The New York Times reports on a new plan for improving pedestrian safety on Manhattan’s east side.
If you had to identify one defining feature of life in Manhattan, it just might be pedestrianism. There are places where calling someone or something “pedestrian” is an insult; this isn’t one of them. Here, “pedestrian” is an identity to share and be proud of. It does occasionally need defending.
Only a minority of us have cars, but every New Yorker walks and lives near things worth walking to (no matter how often we also take taxis or Zipcars or anything else). Our street grid, formed by the 1811 Commissioners’ Plan, predates the automotive invasion of American space by nearly a century. We’re the pre-automotive Americans, by design and by history as well as by inclination. And if factors like climate change, oil shortages, energy costs, Middle Eastern warfare, and rising awareness of what cars do to human bodies all suggest that the automotive era won’t last forever, we’re ready for post-automotive life, too.
The plan’s crucial challenge asks the NYPD to take motorists’ irresponsibility seriously by enforcing laws against speeding, running lights, failing to yield to pedestrians, and double-parking in bike lanes. This is arguably the most essential point, but also the hardest politically. Since last October, police and district attorneys have had new tools against lax drivers in the form of Elle’s Law and Hayley and Diego’s Law (named for children injured by cars), violation-level statutes that revoke reckless motorists’ licenses. But according to transit watchdogs, even these noncriminal “vulnerable user” laws, let alone vehicular manslaughter laws, aren’t yet rigorously enforced. Elle’s Law as originally worded would have created a felony-level charge, but that provision didn’t make it out of Albany.
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