King Car vs. The Jaywalker

In New York, as in every other big American city, King Car has ruled the streets for a hundred years.

An early-20th-century movement known as Organized Motordom: a coalition of car manufacturers, oil companies, auto clubs, and other car marketers, teamed with law enforcement to convince pedestrians, who slowed down car traffic by crossing the street, that they were the enemy.

The Jaywalker was invented by Motordom as part of what has been called "a massive shaming campaign" so successful that the mindset it produced has persisted into the 21st century.

The Motordom mindset probably explains why the New York City Police Department fails to treat traffic deaths as "real" homicides.

Motor vehicles are the #1 cause of trauma-related death for kids under 14 in New York City, and the #2 cause of trauma-related death for seniors. In the past decade, cars have killed nearly 2,000 New Yorkers and put 30,000 in the hospital.

In 2013, cars killed 286 people in New York City, up 5% over 2012 and 15% over 2011. By comparison, 335 people were murdered in New York City in 2013, with homicides falling by 21% from 2012 and by 35% from 2011. In 2012, the city saw its fewest murders in one year since 1963, when the NYPD starting keeping statistics.

If these trends hold, there's a good chance that more people will be killed by cars in New York City in 2014 than will be murdered.

Pedestrians make up a much higher percentage of traffic fatalities in New York City than nationally, likely because New York has the country's highest percentage of commuters walking or using public transit to get to work. Most New Yorkers don't own cars, with 80% of Manhattan residents car-free.

The ridership of just one New York City subway line tops that of the combined public transit systems of San Francisco, Chicago and Boston.  The Long Island Railroad and Metro North are, respectively, the nation's #1 and #2 biggest commuter rail systems.

Pedestrian and cycling advocates like Transportation Alternatives, Right of Way and StreetsPAC, which helped push the issue of pedestrian safety to the top of Bill de Blasio's mayoral campaign agenda last year, are challenging King Car's century-old dominance.

In his first month in office, Mayor DeBlasio announced "Vision Zero," an ambitious new initiative named for a 15-year-old Swedish campaign that has driven the country's traffic fatalities down by 48%.

The Vision Zero task force, made up of the Commissioners of the Department of Transportation, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, and the NYPD, is expected to present its proposal to the mayor on February 15.

No sooner had DeBlasio and DOT Commission Polly Trottenberg announced Vision Zero, than the NYPD went on an anti-jaywalking rampage, with new Police Commissioner Bill Bratton telling the media that cops were arresting jaywalkers because pedestrians were to blame for 66% of pedestrian fatalities in New York last year.

Bratton's use of the term "jaywalking" gave him away: like Ray Kelly before him, Bratton's Motordom's man.

Streetsbook: Vision Zero.
Village Voice:  Don't Walk.  

Not sure where Bratton got his stats, but it looks to me like most pedestrian fatalities in New York City have historically been caused by driver, not pedestrian, behavior. [Streetsblog.]

Podcast:  "The Modern Moloch."

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