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Thursday’s Headlines: Open Season on Pedestrians Edition

Introducing the NYC “pedestrian condom” — a neon yellow hoodie. Photo: Eve Kessler

It's getting dark earlier — and you know what that means! The smell of falling leaves? Cocoa to take the nip off of the chill? Sweaters in the morning? Wool socks?

Nope. This is New York City, baby. It means open season on pedestrians.

Everyone is back in town, and every motorist seems to be in a hurry. Men in overpowered SUVs and pickups lean on the gas as they make left turns (why are they legal?), menacing people in the crosswalk everywhere and mowing down some. Parents in minivans and SUVs, rushing to pick up their kids, jostle to get close to the curb in the streets around schools — the streets which Bill de Blasio lifted not a finger in eight years to make car-free. And (whaddya know?) some kids will snap like matchsticks as they're battered by those cars' grills. Seniors trying to cross over-wide avenues will wind up as so much bloody chum under the wheels of taxis, jeeps, and trucks.

Why do we have all this? Because people drive hungry, angry, thoughtlessly, impatiently, distractedly and always too fast — because both the roads and their cars are engineered for speed. Because our laws let anyone, no matter their aptitude or mental state, operate three-ton machines in the public right of way.

Why does it get worse in the fall? Because people are tired; it's cold and dark and they want to get home. Stats tell it: According to the Department of Transportation, serious crashes and  pedestrian deaths rise by around 40 percent during the evening hours in the fall and winter. (Every October since 2016, at the end of Daylight Savings, the department has unleashed its "Dusk and Darkness" pedestrian-safety campaign.)

As Streetsblog and other outlets have noted, this is the bloodiest year since the administration started Vision Zero in 2014, with at least 198 deaths of all road users so far. In 2017, the DOT noted that in 2015, the year before it started  "Dusk and Darkness," 57 pedestrian fatalities occurred after October 1, "41 percent of that year’s total." Could we have another 57 pedestrian deaths between now and the end of the year, bringing the total back to pre-Vision Zero heights? Sure we could. With the speeding that many motorists learned during the pandemic — and that hasn't subsided — it seems likely.

In truth, Vision Zero, like so many de Blasio initiatives (jail reform, anyone?) was an exercise in branding and in treading water. We don't need only seasonal safety campaigns. We need to redesign many more streets, to pedestrianize whole areas (and all streets around schools), to restrict the height and weight and driving area of the bloated vehicles that trundle through our neighborhoods, to outlaw bull bars (a pedestrian-mauling device that has no valid use in a city), and to charge motorists through the nose for using our roads. Those are the only measures that will make the city truly livable and safe.

Until then, on our nightly walk, we'll be wearing what we call our "pedestrian condom." (See photo above.) It's ugly, yes. But it's what we've got to stay safe until spring.

Now, off the soapbox.

In the news yesterday:

    • Five days late, the New York Times waddled in with take out on the public hearings on congestion pricing — and the Gray Lady's story was not worth waiting for. The Manhattan-centric coverage the gave a lot of space to the whining of entitled drivers and displayed little understanding of the policy under discussion. As we've said many times, the Times's whole attitude toward city reporting — in which the city is just one local bureau among many for the international media organization — just frankly stinks.
    • Like Streetsblog, other outlets covered the killing of a 31-year-old female pedestrian by a reckless driver in The Bronx. (NYDN, ABC-7)
    • Influential Queens pols join the chorus against the LaGuardia AirTrain. (NYPost)
    • A day after the state comptroller issued a devastating report on then-Gov. Cuomo's MTA revamp, the authority's top honcho says "the moment of disruption should be put behind us." (NYDN)
    • More heavy sledding for Cuomo's midtown train-station boondoggle skyscraper plan. (amNY)
    • Crain's issued its latest carpocalypse update, following Streetsblog.
    • Finally, Errol Louis will pen a weekly column for New York Magazine.

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