Monday, January 28, 2008

An Upper West Side Story

As I'm attending a meeting tonight relating to traffic on the Upper West Side, I thought this anecdote might be informative.

In 1992, I was living in a building on the corner of Columbus Avenue and West 77th Street. One morning, I left to hail a cab at about 5:45 AM. If you're familiar with the neighborhood, you know that at that time, hundreds of cabbies race down Columbus Avenue en masse, at speeds approaching 60 mph., resembling nothing so much as a school of bright yellow sharks in search of prey. (This behavior can also be seen downtown, where Church Street becomes Sixth Avenue.)

Anyway, I extended my hand to hail a cab, and, in their haste to get a fare, three cabbies collided in front of me, doing considerable damage to their cars. I calmly got the next cab, who happened not to be speeding, and left them to their angry recriminations.

We need driver reform—why don't we get it?

I apologize for not posting here for a week; I've been too busy at work. During that week, Theodore Kheel released his report and recommendations for congestion pricing and free mass transit, available here as a PDF download:

It was also a week that saw a software CEO mow down a woman in downtown Manhattan. He was admittedly doing 60 mph. on city streets, where the speed limit is 30. Unfortunately, there's nothing at all unusual about that.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been driving a friend's car to work. Drivers routinely travel at 50 mph on city streets. The good folks at Transit Alternatives have used radar guns to clock them. I know it. You know it. The NYPD knows it. But nothing is done. When was the last time there was a crackdown on speeders, two years ago? And the crackdown lasted an entire week.

We should have reached what Malcolm Gladwell calls "The Tipping Point" long ago, as a matter of fact, on December 7, 2006, when little Andy Vega's life was cut short. A truck driver on Third Avenue in Brooklyn, underneath the Gowanus Expressway, was speeding (by his own admission), trying to make a light before it changed. He missed it, but decided to run the red light (again, his own admission), and ran little Andy down. As usual, no charges were filed.

Why are we willing to accept this? Why are we not outraged? Do we, our police and elected officials see our dangerous streets as a normal cost of doing business? Or are we just inured to the carnage? What will it take to change attitudes? 40% of all traffic fatalities are caused by drunk drivers—the other 60% are caused by bad drivers. It took twenty years, but we finally did something about the drunks. It may take another twenty, but we must do something about the rest.

The Daily News questioned cabbies about the undercover sting operation, and one, quite angry, claimed it was text messages that caused accidents, not talking on cell phones (as he continued to talk on his cell). Numerous studies have proved that hands-free or hand held, cell phones are a distraction.

One last item before I go to work, a report I filed yesterday with the MTA about an exceedingly poor driver in their employ:

January 27, 2008, 3:00 PM

Belt Parkway, parking lot entrance immediately before Exit 5

I was about to exit at exit 5, when the Access-A-Ride driver, plate number 63714-LA, who was standing at the entrance to the parking area which precedes the exit, re-entered traffic on the Belt Parkway—without signaling or gaining the proper speed. I had to slam on the brakes, and was nearly rear ended by the driver behind me. To add insult to injury, the Access-A-Ride driver proceeded to take the exit, which he could have done safely by simply proceeding through the parking area. Drivers as amateurish as this one do not belong on the road, and certainly should not have responsibility for passengers.

MTA Reference: \'080127-000024\'