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.

The problem is not contained to hot spots on the Upper West Side or in Queens. De Blasio lays out the statistics: Motor vehicles are the leading cause of injury-related death for kids under 14 in New York City and the second-leading cause of injury-related death for seniors. Over the past 10 years, cars have killed nearly 2,000 New Yorkers; 30,000 were hospitalized.

When all is said and done, 33 members of a 34,500-strong police force will be investigating a category of fatality that’s on track to outpace murder.

To reduce those numbers, de Blasio has assembled a task force to identify problems and implement solutions. That group, made up of the heads of the transportation department, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and the NYPD, has until February 15 to present a plan to the mayor.

During Raymond W. Kelly's 11-year tenure as police commissioner under de Blasio's predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, critics assailed the NYPD for not devoting sufficient resources to investigating traffic deaths, and for bungling the cases they did investigate. Asked to sum up Kelly's philosophy, street-safety advocates often point to a statement he made in October when he was asked whether his department could improve its record on preventing traffic deaths.

Illustration by Tom Carlson
Steve Vaccaro speaks at the Upper West Side vigil.
Anna Zivarts
Steve Vaccaro speaks at the Upper West Side vigil.

Kelly said, "We do have 8.4 million people here. We do have a daytime population that's over 10 million people, so you're going to have a lot of traffic. And you're going to have accidents."

To activists, it translated as: "Accidents happen. Big deal."

Yet Kelly did take some corrective steps. In a letter dated March 4, 2013, he announced that the NYPD would no longer limit its vehicle-incident investigations to those that caused death; incidents that left a victim critically injured would be scrutinized, too. (Perhaps not coincidentally, nine months earlier the family of Clara Heyworth, a Fort Greene woman killed crossing Vanderbilt Avenue, filed suit against the police department, alleging that it had delayed an investigation into Heyworth's death, losing crucial evidence, owing to the previous policy.)

Kelly also promised to increase the staffs of the NYPD Highway District and that division's Collision Investigation Squad. (In a symbolic gesture, Kelly changed the name of the latter, which had been known as the Accident Investigation Squad.)

"That letter, even though it was just lip service, was totally uncharacteristic for Kelly," says Keegan Stephan, an advocate affiliated with the pedestrian rights group Right of Way. "Most of the time, he would say things that flew in the face of all of our efforts."

From behind the podium at the Vision Zero event, newly installed NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton trots out several of Kelly's promises, seeming to highlight the fact that, almost a year later, some of them have yet to be fully realized.

"As you may be aware, the department recently implemented a new policy to expand the number and type of collisions investigated," declares Bratton, who did a two-year stint as commissioner under Mayor Rudy Giuliani in the 1990s. "Previously, the department only investigated accidents in which victims were likely to die. That threshold has been expanded to include 'critically injured' as a category, increasing the number of cases we are investigating by approximately 20 percent."

The highway investigation unit, Bratton says, will expand to 270 officers from 210. But most of the Highway District's investigative work falls to its Collision Investigation Squad. That unit will grow, Bratton says, "to six supervisors and 27 highly trained investigators."

In other words, when all is said and done, 33 members of a 34,500-strong police force will be investigating a category of fatality that's on track to outpace murder. The CIS's arrest rate hovers at about 20 percent; the NYPD's homicide unit, by comparison, claims a clearance rate of about 70 percent.

If advocates are unimpressed by Bratton's recycling of Ray Kelly's promises, they're even less taken with his eagerness to place the blame for traffic fatalities at pedestrians' feet.

"I should point out that pedestrian accidents have accounted for the greatest increase in collision fatalities of late," he tells his audience in Queens. "Last year, pedestrian error contributed to 73 percent of collisions, and 66 percent are directly related to actions of pedestrians."

The following day, Streetsblog will seize upon the statistic, scrutinize it — and conclude the figure "doesn't match up with any known dataset."

Bratton's assertion is "based on drivers reporting who was at fault," suggests Caroline Samponaro, senior director of campaigns and organizing at Transportation Alternatives. "The pedestrian who was killed doesn't have a voice."

The statistic also contradicts numbers crunched by the health department in 2010. That 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.

Stephan says he wasn't surprised to hear Bratton parroting his predecessor's promises. "What's going to matter is that he delivers on it," he says.

To cement his skepticism, Stephan adds, "And the first thing he did after that press conference was crack down on jaywalkers."

In the fall, before he was reappointed police commissioner, Bill Bratton delivered a talk at a Transportation Alternatives event at New York University. Police officers, he told his audience, "tend to focus on the more sensational, and the more sensational always has been the issue of [violent] crime." He went on to assert that the NYPD needs "to focus on the lives that could be saved through the reduction in traffic accidents as [much as] the lives that could be saved through [a reduction in] a violent type of crime."

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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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