BY PETE DONOHUE
JANUARY 11 -- Pedestrians are a menace – to themselves. Not all the time, but more often than you might think. “Dangerous pedestrian choices,” including crossing the street against the signal, are the primary cause in 31% of the city’s pedestrian fatalities, according to a two-year study. Pedestrian actions are a contributing cause in another 16% of pedestrian fatalities, according to the city Department of Transportation study.
In other words, pedestrians have at least some culpability in nearly half - 47% - of the traffic accidents in the city that result in a pedestrian being killed.
Pedestrian behavior is most problematic in Manhattan where sidewalks and streets are more crowded. It's the primary cause in 43% of pedestrian fatalities in the borough and a contributing cause in another 13% - more than half of the accidents, 56%. Those statistics, which were tucked inside the Vision Zero Pedestrian Safety Action Plan that Mayor de Blasio’s administration released last year, are striking. Yet, you never hear about them. Some safety crusaders only want to talk about the city not redesigning streets fast enough and cops not cracking down hard enough on drivers. In their eyes, anyone with a set of car keys is a Mad Max maniac.
The DOT gives pedestrian safety talks in public schools and senior centers, according to its website. But I’ve never heard a city official speaking harshly or at length about pedestrians carelessly and recklessly putting themselves in harms' way. The role of pedestrians certainly hasn’t been given equal weight to other aspects of the problem. If anything, the city report at times manipulates figures to keep the focus on drivers.
State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Queens) and Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (D-Queens) dared raised the issue of "distracted walking" during a December press conference two days after a 17-year-old boy was killed crossing Northern Blvd. by a hit-and-run driver. Peralta said the city should create a public awareness campaign about the perils of texting while walking, along the lines of those targeting drivers. Seems reasonable enough. DenDekker talked about his proposal to issue $25 fines to pedestrians who text in crosswalks. They were overwhelmingly ignored by the media and vilified by one zealous advocacy group’s blog. Peralta and DenDekker “mostly blamed the victims of dangerous driving,” the blog stated.
It’s nonsense, of course. It's a fact that people are constantly darting or sauntering through intersections against the signal, crossing midblock far from the relative safety of a crosswalk, texting with their heads down. We all do it. Only tourists from the Midwest, or from countries with a more obedient populace, seem to wait patiently on the curb. The city’s statistics quantify the dangerousness of our impatience and inattention. It would be reckless to ignore them.