Sidewalks and crosswalks and plazas are for people, right?
Oh, you think so? Tell that to the drivers who block crosswalks at least 10,000 times a day (4 million times a year) in New York City. Tell it to the hundreds of NYPD and FDNY and DOE and municipal personnel (and their friends) who are parked on the sidewalk right now.
Everyone who walks in the city (i.e., pretty much everyone) has their own map of dangerous hotspots, places where they know they’re liable to be forced to walk in traffic because drivers just won’t make way or have parked on the sidewalk. A lot of the worst spots for moving violations are near bridge, tunnel, and expressway entrances and exits. And police and fire stations, schools, and courthouses are the worst offenders for sidewalk parking. But every single neighborhood in the city has places like these, and people get inconvenienced, blocked, hit, injured, and killed because of them.
The situation is particularly bad for anyone with a mobility impairment (there are at least a million people like that in New York City), or anyone carrying, pushing, or wheeling an object that can’t fit through the 18-inch gap between cars that block crosswalks or obstruct plazas and sidewalks.
What the law says: If you block crosswalks or drive or park on sidewalks, you’ve earned a summons.
The law is unambiguous: don’t block crosswalks or drive or park on sidewalks or plazas. There are limited exceptions if you are an actual emergency responder actively responding to an emergency (ambulance driver stopping at Dunkin doesn’t count!). Otherwise, don’t block the crosswalk, and don’t park on the sidewalk. Is that so hard?
In practice, here’s what that means for drivers in New York City:
Stop before the limit line. When approaching a red light or stop sign, drivers should stop behind the stop line (or limit line)—the thick white line painted before the crosswalk. If there’s no stop line, they should stop behind the crosswalk. (Drivers may park a vehicle past the stop line, if parking there is otherwise legal, as long as they don’t encroach on the crosswalk itself.)
Don’t proceed unless you can proceed all the way through. Drivers shouldn’t pass the limit line and enter the intersection unless they can clear the entire intersection, including the full crosswalk on the opposite side. (You’d think this would be common sense, since every driver’s training instructor since the beginning of time has taught it in the first week, but apparently not.)
Blocking the crosswalk is just as illegal as blocking the roadway. And it’s more dangerous! When you block a crosswalk in a congested area, you force actual human beings to walk in traffic.
What the hell are you doing driving or parking on the sidewalk? It’s illegal always, including for police officers, including for vehicles owned by the city, unless you are (say it with us) actively responding to an emergency. Even if you are, if you can park without being a jerk, why wouldn’t you? People live here.
What actually happens: nothing at all, 4,000,000 times a year.
Almost no summonses are issued for crosswalk-blocking by the NYPD. This safety offense occurs four million times a year. There are a hundred intersections in New York City where you could post four officers for several hours, seven days a week, and just issue crosswalk violation summonses without a break. There are five hundred intersections where officers on routine patrol could write a few summonses every single day without even trying. Do we see either of these things happen? We do not.
Not writing crosswalk-blocking summonses leads to other offenses. The drivers who block crosswalks are the same ones who accelerate into yellow lights, run reds, lean on their horns when the vehicles in front of them stop for pedestrians, and so on. Why aren’t the police reining them in by writing summonses for simple offenses like crosswalk-blocking? Don’t ask us; it’s a mystery.
When traffic officers work intersections, they mostly focus on vehicle traffic. Intersections near bridge and tunnel entrances often have traffic officers posted, but they tend to wave drivers through with the goal of keeping motor vehicle lanes moving, with only intermittent attention to pedestrian or bicycle safety.* This should be the other way around. The primary street-level responsibility of the police is to keep human beings safe, not to expedite vehicle traffic.
City employees, with NYPD far out in the lead, drive and park on sidewalks all over the city. This is terrible behavior. It betrays contempt for the people they serve. What the hell is wrong with them?
*There are exceptions to this! When you see them, it’s worth approaching the officer and thanking them for doing things the right way.