A few weeks ago, I came across about a dozen police officers spread out around the intersection of Metropolitan Avenue and Selfridge Street, in front of the Metropolitan Avenue Educational Campus. They had some billboards up advertising the Vision Zero campaign, and were handing out pamphlets. When I read what was inside, it totally shocked me. More on that later.
I spend a lot of time driving around, mostly in Queens and Manhattan, and believe I have a pretty good idea on issues that are causing many of our traffic problems. Many of these same problems are directly related to pedestrian, bicycle, and motor vehicle accidents resulting in injuries and deaths.
So, if we can help alleviate these traffic issues, then we will also be working towards the Vision Zero goal.
∙ Double parking is a major problem, especially on narrow streets. Taxicabs and other car services are especially at fault when they don't pull to the curb when they pick up and drop off passengers. I have even seen them stop diagonally and block two lanes. It never fails to amaze me when trucks, cars, cabs, and city buses fail to pull over to the curb when there an open space nearby.
∙ Potholes and streets in horrible condition force everyone to drive slow. Vehicles are unable to safely travel at even the reduced speed limit of 25 miles per hour on roads that are so bad you have to weave around potholes like some minefield in Afghanistan. Attempting to drive too fast will result in a blown tire, bent wheel, or ruining your wheel alignment. They can also be the catalyst for an accident, either from a damaged vehicle losing control, or hitting another car while trying to avoid something in the road.
∙ Gridlock. No vehicle should ever enter an intersection if they are not absolutely certain that they will be able to make it entirely through. However, this is easier said than done. If you are the first or second car at a traffic light, one would assume it is safe to proceed once the light turns green. But, there are times when you still can't make it all the way through. Further, as drivers get more and more frustrated in bumper-to-bumper traffic, they are anxious to enter into an intersection regardless of whether they can get through it.
∙ Bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, and Citibike locations. It is obvious that reducing the number of lanes vehicles have to use will force more cars into fewer lanes. But they cause even more havoc. Many bike lanes interfere with turning lanes, which hampers traffic. And there have been a lot of left turns eliminated due to bus lanes, which forces vehicles to go out of their way with detours which only divert the traffic onto different streets. Additionally, when the number of parking spaces is reduced, drivers have to circle around looking for a place to park, which greatly adds to the traffic congestion. To make matters worse, a growing number of the bus-only lanes are being changed from 'rush hour' to '24 hours a day, 7 days a week'. Also, buses are being equipped with cameras, and bus lanes are having cameras installed so they automatically ticket drivers that they are in them.
As a side note, many businesses are complaining that they are losing customers due to the lack of parking spaces.
∙ Bicycles not obeying the rules of the road. When bikes drive erratically, go the wrong way on a street, or don't obey stop signs or traffic lights, it forces cars into having to make sudden stops or evasive maneuvers. This can lead to an accident.
∙ Traffic congestion can cause drivers to grow impatient and lose their temper resulting in road rage.
∙ Pedestrian errors or lack of judgment. Actually, I find this to be one of the biggest problems for traffic congestion in Manhattan and for accidents resulting in injury and death in all five boroughs. There are several things that pedestrians do that are a cause for concern. One is jay walking. It is impossible for a motorist to be able to avoid someone that suddenly darts out from the middle of the block, especially when their view is obstructed by parked cars. Or when they do this at night when visibility is poor. And the most irritating of all is when they are crossing against the traffic signal, which happens frequently in Manhattan. I have witnessed large groups of people just ignoring their red light and just walking in front of cars trying to drive through the intersection when they have the right of way. This prevents traffic from proceeding through the intersection which causes gridlock.
∙ Cell phones. Many of the above problems are caused by inattention to the environment, due to the pedestrian's focus on his or her cell phone. Drivers are also guilty of using their phones while driving which is responsible for accidents. Now, back to the pamphlet that Mayor DeBlasio had printed up. On one page it says 1 in 4 crashes killing or injuring pedestrians happen when they are in the crosswalk with the signal. If you extrapolate that, it means that 75% of the pedestrians that get injured or killed are NOT crossing the street legally. I would think that this is an important area to focus on. Sadly, the pamphlet does not even address the use of cell phones by pedestrians AT ALL. All the attention is aimed at motorists, perhaps because they are easier to go after and ticket which seems to be the goal of much of this Vision Zero campaign.
The next time you see an article or hear a story on the news about an accident involving a pedestrian or bicyclist, look to see where they were hit. Also look to see if the driver was charged with anything. Many times you will discover that it was not the motorist who was at fault. Henceforth, the city agencies should be both educating and enforcing the laws for pedestrians and bicycle riders. Another possible remedy for some of the traffic congestion would be to reconsider all of the newly added bike lanes. They seem to be extremely unpopular with the majority of the city residents. Or, at least, consider adding restrictions to them. Allow parking in the bike lanes at night and seasonally, since very few people are using them during the winter months.