You know what’s wrong with this picture.*
We all know what’s made the streets of New York City unlivable. (Some of us pretend we don’t, but we do.) It’s not the e-bikes or the scooters, it’s not the “jaywalkers” (also known as “New Yorkers walking normally”), it’s not even the garbage or the rats or the hipsters. It’s the cars and trucks.
There are a lot more private motor vehicles on our streets, they’re a lot bigger than they used to be, they’re driven by people who ignore and break safety laws constantly, and the police think of themselves as too important or fancy (or something!) to actually stand in the street and issue summonses. Beside, probably half the private cars illegally parked in the bike lane or bus lane or on the sidewalk belong to NYPD officers. They don’t care about you.
Let’s look at some of the most fundamental problems that make us unsafe in our own neighborhoods.
It’s illegal to block crosswalks with your car, or to park on the sidewalk, no matter what. If you can’t clear an intersection, don’t enter it. When you block crosswalks, you force actual human beings to walk in traffic. When you park on the sidewalk, you’re a monster. And that goes double if you’re a police officer or firefighter (or a borough president), unless you’re stopping a robbery or rescuing a kitten from a tree right now.
Bike lanes are safety infrastructure, but you wouldn’t know it from how little they are respected. Ordinary people drive in them and load in them, police stop in them to eat their lunch, rideshare drivers stop in them for “just a minute” (i.e., 15 minutes), trucks load in them. Hello! Get your metal box out of my safety infrastructure!
Even the legitimate parking placards issued by the DOT don’t ever allow parking in no-standing zones, in bus lanes, near fire hydrants, or (God forbid) on sidewalks. But people park in these places every day, often with fraudulent placards. And enforcement is vanishingly rare, despite occasional claims to the contrary by the police.
Every truck longer than 55 feet nose to tail is illegal everywhere in New York City at all times, with a very short list of exceptions. This means that every 53-foot trailer on the streets of Maspeth, or every 48-foot trailer with a 10-foot tractor delivering to a Trader Joe’s in Manhattan, is illegal illegal illegal. There is no ambiguity. They’re all illegal!
New York City Transit runs the largest bus system in North America, carrying almost five times as many passengers as either of the runners-up (Los Angeles and Chicago). But you wouldn’t know it from the way bus priority infrastructure is treated by drivers, some elected officials and community “leaders,” and the public.
Every year we should be building 25 miles of bike infrastructure, five miles of shared streets, five acres of new pedestrian plaza space, a thousand bulbouts. We should be placing 50 miles of concrete barriers and flexible walls, and three thousand flexposts. Instead, we’re …not. And 65,000 New Yorkers a year get injured by cars.
*That photo up there? That’s hundreds of NYPD and FDNY personnel and their friends careening through the streets of New York City at high speed for hours this past September in “honor” of 9/11 first responders, with no barriers, no street closures, no protection for anyone on this busy corner (2 Av & E 57 St) except this frantic traffic officer who showed up 2 minutes before they did. Why all these people weren’t fired, we’ll never understand.