Timely, important (short) article by Charlie Komanoff

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Anonymous's picture

"Charlie Komanoff, former head and ""re-founder"" of TA, and surely the most productive bike (and traffic) activist I know, has written a short piece on streetsblog.org. I recommend his piece. In fact, I recommend that blog.

Charlie is one of the movers of rightofway.org whose work I keep urging the NYCC to support whenever it funds TA and Recycle-A-Bicycle.



Freak Accident” That Seems to be Happening Regularly
by Charles Komanoff

Has it come to this — a car can be driven down a sidewalk for an entire crowded city block, injuring four pedestrians, one of them critically — without the driver getting a ticket or even a photo appearing in the next day’s newspapers?

Just before 6 p.m. yesterday, a driver reportedly hit the gas pedal instead of the brake, sending her Honda Civic onto the sidewalk on Broadway near East 12th Street. Four pedestrians were struck. One, a man in his 50s, was thrown into the glass window of the Bon Vivant Deli, shattering it. The Times and the Post had different versions of the crash sequence, but both reported Airborne Man in critical condition. No charges were filed, the Times said. No photo in the papers, either. Gothamist has the news roundup.

Last Wednesday we had SUV Mounts Flatbush Ave. Sidewalk, Runs Over Family and Kills 5-Year-Old Kid. Friday brought Driver Invades Herald Square Store, Injures Five. And wasn’t there an earlier Herald Square Store Car-Invasion, two weeks ago? There are so many cars running up on to the sidewalk it's tough to keep track of which driver was fleeing an earlier crash, which one had a seizure, who forgot to take their medication (or took too much).

Back when City DOT was more free with data, in the 1990s, it listed a dozen or so pedestrians killed on sidewalks each year, out of 250 ped deaths overall. Total pedestrian fatalities are reportedly down since, but it’s not clear if the sidewalk tally has dropped as well. Maybe not, from the look of things.

There oughta be a law — actually, there are a few: Vehicles Prohibited from Sidewalks (NY State Vehicle & Traffic Law §1202), (Reckless Driving §1212), Drivers Must Exercise Due Care (§1146).


Anonymous's picture
Perry Roubaix (not verified)

But ride your bike on the sidewalk for 30 ft. and get a ticket.

Anonymous's picture
Bill Vojtech (not verified)
causes and solutions

"I once had a bad car accident. I was driving on a dark winding road and came over a rise in the road, only to see a sea of red tail lights. I hit the brakes and stopped just inches from the bumper in front of me. The guy behind me stopped in my trunk.

On impact, I was standing on the brake pedal, but after impact I was standing on the gas. The impact caused my foot to slip off the brake and land on the gas.

It took a full second or so to realize I was no longer braking. I'd been driven into the car in front of me, so I just sat there with my wheels spinning.

In cases where no impact is involved, the driver can somehow gets confused between gas and brake. That once happened to me when I was parking in the winter when I was a new driver. There was no heat in my car, my feet were numb, I was parking on an icy patch. I thought I was on the brake. I was sliding on the ice and ""braked"", but no braking occured, so I put more presure on the ""brake"" and hit the car behind me. Bumpers were big and chrome back then, so no damage, just a big thud.

But I can see how these things happen. There is an inherent flaw in auto design– the gas and brake are operated by the same foot. That made sense before they made power everything in cars. They should take a look at how bikes are made– feet on pedals make it go, hands actuate the brakes. Hard to confuse them.

I'm sure the little old lady who mistakes the gas for the brake is just terrified that her car won't stop and just ""brakes"" harder and harder. You can bet she wasn't jumping curbs and running people down to get her jollies. Could be her foot fell asleep. I know sometimes when I sit for a long time, my foot falls asleep. Laws against driving on the sidewalk won't keep accidents like this from happening.

If hand brakes are not a good option, (arthritis, cellphoneitis, BigMacitis), a foam rubber wedge between the gas and brake. Brake with the left foot, gas with the right, and never the twain shall meet.

Also, modern cars can be designed to disengage the gas when the brakes are applied hard enough so you don't end up with someone braking and hitting the gas at the same time."

Anonymous's picture
David R (not verified)
What the heck?

Bill, what in the world are you trying to say? Are you suggesting that no tickets are in order for any of these incidents? That mistaking the brake and gas and running into a swarm of people is understandable and excusable. I kept waiting for the punchline when reading your post, but none came.

Anonymous's picture
Bill Vojtech (not verified)

"No. I'm saying that there are 2 ways a car ends up on a sidewalk, running people over– accidentally or deliberately.

Issuing traffic tickets will not stop people from mistaking the gas for the brake. Someone hellbent on running people over will not be deterred by a ticket either.

Of course if it's deliberate, punishment is in order, and a ticket isn't enough.

But if it's an accident, they don't ""just happen,"" there's a reason, a cause.

Some vehicular redesign could PREVENT accidents. But then what would we get indignant about?

Laws and tickets will not stop a single incidence of mistaking the gas for the brake.

I'd rather push for safer vehicles to prevent accidents than to smugly hand out tickets to feel like ""we're doing something"" after someone gets killed."

Anonymous's picture
jc (not verified)
Oh come on...

How about just taking your foot off the gas? Couldn't this woman who drove UP ON THE SIDEWALK tell she was accelerating?

Anonymous's picture
Joe (not verified)

And if she can't tell the difference, should she be driving a 1 ton hunk of metal?

A license to operate a motor vehicle should not be a birthright, but unfortunately our licensing system guarantees that pretty much anyone can get behind the wheel.

Anonymous's picture
Bill Vojtech (not verified)

Strictly hypothetically... she's driving along... she gets an itch on her right ankle... she takes her foot off the gas and reaches down to scratch it while continuing to watch the road. Just then some crazy bike messenger cuts her off and she swerves to avoid him. She's heading for the sidewalk so she hits what she thinks is the brake... but the car won't stop so she presses harder... all of a sudden bodies are flying people a screaming, glass is breaking.

It does not take incompetence to have an accident.

I'm all for re-evaluating drivers after accidents to see if they're fit to drive.

Anonymous's picture
Bill Vojtech (not verified)

If you think you're on the brake and you are not stopping, you will press what you think is the brake harder, not take your foot off it.

If you think the car is suddenly accelerating on it's own, your instinct is to brake and brake HARD.

How long does it take a car to run over a bunch of people? A few seconds. How long does it take to realize you're on the wrong pedal? Long enough to run a few people over, I guess.

Anonymous's picture
Fendergal (not verified)

Bill, have you ever considered a job as a spokesman for AAA? You are a fantastic apologist for lousy drivers everywhere.

Anonymous's picture
bill vojtech (not verified)

I wonder how many of you drive?

And since anyone who's had a car accident should be banned from driving, how about anyone who's crashed on their bike being banned from the club pacelines? Who wants to ride inches from some incompetent who can't stay upright?

Anonymous's picture
April (not verified)
mental health?

"""I wonder how many of you drive?""

I do and I NEVER, I repeat, NEVER, mistake gas for brake!!!

The brake padel is in the center. The gas is so far to the right I can't figure out how anyone would mistake one for the other!

Anyone who couldn't tell the difference after repeat attempts should NOT be driving. We don't let blind people drive. Why should we allow people who can't tell the difference between gas and brake padel to drive?


Anonymous's picture
PLee (not verified)
You might want to restate that . . .

April -

You're leaving yourself W-I-D-E open on this one!!!! ;-)

>>. . . I NEVER, I repeat, NEVER, mistake gas for brake!!!

The gas padel is in the center. The brake is so far to the right I can't figure out how anyone would mistake one for the other!<<

Anonymous's picture
April (not verified)
You're right

I haven't been in a car for almost 2 months!

Sometimes I wonder why I bother owning a car when all I do is ride here and ride there...

Anonymous's picture
[email protected] (not verified)
Gas pedal IS on the right

April you were right the first time. The gas pedal is on the right, the brake pedal is in the center and the clutch pedal is on the left


Anonymous's picture
Jim N (not verified)
The question isn't whether it's a mistake or intentional

This isn't the issue. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes. When you are driving a car that can kill innnocent people, you have to be very carreful. When I'm biking around Manhattan, I am careful. I look at drivers talking on their phones, adjustring their radios, etc. many of them are not taking their responsibility seriously.

How do you get people to not make mistakes, to be more careful?

Let them know that if they kill people they will be in big big trouble.

Anonymous's picture
bill vojtech (not verified)

Yes! And giving them a traffic ticket or putting their picture on the news will not do the job.

And sometimes accidents happen when you are being careful.

Anonymous's picture
[email protected] (not verified)
reaction time?

Actually, one foot driving makes reaction times faster, so forcing people to use two feet would cause more accidents.

Also, you would need to get rid of manual cars, because you wouldn't be able to use the brake and clutch at the same time.

Face it, the lady is a menace and should never drive again.

Anonymous's picture
Hank Schiffman (not verified)

How old was the driver in this accident?

Anonymous's picture
jc (not verified)
Under control

"Middle aged woman. Saw her on the news the night of the ""accident""
Other people were in the car. The reporter tried to interview her, but she brushed him off.
I walk by this diner almost everyday on my way to work.
It looks like the driver came up on the sidewalk at the corner, missed the light pole, phone booths, the poles holding up the restaurant's awning and tried to get back onto Broadway before she hit the light pole that stopped her.
Her aim was true."

Anonymous's picture
Guy (not verified)

This should be posted on Craig's List & other similar , for broader reader base! The more who see this, the more NYC may be compelled to react...

Anonymous's picture
Somebody (not verified)
"Intention vs. carelessness vs.""accident"""

"What's the motivation, lack of motivation, or uncontrollable circumstance surrounding a traffic violation?

That ought to be what drives our opinions whether we're talking about drivers or bicyclists.

On West 36th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues, there are two -- two in one block!! -- bicycle messenger businesses. Messengers regularly ride on the streets, zig-zagging perilously around pedesterians, or cut off cars by riding the wrong way on 36th Street to save time. That's deliberate, as (evidently) was Lizzy Grubman's backing a car into bystanders in the Hamptons. As is a club paceline running a light.

Accidently stepping on the gas instead of the brake (or crashing in a tight paceline) relates to competence. Skidding on an oil slick (whether you're a driver or a bicycle rider) is an accident.

Which calls for an arrest and a criminal charge? Which deserves a ticket or suspension of the privilege of using one's vehicle? Which deserves nothing more than concern for the welfare of people involved?

C'mon guys. You're (mostly) bright people. Figure it out!

""I am innocent because didn't mean to shoot him. I meant to shoot his wife.""
--Kruzenko The Killer

Your Pal,

Anonymous's picture
Joe (not verified)

According to your logic, the person who deliberately throws a water balloon at someone is more deserving of a criminal charge than someone who pulls the trigger of his automatic rifle in a crowded room thinking that the safety was on.

As the above example points out, your response fails to consider the potential for harm caused by the various vehicles in question. A car poses a much greater threat to other motorists, cyclists and peds than does a bicycle.

Anonymous's picture
Hank Schiffman (not verified)
Justice might still be served

I would be interested in seeing this driver's dossier. Is this a person whose past is proven incompetence? Two major driving errors in a row can and do occur. However, the house would not bet that way.

Just because a person is functioning does not mean they are with the program. This might not be a criminal transgression, rather a civil case. No doubt attorneys are swarming like bees. Just because no time is served does not mean justice is not served.

Anonymous's picture
Josh (not verified)
whose to blame?

"I said this elsewhere, but will repeat it here as well. The auto manufacturers are partly responsible for this. They've made autos so safe inside, but could give a damn about those outside. And that attitude pervades motorists. A case in point: A driver tried to cut me off on the Hudson River greenway recently, so I went back to speak to him. (He was caught at the light.) I said, you know, we cyclists have only one decent bikeway in Manhattan. Could you cut us a little slack, and yield. It was like I said the unsayable. Yield? ""I'll think about,"" he said.

I noticed that many of the incidents of sidewalk hopping, mowing downs, and hit and runs mainly involve SUVs with all the amenities -- including (but not limited to) the right environment for nonstop talking on a cell behind tinted shades and a vacuum-sealed interior."

Anonymous's picture
David Neff (not verified)
right to bear balloons

Considering your above statement, the act of having an automatic rifle which capable of killing people so easily is a reason for regulation. If you are so inclined to have a cocked and loaded rifle in a crowd (much like driving a car in midtown) perhaps you should be licensed for its use. Perhaps you should be tested for competency before you are allowed to possibly risk the lives of others so easily. It is not often that the military guys in Penn Sta. or the NYPD with the automatics down in the battery are walking through crowds with only the trigger saftey preventing an accidental discharge. Why is it so easy to get a license to drive? Special permits to drive in NYC? Hey, maybe a parade permit should be necessary to drive more than ten cars in NYC in a row on a street?

Anonymous's picture
mike p (not verified)
nys min auto insurance is 50,000 per occurrence

remember that nys minimum liability insurance for auto drivers is 50,000 per occurrence. so if a vehicle driver injures 4 or 5 pedestrians, guess what , they get to split $50,000.
commissioner ray Kelly is blind to the elephant on the street with the parade permit for bicyclist.

Anonymous's picture
bill vojtech (not verified)

If I'm not mistaken, can't they sue for more? It was my impression that if you carry the minimum coverage and get sued for more and lose, your insurance pays the minimum and you pay the rest. They can take your bank account, take your house, etc. That's why I pay for extra coverage, to protect my assets.

Anonymous's picture
mike p (not verified)

yes they can sue for more , however a lot of these people that drive aggressively and dangerously don't have any assets, nothing for a lawyer to go after. i understand that taxi drivers have a higher minimum liability, if they get sued for more they go out of business and reopen under a different name. difficult to collect a judgement form them.
if you can pick the person that is going to run you down on the sidewalk , hope they have deep pockets.

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