Utility Van Driver: We Need Better NYPD Enforcement to Protect Pedestrians

Had to share this message from Daily News reader Ken Douglas in response to the opinion piece I wrote with Dr. Linda Prine about the health and safety benefits of complete streets. Our essay focused on the engineering side of the street safety equation — street designs like bike lanes and curb extensions that are under NYC DOT’s control. Ken wrote in to point out that better enforcement and education will also prevent pedestrians from getting killed and seriously injured.

I drive a van as part of my duties as a utility worker, and I’m appalled at the lack of courtesy and regard for human life displayed by many drivers.

Given that NYPD has issued 16 times as many tickets for failing to wear a seatbelt as for failing to yield to pedestrians so far this year [PDF], and that retaining a New York state driver’s license is now treated like a basic human right, not a serious responsibility, he makes some good points.

Here’s Ken’s letter, which has been edited and formatted for clarity. The proposals he outlines probably go farther than what many Streetsblog readers would suggest, but there’s no doubt that the principles are sound and would save lives if applied. Keep in mind that driver error causes more than 78 percent of the thousands of crashes that kill or seriously injure New York City pedestrians each year, and that failure to yield contributes to 27 percent of those crashes, according to NYC DOT’s landmark pedestrian safety study.

Dear Mr. Fried,

All the proposals outlined in your article, which appeared in the Daily News on September 26th 2011, are great ideas that need advancing.

Unfortunately, all the sidewalk extensions, pedestrian islands and complete streets are not enough to erase the savagery that takes place on our streets. The fate that met Ms. Renard is not unique, it is sad that she was killed, but on a daily basis I see many near misses, many citizens narrowly escaping injury and possibly being killed just like Ms. Renard.

I drive a van as part of my duties as a utility worker, and I can tell you that I’m appalled at the lack of courtesy and regard for human life displayed by many drivers.

In their rush to nowhere, drivers are not yielding to pedestrians in the crosswalks — even when it’s a mother with a stroller. You can’t stop this callous behavior unless you change the driver’s way of thinking. If they can’t get the message, then we have to hit them in the pocket and hit them hard.

Some pedestrians stand in the crosswalk while waiting to cross the street, with their strollers in front of them and some of them are quite careless, but ultimately it is the driver who has the responsibility of being extra cautious. An irresponsible driver has a potential three-ton killing machine on his or her hands.

Drivers and pedestrians alike must realize that courtesy trumps right of way and we drivers have to respect the lives of everyone using the roads. Here are my proposals.

(1) $1,000 dollar fine — that will be enforced — for failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

(2) A two-minute freeze on vehicles turning while pedestrians are crossing in busy intersections, and a one-minute freeze in less-busy intersections. (Editor’s note: This signal timing technique is called a leading pedestrian interval, or LPI, and NYC DOT has been implementing it at an increasing number of intersections — though the length of the LPIs suggested by Ken would be extraordinary.)

(3) A massive public education campaign alerting all citizens of the dangers that exist on the roads, especially crosswalks.

Your organization’s approach as well as other ideas ,such as I have outlined, can work to provide safer streets. We need to work on all levels to make it happen, and it can happen.

Yours Respectfully,

Ken Douglas