Editorial: The Mayor, NYPD (115th Precinct) & DOT Must Do More to Make Our Streets Safer

Yeah I'm livid.

Thursday night, for the third time in less than 6 months near my home, a pedestrian was killed by an irresponsible motorist. And to make it even more tragic: two of these victims were small children crushed while being pushed in strollers.  I'm the dad to a young son so it breaks my heart. We've had brushes with drivers nearly hitting us while crossing legally with the light. I can't imagine my life without my son, the families must be devastated.

All three happened about a mile from my home on 85th Street. All three happened in NYPD's 115th precinct.

What will it take?

We really need NYPD to do its job. I met a few officers from the 115th Precinct recently at a Jackson Heights meeting (where I live) following the death of Henry Boimel, killed by a turning Uber driver in January. Yes, the officers all seemed like nice folks. And, look, I'm sure sometimes their job is tough. But the department needs to start getting really serious about cracking down on traffic violence and intimidation by motorists. At that meeting many people complained about dangerous right turning vehicles on 37th Avenue. I walk it nearly every day. And still haven't seen any stepped up enforcement by the 115th since. I hope they have. I hope I'm wrong.

Here in Jackson Heights I see irresponsible acts by drivers at nearly every intersection via whatever mode I'm in: walking, running, biking or as a passenger in a car. Above you'll see a  few years ago I filmed one example showing just how many drivers fail to signal their turns. It was 1 in 4.  But that was four years ago, and I can tell you with people fiddling with their cell phones and being distracted, it has only gotten worse. Much worse. I'd wager it's closer to 1 in 2 now drivers fail to signal. As a pedestrian it is so fucking scary to be crossing the street and not expect a car to turn into you because they aren't using a their signals and suddenly THERE THEY ARE nearly in your lap. It can happen that quickly. There's usually little time to react. If pedestrians weren't so vigilant the carnage daily would be much worse.



Failure to yield is just the tip of the iceberg of really easy tickets the 115th could be writing - they could grab one a minute at most intersections. Sadly the 115th seems obsessed with cycling. About 90% of the time I see NYPD writing a ticket, it is to a bicyclist on 34th Avenue. Yes, a bicyclist. And plenty of time ignoring driver infractions such as double-parking in the bike lane to do so (see above). Last summer I saw four straight afternoons of at least one bicyclist getting a ticket. Sorry, but if you are really serious about Vision Zero, you gotta write speeding tickets and dangerous actions. The number of cars I see going thru red lights 2 or 3 seconds late has become chronic. Super dangerous to everyone using the road, even other drivers.

But of course much of this is also a design issue. The NYC DOT continues to move forward with many safety improvements in lots of neighborhoods around the city. And I know many of the hard-working people there. They do care. But we need to start getting even more aggressive, defaulting to street designs that protect pedestrians if we want Vision Zero to succeed. And again, in my neighborhood, there is real proof we can protect people walking better from drivers as I have showcased in my series of sneckdown Streetfilms. The latest below. I want to see curb extensions everywhere possible. I want more speed humps, especially multiple ones on blocks. Raised pedestrian crossings. Daylighting at intersections. It will cost $$$, yes, but it is worth it.

The directive needs to come from the top of course. Our Mayor Bill deBlasio has really thrown quite a bit of funding behind Vision Zero. He's embraced the term. Has gotten the press to take it more seriously. But the city has often been held hostage by community boards (CBs), many of whom have members who really don't have any understanding of what traffic calming is, or why we need a comprehensive citywide strategy to implement Vision Zero. That parking your car on the street is not a right. That going somewhere as fast you want kills.

Sure, many CBs have come a long, long way since the mid-1990s. There's no doubt. Many CBs you could even call progressive. But a majority are not. For example, the sheer idiocy NYC has had to deal with in Queens with CB4 for over two years now trying to make its streets safer for children, cyclists and park users on 111th Street. The NYC DOT came up with a responsible plan and then watered it down because of irrational CB4 fears, politics and various other "interests" . Why this project and so many others like it continue to be rejected/stalled/lied about while lives hang in the balance is disturbing and maddening. In fact, it is enabling the carnage to continue.

The Mayor needs to get even bolder, the rhetoric needs to match what happens on the streets. We would never let CBs consult in an operating room on a patient. We can't let a few members of one CB selfishly (and irrationally) moan about one street in a network of thousands throughout the city. It is time to drastically alter how Mayor de Blasio and NYC DOT approach CBs about transportation decisions and - yes - of course, still present what they intend to do on their streets, but to weigh their feedback properly on the way to a final proposal. The way it is done now wastes time, resources and lives, and the DOT would tell you that. If a CB vetoes a transportation plan with no real logic behind them, one created by responsible, smart professionals and engineers, there should be more immediate implementation regardless. The mayor has done so with a few projects over the past year, but it's a small fraction of what's needed to make Vision Zero a reality.