At Hey! We’re Walking Here, we’re tired of business as usual on our streets. Business as usual is getting people like us killed. And the cautious phrasing and the tentative rhetoric of our public officials (even, much of the time, the ones who are trying to do good things) are obscuring the reasons why we’re being killed and injured. So let us say it clearly and out loud:
Cars have made New York a terrible place to live. We don’t just mean aesthetically (although obviously that too), we mean that our public space is dominated by them, by their noise, by the danger they pose, by the antisocial behavior of their drivers. On almost every street in the entire city, both sides are lined by street parking for privately owned vehicles, most of it free. Trucks unload anywhere they want. Police park their personal cars on the sidewalk. It’s all much worse than it was 10 years ago, thanks to the explosive growth of rideshare vehicles, mostly operated by drivers who don’t live in our neighborhoods and don’t care about the people who do. And almost everyone behaves like this is perfectly normal!
This is not normal. It’s institutionalized sociopathy. And it’s time for it to end.
The terrible streets we live with are made much worse by the fact that the police have abdicated their safety enforcement responsibility. It’s not that they’re doing their best but the problem’s just too big. It’s that, for the most part, NYPD precinct officers don’t care. They park on the sidewalk! And they think of street-level public safety as beneath them. Walk into your precinct and ask them whose job it is to keep crosswalks from being blocked by cars. The answer, probably: nobody’s.
When was the last time an officer spent 4 hours at the corner of, say, 9 Av and W 40 St, or 3 Av and E 37 St, or at the Jackson Av entrance to the Pulaski Bridge, handing out traffic summonses to protect pedestrians in the crosswalk? We’re going to say, “never.”
On top of all that, our leadership class is out of touch with the contemporary reality of the city. By this we mean not only our elected officials (who are starting to catch up with reality), but the longtime homeowners (mostly wealthy, older, or both) who set policy priorities. Five million New Yorkers live in neighborhoods where most households don’t own cars. For most of us, taking away free car storage at curbside and replacing it with loading zones or bus lanes or bike lanes or plazas or nothing at all would make life better, not worse. And for everyone, even the drivers, it would make life safer.
These are fixable problems. All we need to do is decide to fix them. But with rare exceptions, our public officials are way too cautious. The DOT knows what to do, but they’re too slow, and they give ground constantly. A gang of obstructionists, with the encouragement of the Governor, almost killed bus priority on 14th Street. Our Mayor travels around the city in a caravan of SUVs, and refers to delivery workers in blithely dehumanizing language.
We have some City Councilmembers and Borough Presidents who are trying to do great things, most of the time, and a couple of state legislators who aren’t completely hopeless. Eight or ten Community Boards (out of 59) endorse most street safety improvements most of the time. And these people are slowly converting others. But this is all going too slowly!
Meanwhile, last month, 3,000 more New Yorkers were sent to the hospital because of car crashes.
We say: enough. Enough people killed and injured, enough neighborhoods ruined, enough waiting. We’re going to advocate and yell and give cover to our hardworking allies, and push our public officials until they help us build the city we deserve.
And until we’re done, we’re going to jeer and mock the hell out of the disappointing hacks and obstructionist gaslighters who are keeping the city terrible. This is, supposedly, the greatest city in the world. But you sure wouldn’t know it from the state of the streets, and we deserve better.
Join us, or get out of the way. We’re coming through.