Wednesday’s Headlines: The Health Department is AWOL in the Public Health Crisis of Cars Edition

After taking our questions about his limited role in Vision Zero, the city's top doctor headed to a vaccination event at P.S. 19 in the East Village. Photo: Michael Appleton / Mayoral Photography Office
After taking our questions about his limited role in Vision Zero, the city's top doctor headed to a vaccination event at P.S. 19 in the East Village. Photo: Michael Appleton / Mayoral Photography Office

The Daily News had a gripping story about a group of actors and crew members of a TV show that lifted a massive SUV off of a teenager who had just been run over by the driver of the hulking machine. It was a nice story about Good Samaritans saving a kid trapped under an assault car. But would it have killed New York’s so-called “hometown paper” to point out that SUVs have become a public health crisis in this city — or that most of us won’t have crew of burly set workers to lift the next Ford Defiler off of us?

According to city stats, roughly 25 percent of pedestrians killed in crashes between 2014 and 2016 were killed by SUV drivers. But by the 2017-to-2019 three-year period, 38 percent of pedestrians who were killed died under the wheels of an SUV, an increase of 52 percent.

Close readers of Streetsblog have certainly noticed that we are a little bit obsessed with exposing the minuscule role the city Health Department — one of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero agencies — has been playing in fighting the public health crisis of the automobile. After two 2-year-olds were run over by SUV drivers five days apart, we waited several days before Hizzoner called on us at his seemingly permanent virtual pressers to ask Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi what he plans to do about it.

Chart: DOT
Chart: DOT

So our old man editor asked: “The city DOT has confirmed that the portion of fatalities involving SUV use has risen 50 percent in the last three years [which] suggests a serious public health crisis. Yet when I scoured the Health Department’s website, I see that the agency hasn’t analyzed pedestrian deaths since 2014, and even the agency’s review of automobile traffic has not been updated since 2009. So what is your agency doing about this public health crisis?”

Chokshi said the two crashes that killed two toddlers “amplifies, you know, the need for public health to be a partner in traffic safety.” He also said he was “grateful for the mayor’s leadership with respect to Vision Zero because it does take a multi-disciplinary approach across agencies if we’re going to have an effect on traffic that’s going forward as well.” Then he told drivers to drive more safely.

In our follow-up, we asked why the Department of Health was not part of the Council’s Vision Zero oversight hearing last month, why no one from the Department of Health was involved in Tuesday’s presser in The Bronx to demand that the Cross Bronx Expressway be capped so that its fumes no longer kill neighbors, and whether he has even had a sit down with his Vision Zero partner, DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman.

Chokshi answered, vaguely, “Commissioner Gutman and I have had conversations that, you know, we can get back to you about the specifics around that.” (Update: After initial publication of this story, the agency told us that Chokshi and Gutman talked on Nov. 3 — no details were provided. And the agency has still not set up an interview with Chokshi that he said on May 5 he’d be “happy” to do).

During our long back-and-forth with Chokshi, the mayor twice defended his appointee, which only means, sadly, that the commissioner is doing exactly what the mayor wants when it comes to the public health imperative of fighting car-caused carnage, pollution, neighborhood unlivability.

Oh, and speaking of SUVs, one driver was piloting his so fast that it broke into two pieces (!) after he hit a utility pole. He’s in serious condition, but probably won’t be charged with anything. (NY Post)

In other news:

  • Just when we were sitting around talking about the looming deadline for the Streets Master Plan, the Post’s David Meyer went and asked what’s going on with the Council-mandated roadmap for, well, better roads. Turns out, it’s delayed.
  • Another motorcyclist was killed, the 45th so far this year (the most ever if you include the DOT’s “other motorized” category, which includes mopeds. (NYDN, NY Post)
  • The Times has now done its deep dive into the 15-minute grocery delivery exploitation of workers industry, reporting that “the online grocers could upend the landscape of the city, where running to the corner bodega for orange juice or knowing deli workers by name has long been part of daily urban life. Some worry that the online grocers will siphon business away from local bodegas and supermarkets, and send more delivery workers onto crowded city streets already filled with food app workers racing to deliver hot meals.” Manhattan Borough President spoke for many New Yorkers when she said, “Who the hell needs an apple in 15 minutes? If you want something in 15 minutes, go to the store.” Beyond concerns about the deliveries themselves is the streetscape angle: It’s not good if a neighborhood becomes filled with “dark stores” that are off limits to the public.
  • New Jersey, New York and Connecticut have settled their squabble over federal Covid-relief transit funds, with New York doing well in the deal. (amNY, with a hat-tip to Kevin Duggan for his reference to the Nutmeg State)
  • Gothamist’s Jake Offenhartz was a day late on the Brooklyn Bridge bike boom numbers but we liked his story anyway.
  • Hat tip to the MTA for its back-to-the-future ad campaign to get people to take the subway to Broadway. (Gothamist)
  • Boy, the Post just won’t give up on mocking Pete Buttigieg, Chuck Schumer and Rep. Ritchie Torres for pointing out the history of actual systemic racism in our transportation system. The Cross Bronx Expressway, for example, did, in fact, deliberately undermine Black communities, which are still paying for the damage. We covered the story a little differently.