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Help TA and Families for Safe Streets Convince the AP to Drop “Accident”

Even when a motorist is accused of intentionally causing a crash, the press calls it an “accident.” Advocates are hoping the Associated Press will help change that. Image: Shelbyville Times-Gazette

Even when a motorist is accused of purposely causing a crash, the press calls it an “accident.” Advocates are hoping the Associated Press will help change that. Image: Shelbyville Times-Gazette

The word “accident” is so ingrained in media practice that reporters use it to describe basically any motor vehicle crash scenario, even when a driver is impaired or accused of using a car as a weapon. This is harmful because it disregards the fact that most collisions can be traced to preventable causes, including reckless driving and unsafe street design.

To break reporters and editors of the habit, Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets are lobbying the Associated Press to remove “accident” from its style guide in favor of the neutral term “crash.” The AP is currently accepting public input for its 2016 Stylebook.

“When people view preventable tragedies as ‘accidents,’ that erodes public and political will to enact changes, changes that have been proven to save lives, changes like street redesigns and better enforcement,” said Paul Steely White, TA executive director, in a press release. “We’ve seen government agencies like the NYPD change their approach to crash investigations by dropping the word ‘accident.’ By changing the language we use when we talk about street safety, media outlets like the Associated Press have the power to change not only the conversation, but also the culture.”

The groups are encouraging people to submit style guide suggestions directly to the AP. Check out this 2013 story by Angie Schmitt for background on how the AP advises reporters and editors to describe traffic collisions.

There is also a Twitter account and web site dedicated to convincing media outlets, law enforcers, and others to “drop the ‘A’ word.” There will be a related rally and march in Manhattan on November 15, for World Day of Remembrance for Road Traffic Victims.

“The word ‘accident’ is demeaning to people who have survived a crash or lost a loved one in traffic” said Amy Cohen, a Families for Safe Streets member whose son Sammy was killed by motorist. “By refusing to say ‘accident,’ we are reminding everyone that we can fix dangerous streets, and we can deter careless, negligent and reckless driving.”


Giving Up on Public Spaces Is Exactly What NYC Did in “The Bad Old Days”


Time to abandon this dysfunctional space where people can walk and sit comfortably. Photo: Stephen Miller

Normally Streetsblog would just ignore Steve Cuozzo’s rant yesterday about the evils of giving New Yorkers more room to walk and sit. But yanking out public space is a surprisingly credible threat these days, so here goes.

If you missed it, the nut of Cuozzo’s piece is that because he saw some homeless people sitting on benches in the temporary sidewalk expansion on 32nd Street by Penn Station, “the bad old days are back.” This fits neatly into the Post’s campaign to paint #deBlasiosNewYork as a place where decent folk are constantly menaced by aggressive lunatics on the street and you ought to be cowering inside all the time.

It also depends on stupendous ignorance of how the reclamation of public spaces helped New York turn the corner on “the bad old days.”

Cuozzo singles out “the ‘pedestrian’-besotted 34th Street Partnership” — the local Business Improvement District — for backing the 32nd Street sidewalk expansion. The 34th Street Partnership is also responsible for foolishness like restoring Herald Square and maintaining sidewalk benches. It has an interesting intellectual lineage — the organization’s founder, Dan Biederman, is a disciple of the influential urbanist William H. Whyte.

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Trottenberg: DOT Will Soon Propose Amsterdam Avenue Bike Lane

DOT will release a long-awaited proposal for a bike lane and other traffic calming measures on Amsterdam Avenue on the Upper West Side this September or October, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show this morning.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says her agency will propose a bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue in the next couple months. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says DOT will propose a bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue in the next couple months. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

The announcement comes after years of requests from local advocates and Manhattan Community Board 7 for a northbound pair to the southbound protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue. Council members Helen Rosenthal and Mark Levine, who represent the area, have also backed a protected bike lane on Amsterdam, which was recently repaved. Citi Bike will expand to the Upper West Side this fall.

“Amsterdam Avenue is challenging… Just the way the traffic moves and the configuration of the roadway do make it a more challenging road to redesign [than Columbus],” Trottenberg said. “But we’re going to come up with some plans and we’re going to lay them out for the community board and for everyone who’s interested.”

The wide-ranging interview also discussed a proposal from Assembly Member Aravella Simotas for a car-free Shore Boulevard in Astoria Park (“We are taking a look at it,” Trottenberg said) and the redesign of Queens Boulevard, which she called one of DOT’s “marquee” projects. Noting the new bike lanes on Queens Boulevard, Lehrer said callers are often “more afraid of the bicycles, because they seem to go every which way, than they are of the cars.”

Much of the interview was driven by Lehrer’s focus on congestion and bikes.

“Is there an upside to congestion?” he asked Trottenberg. “Like, is traffic congestion good for Vision Zero, because you want cars to go slower in general?”

“They’re really two separate issues, and I understand why people put them together,” Trottenberg said, before explaining the difference between making sure free-flowing traffic moves at a safe speed and combatting gridlock in the Central Business District, which is attracting fewer cars each day even as congestion has worsened.

Cruising by Uber drivers and other growing for-hire services is a likely cause of the additional congestion, Trottenberg said, and she acknowledged other factors, such as deliveries. The city will study CBD congestion after backing away from legislation to cap the number of cars operated by Uber.

“How about the bikes as a factor?” Lehrer asked.

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Hey Brian Lehrer — Traffic Congestion Is Not a Vision Zero Tactic

This morning on WNYC Brian Lehrer said he didn’t understand why Mayor de Blasio would want to penalize Uber for making traffic congestion worse, since the mayor is “causing congestion purposely” to make streets safer for walking and biking.

The speed limit is not why this is happening. Photo: @BrooklynSpoke

The speed limit is not why this is happening. Photo: @BrooklynSpoke

Here’s an excerpt:

They want to make driving in the city as unpalatable as possible so people switch to mass transit, which is more in the public interest for a host of reasons. And I tend to support that, that’s a good idea. Also the de Blasio administration has made Vision Zero a central policy — something else I support. But again the goal is to make traffic go slower, not to make it easier on cars. They’ve reduced the official speed limit too. And congestion accomplishes the same goal — that is, fewer pedestrian fatalities — by other means. Traffic means less speed, which means more pedestrian safety.

Like a lot of people who weighed in during the Uber debate, Lehrer confuses speed limits and average speeds.

Lowering the maximum speed people are allowed to drive has nothing to do with a grinding crush of cars inching along at a few miles per hour. An easy way to grasp the difference: The citywide speed limit is 25 miles per hour, while last year the average speed in the Manhattan core was 8.51 mph. Congestion is a symptom of too many motorists trying to use scarce street space at the same time, not a tactic to make drivers travel at a safe speed.

Put another way, in the early 1980s motor vehicle traffic was moving at an average speed of 9.8 mph on midtown avenues and 6.4 mph on crosstown streets. Though congestion was about the same as it is now, more than twice as many people were dying in traffic.

Lehrer also said taking cars out of Central Park was de Blasio’s way of creating congestion on the avenues. Instead of propagating tabloid-worthy conspiracy theories, we liked it better when Lehrer was calling for “bike lanes everywhere, separated from traffic.”

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Hey Daily News: NYC Pedestrians Are Safer With Right of Way Law

In its latest attack on efforts to make New York City streets safer for everyone who walks, bikes, and drives, the Daily News editorial board says the Right of Way Law isn’t working. But the available evidence suggests NYC streets are safer since the law took effect.

The Daily News should be going after Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Transportation Chief Thomas Chan to consistently apply the Right of Way Law instead of giving up on a measure that appears to have made streets safer.

The Daily News should be going after Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Transportation Chief Thomas Chan to consistently apply the Right of Way Law instead of giving up on a measure that appears to have made streets safer.

Basically, the Daily News believes that, since the law has been applied only a few dozen times since it took effect last August, the city should abandon it. The piece also claims the Right of Way Law has had little discernible effect on pedestrian safety, “with the death toll among pedestrians barely budging in the nearly one year since the Vision Zero law took effect,” though crash data says otherwise.

In the nine months after the Right of Way Law took effect, from September 2014 to May 2015 (the last month for which official data is available), New York City drivers killed 95 pedestrians, according to NYPD. From September 2013 to May 2014, motorists killed 121 pedestrians. That’s a 21 percent decline.

To this point MTA bus drivers haven’t killed anyone in a crosswalk in 2015. There were eight such deaths last year.

Injuries are a more reliable metric than fatalities, since they’re less prone to random variation. NYPD data indicate that drivers injured 7,869 pedestrians in the nine months after the Right of Way Law took effect, compared to 8,925 pedestrian victims during the same period a year prior — a drop of almost 12 percent.

The Daily News correctly points out that MTA bus drivers make up a large percentage of motorists charged under the Right of Way Law, while “most drivers who maim pedestrians go though [sic] no investigation to even determine who was at fault.” But this points to a lack of enforcement, not a problem with the law itself. Is the Daily News solution to go back to having fewer drivers investigated for maiming pedestrians?

“And so the cases crumble,” the editorial says. “Of the four drivers whose prosecutions by the Manhattan DA have concluded so far, all pleaded to violations of state traffic laws. Two additionally pleaded to the lowest city charge, with a $50 fine.”

The success of the Right of Way Law doesn’t hinge on putting drivers in jail. The goal is to compel police and prosecutors to investigate crashes that traditionally got no attention, and to hold motorists to a measure of accountability for injuring and killing people who were following traffic rules. Daily News editorial writers used to complain that the Right of Way Law was overly punitive. Now they think it’s too weak to mean anything.

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Driver Kills Cyclist in Ditmas Park, NYPD and Media Blame Deceased Victim

A driver killed a cyclist in Ditmas Park this morning.

The cyclist, a 57-year-old man, was riding eastbound on Church Avenue near Ocean Avenue when he was run over by the driver of a commercial box truck, who was also eastbound on Church, according to NYPD. The crash happened at around 10:25 a.m.

Per usual, initial NYPD accounts focused on what the victim — who can’t speak for himself — purportedly did to get himself killed, with no word on the driver’s actions before the crash. Sergeant Lee Jones told Gothamist the victim “lost control and struck the side of the box truck and fell under the wheels.”

DNAinfo cited unnamed NYPD sources who said the victim “swerved” and “turned into” the truck. “Witnesses said they didn’t see any helmet with the cyclist, just a Dallas Cowboys baseball cap,” DNA reported.

The cyclist was pronounced dead at Kings County Hospital, NYPD said.

The NYPD public information office had no additional details when we called, but said the crash was still under investigation. Police had not released the victim’s identity as of earlier this afternoon. NYPD does not usually divulge the names of drivers who kill people unless charges are filed.

While it’s not clear what happened this morning, Church Avenue has no dedicated space for biking, with little room between the parking lane and moving traffic.

Injury crashes in the vicinity of Church Avenue and Ocean Avenue, indicated by the blue dot, in 2015. Image: Vision Zero View

Injury crashes this year in the vicinity of Church Avenue and Ocean Avenue, indicated by the blue dot, as of May. Image: Vision Zero View

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Richard Brown: No Charges for Driver Who Killed Boy on Neighborhood Street

A driver fatally struck 8-year-old Sincere Atkins as he played outside his grandmother’s apartment on Sutphin Boulevard. Image: Google Maps

A driver fatally struck 8-year-old Sincere Atkins as he played outside his grandmother’s apartment on Sutphin Boulevard. Image: Google Maps

An 8-year-old boy hit by a driver on a neighborhood street in Queens on Memorial Day died from his injuries. NYPD and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown filed no charges.

Sincere Atkins was playing with his cousin outside his grandmother’s apartment, on Sutphin Boulevard near 125th Avenue, when a 21-year-old man hit him with a Toyota Corolla, according to reports.

A witness told the Post the driver, whose name was withheld by NYPD, hit Sincere “so hard it knocked his shoes across the street,” an indication the driver was probably speeding. Officers from the 113th Precinct, where Sincere was killed, issue an average of about one speeding ticket a day.

The crash happened on a street flanked by apartment buildings and a park, on a sunny spring day when kids were out of school — an environment where motorists should know to drive with care. “This is a very busy street,’’ a witness told the Post. “There are so many kids here. There should be a speed bump or something.’’

Reporters from the Post and the Daily News blamed the child, saying he “ran into traffic” and “darted” into the street.

Sincere died from head trauma on May 29, the News reported. “The driver of the car was not charged with a crime,” the News said.

The crash that killed Sincere occurred in the City Council district represented by Ruben Wills, and in Queens Community Board District 12.

Sincere Atkins was at least the third child age 14 and under killed by a New York City driver in 2015, and the 11th child victim since January 2014, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.


The Post’s Highly Selective Outrage About Traffic Violence

The bicycle of the man killed by a reckless East Harlem driver fleeing police. Photo via WPIX

The bicycle of the man killed by a reckless driver fleeing police in East Harlem. Still via WPIX

Yesterday, a driver fleeing police killed a cyclist on East 129th Street near Madison Avenue. DNAinfo, the Daily News, CBS 2, and WPIX all covered the crash. So did the Post, but the paper reserved its front page for a different bike story, assigning a reporter and photographer to tail Jason Marshall, the cyclist who struck and killed pedestrian Jill Tarlov in Central Park last year.

Their “exclusive” video, shot from the front seat of a car behind Marshall, blew an important story wide open: He took a “risky ride” on a bicycle with his son yesterday and didn’t follow the letter of the law. So now we can look forward to a wave of follow-up stories from the Post about the transgressions of drivers who killed pedestrians, splashing their photos across the front page when they double-park or turn right on red. Right?

A few hours after the Post’s big scoop, there was an actual case of traffic violence on E. 129th Street near Madison Avenue. A cyclist was rear-ended and killed by a driver who kept going, hitting another car and fleeing the scene on foot with two other people.

NYPD has not released the victim’s name, pending family notification, but DNAinfo reports he was a 42-year-old professor and physician who worked at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center and received his doctorate from St. Petersburg State University in Russia.

“I looked and saw the guy laying flat out in the street. He had on a white polo. He was on his right side and was completely out. He didn’t move one inch. The bike was mangled,” Lisa Luis, 35, told DNAinfo. “It was horrible.”

The driver kept going, turning south onto Madison Avenue into oncoming traffic, then turning right onto E. 128th Street, also against traffic, and striking a Volkswagen before fleeing on foot.

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Ydanis Rodriguez Bill Would Let NYC’s Press Corps Park for Free

City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez thinks the city’s press corps needs a special break: He’s proposing legislation that would exempt drivers with press plates from paying at meters or obeying time limits.

“The news business should have the same privileges as every other business,” Rodriguez said in a release before today’s City Hall press conference, wrongly implying that every other business in New York gets a free parking pass.

Rodriguez, who said today that he hoped the bill would gain the support of Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and expressed confidence that it would garner a veto-proof majority, was joined this morning by fellow council members Laurie Cumbo, Daniel Dromm, and Corey Johnson.

I asked Rodriguez if he would give up his parking placard, like State Senator Tony Avella does each year. “I believe that having placard parking is important,” Rodriguez said, saying it came in handy when he drove to the scene of the East Harlem building explosion last year. “I believe that having a parking placard, as other people have — teachers have it, police officers have it, council members have it — people from the media should also have it.”

The legislation would not actually give parking placards to the media, but would exempt them from meters and time limits. (Currently, press plates give special parking privileges in areas marked for NYP plates, typically near courthouses and other government buildings.) As part of its crackdown on parking abuse, the Bloomberg administration eliminated this perk for the city’s press in 2009. Governor Cuomo also cut down on placards around the same time.

The New York Press Photographers Association has been leading the charge to restore this privilege. Association board member Robert Roth said the de Blasio administration has not set up a meeting to discuss a change in policy, despite multiple requests — which is why the association turned to the City Council.

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Rangel: Let’s Allow Bus Drivers to Kill People With the Right of Way

Congressman Charlie Rangel condemned the Right of Way Law earlier this week, joining the Transport Workers Union to argue that the law should allow MTA bus drivers to kill people who have the right of way.

Photo: Politic365

Speaking to bus drivers and TWU officials Monday at the Mother Clara Hale Depot in Harlem, Rangel said it was “stupid” to charge bus drivers with a misdemeanor for injuring and killing people with the right of way, according to Daily News reporter Pete Donohue, a Right of Way Law critic who has devoted a lot of ink to the TWU campaign to exempt drivers from the law.

Echoing the TWU, Rangel said that hitting people who are walking or biking with the right of way is just part of the job of driving a bus.

“Common sense would indicate that when (lawmakers) were thinking about this, the last thing in the world they were thinking about is a bus driver doing their duty would be arrested,” Rangel said. “Right now, we should be calling the mayor and telling him, ‘Don’t embarrass yourself.’ Anybody can make a mistake and this is just one big damn mistake, that’s all, because isn’t a joke [sic].”

After years of drivers hitting people with virtually no accountability, the Right of Way Law gave NYPD and prosecutors a tool to impose at least some consequences against motorists for harming people who were following traffic laws. To Rangel, applying this law consistently “doesn’t make any damn sense at all.”

Speaking of making no damn sense at all, the TWU unveiled more propaganda blaming victims for getting hit by bus drivers:

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