24 January 2014

Vision Zero

New York's new mayor, Bill de Blasio, wants to bring Vision Zero, an approach to traffic that prioritizes pedestrian safety over vehicular convenience, to New York, with the goal of eliminating pedestrian and bike fatalities.

He's going to need a lot of popular support.

There's not a lot of corporate and capitalist infrastructure that supports walking or riding.  But there's an immense amount of it behind driving cars and trucks, and the interest groups and lobbyists that work for those infrastructures are going to oppose anything that interferes with profit.  (See: climate change denial.)

It's also going to require a sea change in driving -- and pedestrian -- cultures.  I'll spare you the bruise obtained while biking the other day, when I braked to avoid a pedestrian who stepped right in front of me, and hit the pavement instead.  Had I hit the pedestrian, I'd likely have been charged.

Unlike the vehicular driver who hit my friend Karen, the Poor Princess.  Karen was proceeding legally across the street in a crosswalk somewhere in New Jersey.  The driver stopped for a traffic light and then started up again without bothering to check if anyone was in the crosswalk, and hit the Princess, sending her to the doctor's office and her bike to the repair shop.  The driver of the car was not charged.  Like most drivers in such situations, unless they're falling-down drunk or leave the scene, the driver said, "oops, sorry" and got off.

But Karen was on a bike at the time. 

And so the responding police officer *issued HER a ticket* for ... I don't know, riding a bike with two wheels on the street.  After a day in court the ticket was dismissed.  Meanwhile on the Upper West Side, three pedestrians died in traffic accidents last week, and the NYPD responded by giving out more tickets for jaywalking.

Jaywalking pedestrians are part of the problem, indeed.  But what needs to happen is for traffic engineers to find ways to de-incentivize jaywalking by, for instance, making crosswalks, where most pedestrian deaths occur, safer: right now in NYC, most crosswalks require people crossing on foot to compete with cars turning off cross streets, with parked cars making them invisible to each other. 

The focus needs to be on changing a culture that treats pedestrian and other deaths as "accidents."  the focus needs to be on changing infrastructures so that pedestrians can move through neighborhoods safely, quickly, and confidently in ways that make sense to a human being, not to cars in a grid.

You can support de Blasio and Vision Zero by making phone calls or writing letters to the Mayor's office.  You can join Transportation Alternatives or the Complete Streets Coalition, advocacy groups fighting for safer streets.  Or contact your local policy makers and urge them to prioritize pedestrian safety.

One more death in traffic is one too many.