New York

TransAlt: Cars Run Wild in NYC; Police, Citizen Surveillance Needed (Updated)


The bike and pedestrian advocates at Transportation Alternatives have released a study which suggests that New York drivers are lawless and a menace to us all. TransAlt stationed teams of observers at four intersections — 96th and Broadway in Manhattan, 73rd and Roosevelt in Queens, and Prospect Place and Carlton Avenue and Smith and 9th Street in Brooklyn — and had them record driving violations. They found an average of 157 violations per hour at each. The most pervasive were Disregard of Traffic Signs (e.g. running a stopsign) and Disregard of Roadway Markings (e.g. driving in bike lanes). Drivers also made illegal turns, failed to yield to pedestrians, etc.

In fairness, it should be said that their teams appear not to have observed any accidents…

Nonetheless TransAlt recommends that NYPD start conducting similar studies, to improve targeting of resources and to be published so citizens can be periodically frightened to cross the street, just as we are now. They also want “311-enabled traffic violation reporting, so New Yorkers can easily report traffic violations as they occur.”

An NYPD inspector told the Post that they were already doing a good job and that local accident rates continue to fall.

This is the sort of thing to which people are more likely to pay attention if they have recently had an accident or a close call, or have just seen a lot of traffic accident stories in the news, and less likely if they have not.

For our part, we love TransAlt and are in great sympathy with that 43 of city pedestrians who, TransAlt reports, “actually avoid an area or intersection in their neighborhood because they feel endangered by lawless driving.” But we wonder how much extra regulation our traffic flows can stand. Cyclists are already being strongly encouraged to follow traffic rules which most of them now observe casually at best — which makes sense from TransAlt’s perspective: you can’t just pressure one group to play by the rules. But if that’s the reasoning, the next prong of this safety effort may be strict enforcement of jaywalking laws, which would be a royal pain in the ass.

Also, the idea of an army of citizens ratting out illegal U-turns on their cell phones sends chills down our spine.

Update: TransAlt communications director Wiley Norvell responds to our call for a response to the NYPD: “How can we say that traffic enforcement is working when 1.2 million red lights are run daily, or 39 percent of drivers are speeding? We know these violations are responsible for thousands of crashes, but without data on where they are taking place, NYPD isn’t making the most of its limited resources.”

Being single-minded, we pressed him to assure us categorically that TransAlt would not ask for enforcement of jaywalking laws. “This is all about targeting enforcement to deter the most dangerous, life-threatening behaviors out there,” he said. “And clearly, jaywalking isn’t at the top of that list.” But, we said, waving our pencil, is it on your list? “It’s not, buddy,” he replied, whether in a tone or assurance or menace we couldn’t tell from the email.


This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 25, 2009

Archive Highlights