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Editorial

Monday’s Headlines: Here Comes the Backlash Edition

12:41 AM EDT on June 21, 2021

File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

EDITORIAL | The movement for livable streets is at a crossroads.

Most New Yorkers are enjoying the city's open streets and open restaurants programs, which have eliminated deadly car traffic on many streets and repurposed space otherwise used for car storage — so it's no surprise that all the major mayoral candidates vow to expand such programs to create safe, inviting places for people, not cars. The candidates also talk about creating more bike lanes to capitalize on the boom in cycling, a non-polluting and healthier way to get around.

Except there's one problem: There are so many people speeding along on so many different types of devices that the roadways are starting to feel like the Wild West. Pedestrians, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable road users, are increasingly complaining, and the New York Post and an Upper West Side community board are doing their best Wizard of Oz impersonation ("Pay no attention to the real danger on the streets...") in an attempt to distract everyone from the bloody carnage caused almost entirely by car drivers like themselves.

Yes, our roadways are way too dangerous. The fact that 55-plus pedestrians have been killed by car drivers this year — and two have been killed by moped riders or e-bike riders over the same period — makes that very clear.

But what's the solution? If you ask the revanchists at the Post or on Community Board 7, it's to ban or register e-bikes (even though cops say it was likely the driver of a high-powered moped, which are required to be registered already, who killed actress Lisa Banes earlier this month; that hit-and-run driver should clearly be punished when caught — nobody thinks otherwise).

But the real answer is not to get rid of alternatives to the car, but to redesign the roads so that the reckless few — drivers and motorcycle riders — can't harm the most vulnerable road users. Pedestrians need massive amounts of car-free space (such as the linear park proposal for 34th Avenue), as their European counterparts enjoy. Bike lanes need to be widened to accommodate the cycling boom that is making the curbside lane so dangerous (bike counts done by Streetsfilms on several major cycling routes show that cyclists comprise 50 to 100 percent of the traffic on some key routes, yet are given 10 to 15 percent of the space). Such competition makes regular pedal cyclists, from age 6 to age 80, unsafe from mini-motorcycle riders who go 18-25 miles per hour. Yet those micro-mobility users need to be safe from drivers of 3,000-pound cars, which can (and do) go much faster.

And while we are at it, we need to completely reform the food delivery industry in this city; it's appalling that privileged people can order food through third-party apps that exploit disempowered workers, expect that food to be delivered promptly, then complain about the manner in which those exploited workers do their impossible jobs. Step one would be to mandate that delivery companies treat their employees as actual employees, not disposable laborers who they know can't complain because many are here without proper documentation. Proper employment standards would create an accountable workforce.

Anti-cyclists would have you believe that everything will just be fine if we just go "back" to "normal" — i.e. the "normal" that car culture has bred into us. But that normal is unhealthy for human life and in fact represents a repudiated past.

Nonetheless, we spent much of the weekend receiving emails from people complaining that we "never" cover the death of pedestrian under the wheels of a bike or moped and "always" cover when such deaths are caused by a driver. In fact, we try to cover all such deaths — the scores of pedestrians killed by car drivers and the one or two on average killed by cyclists every year — and have called upon Mayor de Blasio (over and over) to make roadways and neighborhoods safer for pedestrians.

But we are not the bike police. Emails from the anti-bike crowd often ask why we don't "do something" about rogue cyclists or moped riders, but we don't ask drivers to "do something" about the tens of thousands of reckless motorists, who have caused more than 45,000 crashes so far this year, according to city data.

Still, we do want those very few electric vehicle operators who drive recklessly to stop doing so, just as we want the drivers who make our cities unlivable and threaten our lives on a daily basis to stop doing so, too. Until then, we'll continue to cover every aspect of the fight for safe streets, focusing almost entirely on the biggest impediments to it.

In other news:

    • Speaking of reckless drivers, a hit-and-run Jeep driver injured an entire family, some critically, at a family gathering in The Bronx (NYDN). The Post story suggested it was pre-meditated (and the picture showed that the attacker's Jeep had a fake paper license plate).
    • And speaking of more reckless drivers, a man on scooter was killed by the driver of an Amazon van in The Bronx. (NY Post)
    • Even a candidate for Staten Island Borough President was caught driving recklessly. (NY Post)
    • A car thief injured four people in Coney Island. (NY Post)
    • The MTA is continuing service cuts on the B, D, N, Q and R lines (NYDN)
    • Meanwhile, there's a subway worker shortage. (NY Post)
    • Busway tickets are way up on 14th Street, thanks to on-bus cameras. (amNY)
    • Crime is indeed up on the subway, new stats show. (NY Post)
    • The Times did a roundup of mayoral candidates' closing arguments.

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