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Death by Car

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Although Sadik-Khan supports her colleagues in the NYPD, the DOT endorses a legislative agenda that includes expanding the number of red-light cameras authorized in the city, establishing the city’s first speed-camera-enforcement program, and increasing the penalties for motorists who violate work zones. At the same time, Sadik-Khan says she is working to bring countdown-clock pedestrian signals, an innovation introduced here in 2006, to 1,000 more intersections and implement thirteen more neighborhood slow zones—roughly quarter-square-mile areas where the community agrees to reduce the speed limit from 30 to 20 miles per hour—by the end of next year. Expect more neckdowns, too—bulging sidewalks that narrow roadways at intersections, giving more room to pedestrians and forcing drivers to keep their speeds down. She’s also doubling down on education efforts: the “That’s Why It’s 30” anti-speeding campaign; the “Don’t Be a Jerk” message to get cyclists to ride with traffic and stay off sidewalks; the “Look” campaign to get pedestrians and drivers to watch out for one another; and Sadik-Khan’s favorite, “There’s nothing LOL about RIP,” an anti-texting measure. But it can be difficult to induce people to change their behavior. In New York, says Michael King, “people don’t behave exactly the way you want them to behave.”

Greg Smith, the driver of the truck that killed Jessica Dworkin, received two traffic summonses—failure to yield to a pedestrian and failure to exercise due care. Both are misdemeanors. At the September Community Board 2 meeting following her death, the police provided no more details about the crash, except that Smith had been released after passing a Breathalyzer. “That shows just an utter lack of respect for Jessie’s life,” says Dworkin’s friend Ian Dutton.

Neighbors, meanwhile, continue to press for changes to make the intersection of Bedford Street, West Houston Street, and Sixth Avenue safer for pedestrians. At the September Community Board 2 meeting, a school crossing guard, Esperanca Varela, said she feared for her life each day she worked at Houston and Sixth. “There’s not even one sign indicating there are schoolchildren nearby,” she said. Another neighbor, Bonnie Rivera, said she’d been hit at that intersection years earlier, when she was 12. “A child is gonna be killed,” she said. “We all know this is about to happen.”

A few years back, the city had made some improvements to the intersection, extending the sidewalk on the northwest corner along Sixth Avenue with a neckdown, extending a traffic island on the west side, and installing an LPI signal, giving pedestrians a head start crossing the street. But advocates say that isn’t enough. “One of the things we asked for is a full pedestrian green cycle,” says Shirley Secunda, who chairs the Community Board 2 traffic and transportation committee, “while you hold up the trucks or cars that would be turning onto Sixth Avenue.”

Even if all the improvements they hope for were to happen, neighbors are convinced that redesigning the curbs and defining the lanes would only go so far. On a corner like Houston and Sixth, Secunda says, “You need a lot of traffic agents. And the police just haven’t provided them.” Transportation Alternatives has collected records of major accidents that suggest that the intersection had at least 41 crashes that injured pedestrians and cyclists between 1995 and 2009. NYPD crash reports for this year show that between August 2011 and July 2012, there were 34 crashes that injured seven people. But from January through August 1 of this year, the entire First and Sixth precincts, which share responsibility for that intersection, wrote just 46 speeding tickets and 186 failure-to-yield tickets.

Defective headlights, meanwhile, received 703 tickets.


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