“These crashes are not accidents. This is the new drunk driving.”
Dana Lerner, a member of Families for Safe Streets whose son was run over by a taxi driver, made that analogy at a town hall meeting Wednesday night on “Pedestrians Vs. Cars: Manhattan’s Deadly Traffic Problem and What Can Be Done About It.”
The panel discussion, sponsored by Straus Media and the Society for Ethical Culture, also featured city Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, City Council member Helen Rosenthal and former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, herself the survivor of a motor vehicle crash. It was moderated by Kyle Pope, editor in chief of The Spirit and a former Observer editor.
Ms. Lerner parlayed her pain into Cooper’s Law, which was passed by the City Council in May. The law suspends the license of a taxi driver who kills or seriously injures a pedestrian, and revokes that license permanently if the driver was found to violate traffic laws.
This advocacy is necessary because, according to Ms. Lerner, the city’s taxi drivers are too unregulated. A driver can be licensed even if they have never driven in New York City and, moreover, there is no road test, only a written one. Drivers are also not required to know English, even though all of the city’s road signs are in that language.
“I see this as an epidemic, “Ms. Lerner said. “Everybody needs to be made aware of this.”
Ms. Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side and sponsored Cooper’s Law, agreed: “This is widespread and difficult to control.”
Aside from her own metaphors, Ms. Rosenthal also took issue with the limits of the current law, passed by legislators in Albany, which only allows speed cameras to be placed within a quarter mile of schools.
‘New York City is the greatest walking city in the world, and our streets should be safer,’ Ms. Abramson said.
For her part, Ms. Trottenberg called the cameras “amazingly effective,” while also touting the success of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program. There were 130 pedestrian deaths in 2014, down from 180 the year before–the lowest amount of fatalities since record keeping began in 1910.
Ms. Trottenberg cited the lowering of the city’s speed limit to 25 miles per hour as the reason behind this–it had been 30 mph for the last 50 years.
The Transportation Commission is not resting on its laurels, however. To prevent further traffic deaths the office has been posting grisly posters and billboards around the city.
“The trend line is not going down fast enough,” Ms. Trottenberg said in explaining the rationale for the ad campaign.
In ending her remarks, Ms. Trottenberg offered a stern warning to the pedestrians present: “Don’t be staring at your phone stepping into traffic in the middle of midtown.”
Jill Abramson was not staring at her phone, but that didn’t stop a truck driver from running into her at the corner of 44th Street and 7th Avenue in 2007. Her feet were crushed and her femur and pelvis were broken, leaving her in Bellevue Hospital for a month, where a paramedic told her “If this happened two inches lower you’d be dead.”
“Shining a light does help,” Ms. Abramson said. “New York City is the greatest walking city in the world, and our streets should be safer.”
Ms. Abramson also offered one of the night’s few moments of levity when it was revealed that the building in which the event was occurring was her old elementary school.
“I had a disastrous tap dance performance in this very room,” Ms. Abramson, who tapped her way into a professorship at Harvard, said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated City Council member Helen Rosenthal’s stance on speed cameras. She took issue with the limits of the current law, not Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg’s handling of the situation.