Mention gun violence and most people will get upset and enraged about the toll it takes on our society. Bring up traffic violence and too often people just write it off as a ‘fact of life’ that accidents happen. Here’s the sad fact- the numbers are nearly the same for traffic deaths as gun deaths. If you eliminate suicides, then nearly twice as many people are killed by cars than guns.
It was reported yesterday by The Atlantic Cities that a pedestrian is killed in a traffic crash every two hours in the U.S. In NYC, a person is killed nearly every other day. Last week was particularly bloody with seven deaths in seven days. Of the 114 traffic deaths so far this year only 8 drivers have been charged.
I’ve often had people tell me they think I’m ‘brave’ or ‘crazy’ to commute by bicycle in NYC due to their fear of motor vehicle traffic. When I point out to them that majority of people being hit or killed by cars are pedestrians, most of the time they are shocked. I got involved in advocacy because my bicycle is my primary mode of transportation. As I started reading and becoming more aware of the issues- I quickly realized that this was much bigger than just people of bicycles, this was about all of us: cyclists, pedestrians and motorists too. We are all pedestrians first.
We take it for granted that there are sidewalks on every street. We also assume that we are safe from traffic violence when we walk upon those sidewalks. Yet 6% of pedestrians hit by cars are injured on sidewalks, or in the case of 4 year old Ariel Russo – killed.
Another assumption we carry is that when we have the light we should be safe to use the crosswalk to get across the street. Reality: 44% of people hit by cars are hit in the crosswalk crossing with the light. Years back, a friend of mine was struck in Chelsea by a tourist bus while in the crosswalk with the light. In order to save her life, she was put into a coma. Thankfully today she is doing fine, but the recovery time cost her months of her life- months that can never be recovered. Her story is just one of many of thousands. Multiply those months by every other person injured by a motor vehicle and you’re looking at decades of lost time (not to mention the cost to society as a whole).
Most traffic crashes are preventable. Safer, more Complete Streets combined with accountability for dangerous driving help to reduce number of people injured or killed by motor vehicles. The closer we get to zero, the better – but even one is too many.
Tomorrow morning at 830am, there is a Rally to Demand Our Right of Way on the steps of New York City Hall, Manhattan. I’ll be there. So will many other advocates and activists. Hoping you’ll join us. The more voices that stand together, the better the chance we have of implementing change. Streets are for people. Let’s make them safer for everyone.