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Web www.startsandfits.com
Tuesday, March 29, 2005

New York magazine is carrying an item this week that describes recent automobile chaos at the southern end of Lexington Avenue, where Gramercy Park terminates the avenue at East 21st Street. Here is the gist of it:
Cars keep crashing through the wrought-iron fence surrounding Gramercy Park — three in one week earlier this month. . . . On March 12, a tow-truck operator was hooking up a car that had crashed around 4 A.M. when a second driver ran into the disabled vehicle (which rolled over the operator's hand and knee). Block association president Arlene Harrison discovered the third automotive intrusion on March 19, when she noticed a license plate embedded in a planter. To slow down drivers on Lexington, the park's trustees are seeking to desynchronize the light at 22nd Street and install a giant lighted arrow in front of the fence. Trustees will have to fork over up to $10,000 to fix the hole in the fence, now covered by thin wire mesh and orange tape, before the weather improves and trespassers invade the park.
Nobody is going to shed a tear over the wealthy trustees of Gramercy Park having to pay for repairs of the fence that keeps their private park off limits. But why should they have to pay for damage caused by some reckless driver? Shouldn't the motorist pay for the damage he or she caused? Moreover, why should the public realm have to be sullied by "a giant lighted arrow"? This isn't Las Vegas. It's a stately, 19th century neighborhood that is pleasant to walk through. Here is a snapshot taken today of the intersection in question (the bashed-out section of fence is just to the left of this spot):

Isn't it enough to have two traffic lights, six planters, four large yellow arrows, a sign that reads "One Way," two more signs that read "All Traffic -->," two reflective yellow diamonds and an eight-foot-high red bollard? What more do motorists need?

The sturdy wrought iron gate and the elegant lights atop it represent the genteel and quiet city that was built before the automobile. The garish yellow signs in front of the gate show how the need to cater to the worst of drivers degrates the city's public space, assaulting pedestrians with bright, IN-YOUR-FACE colors amid what would otherwise be a more tranquil setting. Just like the horn is designed to be heard by people inside a car but appears too loud to people walking down the street, signs designed to be seen by a person speeding past at 40 miles per hour appear out of place to the pedestrian. There is an enormous literature about how dependence on the car as the only method of transportation has created a miserable built environment of endless drive-thrus and strip malls. Here is an example of how the automobile demands changes in even those places built before it came into mass use. The chirping of the starlings in Gramercy Park and the laughter of voices is now drowned out by horns, car alarms and amplified music or talk radio.

It's always amazing to see how careless drivers can be, or how unconcerned they are about other people. Every day, sober drivers fail to use turn signals, absent-mindedly creep into crosswalks, park in bus stops, forget to dim their high beam headlights, forget to turn on their headlights, ignore red lights, nonchalantly throw garbage out of windows (orange peels, cigarette butts, fast food paper soft drink cups, etc.), fail to notice that red lighst have turned green, honk at the slightest provocation, knock down street signs, and crash into buildings, other cars and people causing deaths, injuries and property damage. The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles' most recent statistics indicate that there were 112,637 accidents in New York City in 2001 alone. 352 of these accidents resulted in 381 deaths — more than one car-caused death per day. 79,166 of the accidents led to 124,170 people being in jured. There were 33,119 accidents that caused property damage. Let me leave aside the air pollution, noise pollution and ever-increasing costs of road maintenance for future entries. For now, I wonder: What is the monetary cost associated with the property damage that drivers cause? How much of this cost do they pay for?
- Posted at 10:09 PM | Permalink | Comments: 1 | Post a Comment |  

good stuff.

By aaron, at 3/30/2005 11:57 PM  

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