical. Also, I’d much rather have limited enforcement directed at things more likely to kill people, like failure to yield and parking in bike lanes.

  • Joe R.

    Automated enforcement is the only practical means of catching speeders in an urban environment. I definitely don’t want cops chasing down speeders. That would be a repeat of what was tried during the 55 mph era. More people died in these chases than were ostensibly saved by the lower speed limit. And speeding, unless it’s the relatively rare grossly excessive kind, has a second order effect of safety compared to other infractions like failure to yield, distracted driving, or aggressive driving.

    The position and velocity of every single vehicle can be known with great accuracy, and the lawbreakers targeted. Even better, every vehicle could be fitted with a speed governor that simply does not permit it to go faster then the speed limit on the road it is on (with an emergency kill switch so that a rush to a hospital would be possible, so long as the police could meet the vehicle at the hospital in order to verify the legitimacy of the emergency).

    The problem with that is the same as with saturation enforcement via speed cameras. The political will isn’t there. Governors are a far better solution than anything else as motorists can’t say they’re a money grab by the government. However, it’s a political hard sell. I would personally try to sell it by doing two things. One, the governors would only be in effect on local urban streets, not limited access highways. Two, speed limits would be raised to at least 85th percentile values on all limited access highways, which effectively means legislated state speed limits would have to be repealed. Motorists might buy into it knowing they won’t be governed on highways AND they could drive a lot faster than now without risking a speeding ticket.

    A secondary benefit of much higher highway speed limits might be a switch to more efficient vehicles. SUVs get horrible fuel efficiency at very high speeds but for now that doesn’t matter as highway speed limits are mostly very low. In an era of higher legal speeds, as is the case in Europe, people will want to stop driving vehicles which are cost-prohibitive to drive at very high speeds.

  • cjstephens

    Apology accepted.

    As for your continued defense of the office of Public Advocate, I am reminded of the die-hard communists who insist that communism is still the best form of government, it’s just that it’s never been enacted properly. Yes, a Public Advocate could be, well, an advocate for all those things you mention (bring on the Idaho stop!), but we never needed an entire office with an enormous budget for an elected official to do any of that. We already have a mayor and dozens of council members who could do the same. The rogue’s gallery of previous Public Advocates show that no one has used the job for anything other than a jumping-off spot for higher elected office. It’s time to get rid of this embarrassment.

  • Andrew

    The problem is that getting enough enforcement to catch speeders often enough for them to stop speeding is either logistically or politically impractical.

    Automated enforcement is trivially simple. It works extremely well where and when it exists, given the absurd limitations on how it is used in New York. Lift those restrictions and we can start to enforce the speed limit (not 10 mph above the speed limit, but the actual speed limit) everywhere, at all times of day, on all days of the week.

    Also, I’d much rather have limited enforcement directed at things more likely to kill people, like failure to yield and parking in bike lanes.

    Reducing speeds reduces both the likelihood and the severity of crashes. Even a reduction from 35 mph (the fake speed limit that the cameras enforce) to 25 mph (the actual speed limit) would be a major life-saver.

    I’m certainly not suggesting that other driving violations not be enforced! But more drivers will yield to pedestrians if they’re driving more slowly in the first place. And are you seriously claiming that parking in bike lanes kills more people than speeding?

    Keep in mind even without laws people aren’t going to do whatever they feel like doing.

    Of course it does. Would you continue to pay taxes if the law didn’t require you to pay taxes? In the unlikely event that you would, you’d be paying them because you feel like paying them.

    Laws are actually a sort of 85th percentile, or maybe even 99th percentile, of human behavior.

    Really? The federal government sets tax rates by determining what 85% (or maybe 99%) of citizens would voluntarily pay if there were no obligation to pay taxes? Somehow I don’t think that would work very well.

    The 85th percentile nonsense that you bring up has nothing to do with the legal system in general. It has to do with a deliberate misinterpretation of a 1964 study by NMA-types. The study concluded that, on rural highways (the study didn’t consider cities), motorists (the study didn’t consider pedestrians or cyclists) are most likely to be involved in crashes at high speed differentials, and the crash severity is greater at higher speeds. The NMA-types deliberately applied the study’s results to scenarios that its author warned not to apply them to, simply ignored the severity aspect, and continue to ignore or denigrate the modern day availability of automated enforcement to make speed limits meaningful.

    Even without laws, empathy keeps most people from killing or raping. Just as an example, even before there were laws against animal abuse, it was relatively uncommon because most people empathized enough with animals to avoid abusing them. Or even better, back before we had formal laws, early tribes of humans didn’t kill each other off.

    You’ve cherry-picked a few laws that happen to correspond with what most people feel like doing. That applies to some laws, sure. But it certainly doesn’t apply to all or even most of them. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a law that requires people to do something that they don’t want to do, or forbids them from doing something that they want to do, nor is there anything wrong with enforcement of such a law.

    If we want to curb speeding, the answer is to design streets where drivers don’t feel safe driving at excessive speeds.

    That’s certainly one useful approach! But it can’t possibly be the only approach. It’s a very labor-intensive and costly approach, one that would take many decades to achieve city-wide if a steady funding stream were even available. It also can’t adequately adjust for wide variations in traffic volumes – a street that needs two or three lanes to carry heavy traffic volumes at busy times of day will encourage speeding when volumes are much lower. (That explains why late night crashes are more likely to be fatal than crashes during the day or evening.) That’s a huge gap in the engineering approach that needs to be filled by an enforcement approach.

    Or better yet, just remove humans from the driving process altogether.

    Perhaps in 50 years, that will be technically feasible on a wide scale. I’m not willing to wait that long to save lives. Are you?

  • Gersh Kuntzman

    Working on it. Final numbers are not confirmed.

  • I agree with everything you said, except that last bit about having to wait 50 years for automated cars to be technically feasible on a large scale. That day is just around the corner.

    The obstacle to the widespread adoption of automated vehicles lies not in the technology, but in cultural issues: the inappropriate sense of entitlement that drivers have been allowed to develop, and an infantile and distorted (mis)conception of “privacy”.

  • Andrew

    Automated cars have been just around the corner for decades. I’ll believe it when I see it.

    The two cultural issues you raise are the same cultural issues that have made it challenging to implement automated enforcement systems at a widespread level.

  • Joe R.

    Rather than addressing every point, let me just say the focus on speed is at best misguided. Sure, I’ll fully agree higher speeds make the consequences of any incident worse but just driving above an arbitrary speed limit seldom causes incidents in the first place. That’s why I want the focus to be mostly on what actually causes incidents in the first place. Failure to yield is certainly high on the list. So is distracted driving, aggressive driving, even driving while fatigued. This isn’t to say sometimes speed alone can cause an incident, but when it does, it’s usually a speed far too high to allow a driver to retain control of the vehicle, like 80 mph on an urban street.

    The problem with using speed as the primary focus is twofold. One, if you have draconian speed enforcement you’re going to get drivers looking mostly at their speedometer instead of the road ahead as they should. They may be going slower, but they’ll get in more crashes as a result. This may actually increase overall deaths and injuries. Two, if you want to say 25 mph is safer than 35 mph, why stop there? Each increment you go down increases surviveability. Why not 5 mph while we’re at it? Why not 3 mph, which means the police will have to start going after fast walkers also? I’d much rather go after the things which cause collisions in the first place. Even better I’d like to do as many quick, low-cost engineering fixes as possible. Any system which relies mostly on enforcement is a failure right out of the gate. Eventually there will be public outcry over excessive enforcement, especially for groups which are politically connected, like motorists. When the enforcement ends, so do any increases in safety resulting from that enforcement. On the other hand, steel and concrete is a 24/7 traffic cop.

    Really? The federal government sets tax rates by determining what 85% (or maybe 99%) of citizens would voluntarily pay if there were no obligation to pay taxes? Somehow I don’t think that would work very well.

    Most citizens don’t voluntarily pay taxes. It’s taken out of your paycheck or added to the bill at the cash register. In cases where the taxes might not be directly taken out, the IRS usually gets a record of what you made to compare with what you report when you file. The people who matter, namely the wealthy, do in fact have a voluntary system where they just change the rules when they want to pay less. The rest of us don’t have that luxury.

    As for other laws, they have to somewhat aligned with what people feel is reasonable or they won’t stand the test of time. Certainly there have been lots of unpopular laws which the elite passed just to throw their weight around. In the end many of those laws were either repealed, or just not enforced. Ironically, that’s exactly why it’s so hard to get laws passed which make the streets safer. A lot of the necessary laws would be quite unpopular with motorists. Those who passed them would be replaced with others who would repeal those laws. We’re really fighting 75 years of culture which equates driving a car with “freedom”. That’s changing, but not fast enough to save lives.

    That said, I proposed one possible answer in my last response to Ferdinand, namely govern cars to the speed limit on urban streets only. If combined with higher highway speed limits, this would probably get buy-in from a majority of motorists. And incidentally I think it’ll take far less than 50 years to automate driving altogether. Those who view driving as anything but a chore are typically over 50. Within 20 years those who would rather play with phones than drive will constitute a majority.

  • Joe R.

    I think the fatal flaw with communism is that you need humans to do the producing. When a person’s rewards aren’t commensurate with the effort they put in the eventual result is productivity is reduced, with the end result of everyone living in an equal state of poverty. Now if production is mostly automated, that fatal flaw is gone. Unfortunately, 20th century technology didn’t allow this but 21st century technology eventually will. The productivity of the robotic labor can then be divided up equally with a universal basic income.