It's Too Easy to Kill Pedestrians in New York City

Pedestrian deaths in New York City are on pace to eclipse homicides in 2014.

It's Too Easy to Kill Pedestrians in New York City
Liz Patek/Right of Way
A memorial for Alex Shear stenciled by Right of Way

Five days after two Upper West Side residents were struck and killed by moving vehicles, their deaths separated by two blocks and 30 minutes, the sidewalk at 97th Street and West End Avenue is so thick with mourners that they spill onto the street. The crowd eventually swells so large that it becomes impossible for a crosstown bus to make its turn onto West End from 97th. For a moment, the bus sits paralyzed, mid-intersection, as a line of cars stacks up behind it, honking.

“The fact that plans drawn up by citizen activists in 2008 and 2010 to fix the traffic problems in this area were not acted on makes us sick.”

A candlelight vigil for two dead: That is what it takes to stop traffic on the Upper West Side.

Alex Shear was killed first. Seventy-three years old and a well-known collector of pop-culture trinkets (the New Yorker dubbed him "The Sultan of Stuff" in a 1999 profile), he was struck by a tour bus at 96th and Broadway at 8:15 p.m. on January 10. The bus dragged him nearly a block before a witness flagged down its driver.

A half-hour later, Cooper Stock, age nine, was holding his father's hand in the crosswalk, beneath the walk signal, outside their home at the intersection of West End and 97th. A taxi making a left turn killed him.

No charges have been filed against the driver of the bus that hit Shear. The driver of the cab that killed Stock received a traffic citation for "failure to yield to a pedestrian." If it's his first offense, he'll pay a small fine.

At the vigil, as the bus inches forward on to 97th, Julie Dermer addresses the throng through a megaphone. Dermer lives in the same building as the Stocks. She has a son Cooper's age.

"They hung out in the lobby, giggling," Dermer tells the crowd. "They always returned safely into our beloved home, right here on that corner, until Friday night, when our worst fear became reality and we lost — as Pablo, our doorman, said — we lost one of our kids right outside of our front door.

"Shock and sadness, which has really taken over the building and the neighborhood, has now turned to rage," Dermer says, her voice rising as she relates her own close call just weeks before and her subsequent discovery that the intersection had prompted "letters and reports that have been sent to our local officials since as early as 2008."

Adds Dermer: "The response has been, quote: 'We'll study it.'"

See also: New York's Deadliest Roads for Pedestrians, Borough by Borough

Last year, 335 people were murdered in New York City. Homicide is on the decline in New York, down 21 percent from 2012, 35 percent from 2011. Last year saw the fewest number of murders in a single year since the New York Police Department started keeping count back in 1963.

Also in 2013, cars in New York City killed 286 people. Traffic fatalities are up 5 percent from 2012, 15 percent from 2011.

If these trends continue on their trajectories, there is a good chance more people will be killed by cars in New York City this year than will be murdered.

That fact says a lot about the NYPD's success in driving down crime, but it says as much about the fact that the city has failed to apply the same determination to reducing traffic deaths.

It's not that cars kill more people in New York than in other major American cities. You're actually less likely to be killed by a car here: A study of data collected in 2009, published in 2012 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that New York had the lowest rate of motor-vehicle deaths of any of the nation's 50 most populous metropolitan areas: 3.9 per 100,000 residents. (The highest: Orlando, Florida, at 19.4.)

But from a different angle, New York's numbers are more troubling. Here, pedestrians, as a share of motor-vehicle fatalities, are killed at a rate far higher than the national average. In New York, pedestrian deaths comprise 52 percent of all traffic fatalities, according to the city's Department of Transportation; the national average is a mere 13 percent. (New York, of course, also boasts the nation's highest rate of commuters who walk or use public transit to get to work: 67 percent.)

The death rate is staggering, but it's not for a lack of effort on the part of pedestrian and cyclist rights groups like Transportation Alternatives, Right of Way, and a newly formed political action committee, StreetsPAC, which helped push the issue to the top of Bill de Blasio's mayoral campaign agenda last year.

It is a testament to their work when, hours before the January 15 vigil on the Upper West Side, de Blasio stands in a Queens schoolyard to make good on his campaign promises. He is here to announce an ambitious new initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities in 10 years. The effort, called Vision Zero, takes its name from a similar campaign begun more than a decade and a half ago in Sweden. There, the government aimed for a 50 percent reduction in traffic deaths over 10 years; after 15 years, the country has achieved a 48 percent drop.

Among those present at today's event are the parents of Noshat Nahian, an eight-year-old boy who was run over by a semitruck in December while crossing Northern Boulevard, a few blocks from here. Two months prior, a two-year-old was fatally struck on the same street; a year earlier, an 11-year-old suffered a similar fate. Over the past four years, nine pedestrians have been killed along Northern Boulevard's 11 miles of pavement.

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49 comments
mchlbarat76
mchlbarat76

I wonder how many of the pedestrians (and drivers) were using their cell phones. 

markandeer
markandeer

One only needs to look at the comments below to see how mindless our country has become. Comments that include lol and lmao after reading an artcle about a nine year old boy being killed legally trying to cross the street.

Tommy Haynes
Tommy Haynes

I rode a bike in NYC for 30 years. People jaywalk like it's going out of style. Most pedestrians don't follow traffic laws. they run out in front of you and dare you to hit them. They cross when they know they don't have time to get across the street before the light .changes.They walk in the street alongside the cars. Also many of my fellow bikers were insane and sadistic , especially the messengers and food delivery guys

Trent Steel
Trent Steel

Uh.... I check to see if I'm going to get hit before I cross the street. By some miracle, I am still alive! lol #lookbothways

Maria DeMadam
Maria DeMadam

Brooklyn Skillz LOL you gotta get your fat ass across in 8-7-6-5-4-3...run bitch.

Jayy
Jayy

Too bad this article assumes pedestrians and bicyclers are the same. In fact bicyclists have killed pedestrians.


Jayy
Jayy

Too bad this article assumes pedestrians and bicyclers are the same. In fact bicyclists have killed pedestrians.

Jayy
Jayy

Too bad this article assumes pedestrians and bicyclers are the same. In fact bicyclists have killed pedestrians.


thebigpicture
thebigpicture

There are good comments from most here-  Get the local design changes made.

But After driving many years thru all boroughs, as I see it,  The big picture is:


A-Make car / pedestrian safety etiguette a regular advertising campaign.


B-Change the "its only about me when I'm in a car" culture by beginning a comprehensive a "no squeegee men" type enforcement of traffic/auto driving violations. (Hell, even a little of this would have a big impact-seriously, no pun intended.)


Too many people ignore basic safety and courtesy rules which bring about a culture of indifference on the road.  Cops don't want to enforce, or realize They Lead By Example.  NYC Agency cars and trucks often break rules and speed.  No one cares or bothers to realize safety often enough.


No one cares,
When no one cares. 

Fines and Delaying people for Warnings, will get violators to think about their actions more.

vicki161
vicki161

Over a year ago I was struck by a car driven by a young woman who had never driven in Manhattan. The light was green, I was not jaywalking; she made a left turn (while chatting on her cell) and struck me. Thankfully, she stopped in time and I was able to get up-my shoes were knocked off my feet. She accompanied me to the emergency room and was very diligent in following up. Since this happened at the height of rush hour at one of the busiest intersections, there should have been a traffic cop. Tour buses are the scariest because they have no line of vision. Something has to be done to prevent these tragedies.

JakeSwearingen
JakeSwearingen

@tessastuart Had to help up old woman on Queens Blvd. (literally called Blvd of Death by locals) on Monday during snow storm. Scary stuff.

steveuccio
steveuccio

Ms. Stuart,

After reading the cover of The Village Voice I became extremely angry.  I calmed myself, read the article, and resumed my anger.

You write this article as someone who has Never driven a motor vehicle in New York City for a significant amount of time.  You also disregard statistic claiming they can't be true, but have no problem throwing out "if this trend continues."

I drive through Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Manhattan five days a week.  I drive a Truck with a maximum legal weight of 26,000 pounds. Out of the 8 to 10 million people in New York City, 286 were killed last year in a traffic fatality.  We should be jumping up and down in celebration at how low this number is.

Every day dozens of people run in front of my truck. Early in the morning people are literally running as if trying to get hit. So far every they've failed every time.  However if one time that person slips I might not be able to stop that 13 ton truck in time.

All day long I see people crossing in the middle of the street, ignoring signals, standing in the street waiting for the light to change.  People seem to completely disregard the fact that streets are a dangerous place and for some reason have full faith in someone they don't know to stop or slow down in time to not hit them.

I'm not saying every single time a pedestrian is hit that it's their fault.  In my six years of driving in New York City I've seen a lot.  I've seen people drive in bike lanes and the wrong way down a one-way street, but you can not legislate common sense.

-Steven J. Uccio

Trent Steel
Trent Steel

Question... how do you get hit by a car? In would never venture into the street not knowing if the car i step out in front of is going to stop. Worse, the chalk outline here clearly shows it was a j walker that was hit. Took a chance and lost. Stick to the crosswalk or look both ways.

Avon
Avon

@steveuccio Mr. Uccio, you can be absolutely correct but still be just as wrong as Ray Kelly was last October.  (About 60% of the way through the article.)  It may be true that there are 8.4 million New Yorkers and 10 million people in town i the daytime, but it is still absolutely wrong to think that it's OK for them to die.


I drive too, when I'm not bicycling, and I share your own irritation with pedestrians who get in the way despite the law.  But, as a bicyclist or pedestrian, I have problems with the way people drive ... SOME people, that is!  In NYC 50% of the heads of household are not born in America.  Even some natives have simply never heard of the law to "yield to pedestrians when turning," and it's obvious that most have never heard of the law to move through a red light if you're blocking an emergency vehicle with lights and sirens behind you.  


I'm glad you drive well, and I hope to God no pedestrian ever gets killed under your wheels.  (I read only recently about a person who never got over having killed a stray child decades earlier; it largely ruined his life.)  But I also hope you don't ever surrender to "crosswalk rage," which will only make things worse for us all.  

Even talking in frustration or futility, as Ray Kelly did, is aiming down that road, so let's not!

tom.finkel
tom.finkel moderator editor

@steveuccio it's true, steven, that walking doesn't require a license, or an i.q. for that matter.


but as @tessastuart writes:


"[A 2010 health department] study found that in New York, where two-thirds of crashes occur at intersections, more pedestrians were killed while crossing with the signal (45 percent) than against it (38 percent). Fifteen percent were hit crossing outside the crosswalk; 2 percent weren't on the road at all."


surely we can agree that we need to improve on that.

rocketal
rocketal

@steveuccio Mr Uccio, you are flat out wrong. The little boy who was crossing with his father did not "jump out" in front of anyone. The multiple people who were killed last year when a car ran up on a sidewalk did not "jump out" in front of anyone. I walk, bike, and drive in this city. Yes I see people on bikes and on food to very, very stupid things. A few weeks ago, I was waiting at a red light on a rainy night in Brooklyn. The light turned green and I started to go with the other traffic. A teenaged boy literally jumped in front of me and darted across the street, taunted by his friends for his daredevil antics. I know what you're referring to when you talk about people "trying to get hit". But that isn't what this article is talking about. It's talking about the fact that pedestrians are run down and there is no investigation. No charges against drivers who fail to yield, who speed, who are reckless and end up killing someone. That is insane. The burden of proof needs to lie with the person operating the multi-ton vehicle, not the vulnerable person cross the street. In some cases, the pedestrian may very well be found at fault. But "I didn't see him" is absolutely no excuse for a driver who has killed or seriously injured a pedestrian. If the person is legally in the crosswalk or on the sidewalk as many of these people who were killed in the last year were, there should absolutely be criminal charges against the driver, period. "Accidents happen" is a callous and inhumane response to these deaths. It needs to stop.

pickledbeet
pickledbeet

As stated in the picture that is an artistic rendering/a memorial not an actual depiction of the accident. The investigation is open and they are determining where he was crossing. His body was actually on the south side of 96th. It wasn't a car it was a massive tour bus that was not based in NYC. Pedestrians always have the right of way. Have you even ever been to 96th street and Broadway? It is a total mess of cars and lights and buses and people getting in out of the train station. The traffic lights are out of sync and there is not adequate time to cross if you are a fit 28 year old let alone a 73 year old or a mother with a baby carriage.  

superclean187
superclean187

The article states that Alex Shear (the victim in the chalk outline) was dragged for a block after getting hit. That's probably where the bus stopped. 

JakeSwearingen
JakeSwearingen

@tessastuart b/c they seem like the only ones not scared out of their mind by the highway that basically runs through most of queens

JakeSwearingen
JakeSwearingen

@tessastuart I am sure someone has done it, but i would legit love a good photo essay/written profile of delivery bicyclists

secretstash
secretstash

@tom.finkel @steveuccio  I actually agree with Steve Uccio's comments. I also see many pedestrians who blatantly risk their lives to save a few seconds.


When I read the 45%/38% statistic, I see jaywalking enforcement as an easy way to reduce pedestrian deaths by 38%.

ogreat99
ogreat99

@rocketal @steveuccio Hmm, Steven U. did not claim that all pedestrian deaths were the pedestrian's fault.  So I am not sure what he is wrong about.  I agree that drivers that run a red or drive up on the sidewalk should be charged.  Drivers need to be vigilant.  However, pedestrians need to be more careful as well.  When I cross the street, I assume driver's are trying to hit me.  For example when using a crosswalk when I am green to go, I make eye contact with the driver before I cross in front of their moving vehicle and will not cross in front of them if I am uncertain of their intensions.  I will not feel consoled knowing "I was in the right" when I got hit in a crosswalk.

superclean187
superclean187

Agreed. Never said he was. Only that determining if he was jaywalking based on his chalk outline was not accurate. 

BornAgainBikist
BornAgainBikist

Re CB7 intransigents, THIS is worth repeating MT @capntransit "If ...no possible vote that could remove them from power it's no democracy."

 
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