As the Corona virus pandemic slowly receded out of the collective consciousness of Gotham’s citizens, lots of issues that were put on the back burner were starting to rear their ugly heads again. The Presidential race, New York City and States fiscal issues, rising crime, the decrease in the city’s population, and more resignations from Mayor De Blasio’s staff were regular headlines in the paper and one would be hard-pressed to find any good news among the varying topics vying for front-page notoriety. In the midst of all of this was a story that seemingly came out of nowhere but was bubbling under the surface for quite some time, as it was intertwined with the ongoing FHV saga.
On the afternoon of July 18th, WCBS-TV reporter Nina Kapur was riding as a passenger on a Revel scooter that was traveling north on Franklin Ave in Greenpoint. A driver exited a parking space in front of the scooter as it swerved to avoid the car and ended up on it’s side. Both her and the still-unidentified driver were thrown onto the street and although she was taken to Bellevue Hospital, she later died from her injuries.
The level of outpouring was intense as several of her on-air colleagues wrote tearful remembrances on social media, for the 26 year-old that only recently joined the station as a reporter. Longtime Anchor Dana Tyler choked up on that Monday’s evening newscast as she reported of her passing and a memorial quickly sprung up at the site, with pink “N” and “K” balloons marking the intersection’s location. Many were touched at someone who was a rising star at the station and had a tireless work ethic, but it was shocking given how quite the city still was overall during the second half of this year. Although traffic counts in the city have been lower due to the pandemic, CitiBike and Revel usage had still been robust as the systems were still expanding outwards across the Boroughs.
From here on out, that probably won’t be true for the latter as the motorized service was temporarily banned by the city not too long after Kapur’s passing. There were other notable accidents around the time of it and videos were popping up on social media showing drivers joyriding in them and using the service in a reckless manner. Though helmets were in the back of every Revel scooter, neither Kapur nor the person driving it last month were wearing one at the time of the accident.
Ask any cabdriver whether he or she likes the proliferation of two-wheeled transportation as a way to get around New York and most of the answers will probably involve some grumbling or a four-letter word. Bicycles were around long before horseless carriages were in New York and they will probably be around long after there are flying cars in the air or motorized vehicles are banned outright. In the meantime, the bike lanes will be expanded and various companies will seek to cash in by having their products on the streets of Gotham, or by sponsoring whichever form of transportation is approved for those looking to rent their way from Point A to Point B. Regardless of what wins out, some changes will have to be made in the meantime.
While it’s not agreed upon by everyone, licenses, license plates, and a form of insurance in the user agreement would make for a much more safer, and accountable, bicycle and motorized scooter system. Those would be a big step from what’s currently in place, but having those regulations in place would improve usage, safety, and make collisions and accidents easier to process should a police report be filed. I’ve told my passengers for years that I don’t mind the bikes, skaters, and such as much as I mind the people riding them and some of their blatant disregard for traffic rules. Had a cabdriver been responsible for the death of a passenger, it’s not likely that he or she would be back out on the streets in a matter of days, or would be unidentified in media reports. Yes, driving a bigger vehicle involves more responsibility but passengers in any form of transportation need to be protected as much as possible by ensuring that those at the helm understand that it’s a privilege, and not a right, to be taking others around New York.
The other end of the story is how easily the city lets in a service that puts profits and exposure ahead of the well-being of the users. I don’t need to remind anyone how much Uber has done a number on us but it is worth noting that passengers in the back of their vehicles are much more likely to get in accidents or be assault victims at the hands of the driver, than by someone operating a yellow cab. Exposés done on Revel in the days after Kapur’s death revealed that the scooters were not properly maintained and that their approval process to operate could have been a lot more thorough. Having something that reaches 30 m.p.h. (5 m.p.h. above the citywide speed limit) and could be potentially operated by someone under the influence without a seat belt or helmet on was ultimately going to end up with an accident that was entirely preventable from the get-go.
That’s not to say that collisions don’t happen at all. Yes, the Vision Zero goals are laudable and worth striving for and yes, motorized vehicles kill more people than bikes or scooters but that doesn’t mean that one form of transportation should be held more liable than the other. Revels were not allowed to use bike lanes, highways, or crossings between Boroughs but the result of that was having many on streets without proper separated lanes or commercial traffic that used the same lanes as passenger vehicles. While many streets continued to be reconfigured for bikes, buses, or pedestrians exclusively, recent events such as Nina’s indicate that more work needs to be done if various forms of transportation are going to sharing lessening and reconfigured street space in the coming years.
Recent reports have hinted that the city’s traffic may be back at pre-Covid levels, or even above it, in the very near future. Although tens of thousands have chosen to work at home or have left the city outright, many of those who remain in Gotham have expressed a reluctance to take mass transit out of fear of catching the virus. Should that come to fruition, single-use of automobiles will only add to the gridlock and pollution that characterized traffic in New York at the height of the last bull run. If the streets become close to capacity again, look for more tragic accidents to happen, regardless of the form of transportation chosen, adherence to the rules, or operational reforms by those looking for cheaper and more mobile ways to get around town. After failing to rein in the explosive growth of new services in recent years, it would be the ultimate disservice to Nina to repeat the same mistakes the next time around.