to change the behavior of drivers, change the laws

I don’t like Mondays, and last Monday was especially horrible:  I saw a woman – probably in her 30s – hit hard by a car at the corner of Fulton and Washington Streets, a block from where I live.  I heard the bang and looked and saw her body high above the SUVs hood, and then drop to the road.

Her adrenaline rush let her stand up and then she sunk back onto the pavement.  A crowd gathered, some people; including myself, called 911.  She was in deep shock.  It took forever for the ambulance to get there – I was on the subway platform over ten minutes later when I heard the sirens.

In New York, with it’s broad streets and avenues, taxis speed up when they see pedestrians in their path.  They’re hooked on their rights as defined by traffic signals, no doubt, and trying to make a buck and … entombed in their Nissan carapaces, maybe don’t care that the contest between speed and metal and warm flesh generally ends in a lot of pain.

I think occasionally about the woman who was hit last week.  She’s no doubt in a lot of pain, with broken bones, and may have chronic physical problems in the years ahead.

Apparently in New York, drivers hurt pedestrians and cyclists with impunity.  Somehow, in the development of this city, was lost the primacy of walking.  Was it a slow evolution away from this basic natural state:  from walking as a fundamental mode, to a balance between man and machine, and then, perhaps to an imbalance of machine over man?  However it happened, and anyway, we’re too far down that road, and neighbors and friends get hit by cars too often and with not enough outrage and too little change.

Alex Marshall proposes a solution:  make drivers more responsible:

New York City is probably a safer place to bicycle and walk then it was 10 or 20 years ago. In 2011, 21 people on bikes and 134 people on foot were killed compared with 13 cyclist and 191 pedestrian deaths in 2001. Even though cycling deaths have risen, there are a lot more cyclists out there now — four times as many, says the city. This is in large part because of the 350 miles of bike lanes installed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with continued campaigns about bicycle and driver safety.

But safer is not the same as safe.

One way to change the behavior of drivers is to change the laws, and to enforce more fully and strictly those laws we do have. While no sane driver wants to harm a pedestrian or cyclist, drivers are likely to be more careful if they know that egregious behavior could result in higher insurance rates, points on a license or even losing their license entirely.

To Make Cycling and Walking Safer, Put the Burden on Drivers, Alex Marshall, Regional Plan Association


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