After 1-Year-Old Dies in Crash, NYC must Consider New Vision Zero Approaches

Right of Way enforcement will not be enough without transformation of streets that are too often lethal by design

Statement of Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives:

Once again, a baby is dead and a family is grieving needlessly because of a preventable crash. On Thursday evening in East Elmhurst, Queens, a driver making a right turn from 94th Street onto 23rd Avenue failed to yield and struck 1-year-old Skylar Perkins’ stroller as her mother was pushing the baby girl across the avenue with the light, in the crosswalk with the right of way. The crash happened not far from where 8-month-old Navraj Raju was struck and killed in a stroller last year.

Early reports indicate that there may have been a car parked illegally in the crosswalk. Unfortunately, as happens all too frequently, in this case reporters once again spread victim-blaming rumors before the investigation was complete, claiming the mother was on the phone -- as if that would exonerate the driver, who in any case had a legal responsibility to yield to the mother and child in the crosswalk. Moreover, witness statements that the driver “did not see” the victims render the cell phone allegations even less relevant.

There is news this morning that the driver has been charged with failure to yield and failure to use due care under the Right of Way law, which appears to be a justified response to this apparent act of negligence. But such charges are clearly not sufficient to stop conflicts between turning drivers and New York City’s walkers -- conflicts that are generally menacing and all too often turn deadly for the most vulnerable people on our streets.

This horrific case should lead New York City to a moment of reckoning about the success of its Vision Zero initiative, even as we take pride in the fact that overall traffic fatalities are down. It is time for all of us working for safer streets not only to recommit to the goal of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries, but also to reassess our approach. We must take a hard look at the question of whether the Right of Way enforcement we have worked so hard to advance will be enough to stop these appalling tragedies, if we don’t bring about a more fundamental transformation of our streets and intersections, which are unfortunately too often lethal by design.

Even now in the Vision Zero era, there are several proven safety enhancements that are still absent at thousands of city intersections. These include but are not limited to raised, high-visibility crosswalks and “daylighting” treatments that remove parking at and near the corners to ensure that motorists can have a clean line of sight and can see pedestrians as they are turning. At the intersection where Skylar Perkins was killed, there is a missed opportunity to extend the 23rd Avenue median to become a pedestrian island, and crosswalk markings are faded and patchy.

In addition to the curb extensions the DOT is installing around the city to keep drivers from making fast turns and lessen crossing distances for pedestrians, the City must install more crosswalk signals that give pedestrians dedicated time to cross safely, or, at the very least, a “Leading Pedestrian Interval” head start before drivers are able to enter the intersection. Policy makers, advocates and neighborhood activists across the city will need to look more seriously at other potential solutions, from “Barnes dance” signals that allow pedestrians to cross in all directions before drivers are allowed to proceed, to special traffic traffic light timing during nighttime hours, when pedestrians are particularly at risk.