Statement of Executive Director Paul Steely White:
On Thursday, November 5, 84-year-old Agalia Gounaris was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver on Main Street in Flushing, Queens. Just a few days later the local NYPD precinct and elected officials responded with swift action. Unfortunately, their response was not to crack down on hit-and-run drivers, or fix a notoriously dangerous street with some of the highest pedestrian volumes in the city. Instead, they announced a crackdown on jaywalking.
It’s easy to blame victims. It’s harder to track down hit-and-run drivers, curb the culture of reckless driving and fix fatal streets designed decades ago when pedestrians were just an afterthought. We urge the NYPD and anyone concerned about traffic safety to focus their attention on proven countermeasures.
Jaywalking crackdowns did not work for Mayor Giuliani, and they did not work last year when Commissioner Bratton disastrously attempted to revive the misguided tactic. Jaywalking crackdowns divert precious resources from the traffic enforcement measures that are proven to work: targeting drivers who speed and fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.
Most pedestrians killed in New York City traffic are struck while they are crossing streets lawfully – like 3-year-old Allison Liao, who was run over by an inattentive SUV driver as she walked hand-in-hand with her grandmother, with the light, in a crosswalk not far from where Agalia Gounaris was killed. In too many cases, pedestrians are actually hit while they are on the sidewalk, as has happened numerous times in the past two weeks alone.
Even in cases where police say pedestrians have been hit while walking outside the crosswalk, motorists still have a legal responsibility to obey the speed limit and yield, and not flee the scene of a crash. In many of these cases, however, the NYPD is focused primarily on what the pedestrian may have done wrong, rather than on the motorist’s responsibility to use due care when operating a two-ton vehicle in the most pedestrian-rich city in North America.
Given how many turning drivers muscle their way through crowded crosswalks, it should come as no surprise that many pedestrians instead choose to cross mid-block, thinking there is less chance that cars will come out of nowhere.
All too often, with the victim injured or killed, the only witness to a crash is the driver. Absent compelling video, police are all too eager to take the driver’s word that he or she was not speeding or did not violate the pedestrian’s right of way. To make matters worse, in case after case, anonymous NYPD sources erroneously cite “pedestrian error,” even if the collision investigation eventually contradicts those early statements.
Even now, in the era of Vision Zero, too many precincts still have a strong anti-pedestrian bias.
Precincts vary widely when it comes to traffic enforcement. Some precincts prioritize those infractions that their own crash reports show are causing the most traffic deaths. But other precincts are still ignoring the data, preferring to target walking instead of dangerous driving. In the era of Vision Zero, traffic enforcement should be informed by the data, not by anecdote or, in this case, the myth that pedestrians are most often responsible for their own demise.