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‘I’m Walkin’ Heah’! A NYC Pedestrian Looks for Answers

Streetsblog sometimes posts opinion pieces from New Yorkers who may not be as engaged on livable streets issues, but nonetheless can offer an insight. This is one of those.

12:00 AM EST on January 29, 2024

This is how we all feel, once in a while.

From time to time, Streetsblog publishes opinion pieces from regular New Yorkers who may not be as engaged on livable streets issues as most of our readers, but nonetheless have a valid opinion or can offer an insight. The following is one of those.

The Editors

We pedestrians come first. We come before cyclists, before drivers, before clean air, before noise, before gridlock, and before congestion pricing. Our personal safety takes precedence.

Vic Losick

Every New Yorker who heads outside and onto the sidewalks and streets of the city does so with a very real fear of injury. Most likely they have had their own close call with either a bike or car whizzing recklessly close, leaving only the whoosh of its wake and a spike of cortisol. 

Last year, 103 pedestrians were killed in vehicular crashes. And cyclists are also often in danger. Simply ask those who have been cut off by cars or trucks, or “doored.”

But for me, pedestrian safety is foremost.

Hard as it is to believe, city district attorneys almost never criminally charge drivers in fatal crashes unless the driver was drunk or speeding or had otherwise committed an additional traffic violation at the time of the crash. It’s known as the “rule of two” — not a law but a long-standing precedent, as Streetsblog has reported. If they are charged at all, these drivers are usually given a moving violation or a fine, even when the pedestrian had the right-of-way. As a recent example, cops say that Stephanie Sharp, an NYPD tow-truck driver, fatally struck 7-year old Kamari Hughes on his way to school. She's only been charged with Failure to Yield and Failure to Exercise Due Care. (She has pleaded not guilty.)

I personally have three friends who were hit and seriously injured. Two were hit by the driver of a vehicle while crossing with the light and within the crosswalk. One friend has recovered. The other just died after two years in a nursing home and barely able to speak or recognize family. The third friend suffered several broken ribs after a cyclist hit him after the bike rider decided to go between the bus and the curb. 

This is madness.

New York’s Vision Zero statement claims: “The primary mission of government is to protect the public. New York's families deserve and expect safe streets.” To that I would include sidewalks. 

Today, sidewalks are shared by children, the elderly (some with canes or walkers), dogs on leashes, wheelchairs, and baby strollers. Add to that skateboarders, scooters, rollerbladers, and on occasion, bicycles all demanding use of the same narrow walkways. That gives you have an accurate picture of why pedestrians are afraid for their safety when they step outside.

On the plus side, more New Yorkers are reducing their carbon footprint by switching from cars to other forms of transportation. But many unregistered, motorized, two-wheeled vehicles can and do go faster than the speed limit. And they can be driven by unlicensed drivers of any age with no training. (Of course, all of the same is true for cars.)

Most important is the abdication of traffic enforcement by the NYPD, which results in utter disrespect for the NYPD as well as the laws it has been charged with enforcing. When was the last time you saw a cyclist stopped by a cop for say, going through a red light; or going the wrong way down a one-way street; or even riding on the sidewalk? I haven't seen it (though I do know that it happens).

Meanwhile, NYPD enforcement against drivers is also way down, as Streetsblog has reported repeatedly. Policeman I’ve asked said it wasn’t their job or their priority.

But it must be; we need to be able to walk out onto the sidewalks and streets of New York City safely, without fear.

So what is to be done? Hard choices will have to be made. Here are some observations and suggestions:

1. More people must take public transit. The MTA, and all branches of government need to invest in transit and encourage its use. Transit gets people out of cars, which are the principle danger to pedestrians.

2. The sheer number of vehicles has to be regulated. Just as the drivers of cars and trucks must be registered by New York State, anything that is powered by anything beyond the driver should be registered. Does that mean license plates and registration for bicycles? Of course not.

3. Sidewalk and street infrastructure must be greatly expanded and, where appropriate, redesigned.

4. Of course law enforcement has to be made a priority. Such contempt for the law only further increases the perils facing pedestrians.

It's illegal for adults to ride a bike — even a non-motorized or pedal-assist model — on the sidewalk. Cracking down on this is a matter of enforcement since it is already illegal.

Supporters of alternative transportation — and I am one of them — will ask, "But where will all the other wheeled vehicles go?" My answer is harsh but fair: In the streets. And e-bike and moped riders will scream, "But the streets are unsafe!"

Sorry, but that's not a problem that pedestrians need to solve.

Ratso says it all.

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