25

Handed out at my garage

Handed out at my garage

 

“So how do you feel about the change in the speed limit next week?”

“No comment.”

It was exactly a month and a day ago that the speed limit in New York City was dropped to 25 M.P.H. for the first time in over two generations. For those of of us who were following the proposed change, it came as little surprise as the State Legislature passed the resolution before it broke for the summer and the City Council followed suit shortly afterward. With much fanfare and ballyhoo, there was a massive ad campaign notifying drivers of the drop, as well as signs located at all of the major entrances into Manhattan.

At first, it was something that was at the forefront of my mind. Would there be a ticket blitz? Would the traffic lights be re-timed in accordance with the drop? Would there be an increase in congestion to go along with the slower flow of vehicle speed? So far, there hasn’t been any sign of that as the recent foul weather and Grand Jury protests have done more to slow things down than any change to an existing law could ever do.

That doesn’t mean that the battle is over yet, however. The changing of the default speed limit has come along with the re-configuration of several key intersections, the renewal of the push to ban horse-drawn carriages from city streets, and an expansion of the bike share program that city sponsors. Should all of these proposals come to fruition, they will continue the assault on blue-collar vehicle drivers that was started under the Bloomberg administration, with further changes still likely next year and beyond.

As I’ve stated before, all of this ultimately ties into the Vision Zero initiative, although some changes aren’t directly related to any particular aspect of it. I have to remind my passengers often that the term “traffic-calming” is the buzzworthy term that describes the idea behind the changes is, as many of them are unfamiliar with what the city is accomplishing by remaking the streets and the way people move about them. Much as the circuitry in my brain has been hardwired to think and progress in a certain manner, so is the way I move from Point A to Point B as I take my fares to their particular destinations. A brain is much easier to reset than any street however, no matter how good the intentions by the DOT may be.

Drive 25

Drive 25

 

 

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Zero Tolerance

Safe Driver Pledge

Safe Driver Pledge

 

Vision Zero came a bit closer to reality this week when the City Council passed 11 bills and resolutions aimed at forwarding the Mayor’s ambitious traffic-calming agenda. No longer will it be an idea aimed at lowering traffic accident and fatalities, but it will actually be taking root in the physical design of roads, plazas, and enforcement, with the intent on lowering the amount of deaths on New York’s streets down to a goal of none.

While this is quite an ambitious goal, much of it’s implementation remains to be seen. So far, there has been a crackdown on speeding in the Five Boroughs, a re-timing of the traffic lights on Atlantic Ave. to coincide with the lowering of its speed limit to 25 M.P.H., and the retooling of accident-prone intersections like Broadway and 96 St. in Manhattan. While this is good news, much of the agenda is unfairly targeting those in the business that I currently earn my vocation in.

I won’t lie – we are to blame for some of the discontent that people feel towards motorized vehicles in New York. I don’t think that any cabdriver that strikes and maims a pedestrian should be allowed to drive for a living again and that a fair number of us give everyone in my profession a bad name. With that being said, I do think that we are still be unfairly targeted. Jaywalkers? They don’t get tickets. MTA Buses? I see them blow lights all the time. Sanitation trucks? Ditto for them as well and while emergency vehicles need to speed to get to where they’re going, some of their tactics are a lot more dangerous that I would have been led to believe before I worked into the wee hours 4 nights a week.

My point? If this is going to be shared sacrifice, then let’s see everyone chip in together. Bikers are still getting away with riding against the flow of traffic, as many of the offenders don’t have the right head or body gear on in case of accidental contact with a larger vehicle. Bus lanes are fine as long as the public at large realizes that Taxis are being told to stay out of them at nearly all costs (which is fine until someone wants to get off on the right side of 1 or Madison Ave’s), and no one gets a free pass to recklessly speed as they please; whether that would be the Mayor’s entourage or the juvenile whizzing up the FDR at 4 in the morning on a Saturday night before shattering his ride into a thousand pieces.

There are so many issues in New York of greater importance right now and like the proposed ban on carriage horses, this one is easy to rally around since opposing it makes a person seem in favor of the old and reckless streets of yesteryear. Once the schools perform up to par, housing is accessible to all classes, transit fares are held in check, taxes and utility rates increase slower than the rate of inflation, and people are coming off of the public-assistance rolls instead of onto them, then quality-of-life issues can more up to the front burner.

One death on the streets of New York is too many but so is one at the hands of gangs, cops, unsafe buildings, guns, and other factors that are magnified in a place of 8 million people. If the people truly want streets to be completely safe at any cost, they then should be prepared to realize that the price may be just a bit too high to bear. Zero tolerance of any evil, wrongdoing, or negative externality may look great on paper but so did communism and socialism. Utopia’s never work out as planned but *someone* has to pay the price to an ever-increasing cost of achieving perfection while the attempt to reach that status is in progress.

Even with a 2/3 reduction in murders since the height of the crack epidemic in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s, some people feel that there are still too many citizens who die at the hands of violence every year. It’s been so long that many have forgotten how things used to be and only remember the last 5 or so years. Ditto for fuel efficiency of cars and industrial buildings, urban blight, and maintenance on parks, bridges, and subways. There will always be room for improvement and even in my line of work, I always push myself to learn something new every day about the city and ways to get around it. What I need to remember is that most of us have come a long way in our respective fields and lives and though perfection is worth striving for, it will always remain elusive and just beyond reach.

Bill of Rights (for cabbies)

Bill of Rights (for cabbies)

Speed Limits

City Limit - Greenpoint

City Speed Limit – Greenpoint

 

It was with great fanfare recently that Mayor De Blasio announced his “Vision Zero” initiative. Given the rash of pedestrian fatalities in the 5 Boroughs so far this year, it was only a matter of time before Hizzoner found a cause that everyone could rally around. With his popularity taking a hit after the Charter Schools, nepotism, and snow removal controversies this past winter, continuing the trend of pedestrian safety that was started by his predecessor was certainly a smart thing to do. Whether it’s a policy that’s actually worthy following is another matter altogether.

For the record, I have stated online and to my passengers that 30 is where the speed limit should be.

No higher, and certainly no lower.

No one would argue for the former but plenty of people can’t wait to put the proverbial (and literal) brakes on motorized vehicles in New York and lower it as fast as possible. How many deaths is too many? One is, and we certainly have more than that annually. While I don’t feel that blood should be spilled due the raging nature of those who treat thoroughfares as urban highways, the issues is much deeper than just slowing everyone down for the sake of it.

The other day, a bunch of guys in my garage were talking about this. They felt that all bets would be off once it’s down to 25 M.P.H.,. Why not 20? 15? Heck, let’s just go along with the plan and shut the meter off when the Taxi goes over the speed limit. If we ever get to that point, I can guarantee you that a lot of us would get up and call it quits before proceeding to look for work in other fields.

Like virtually every other aspect of civic life, there are already too many laws on the books. That’s not enough for everyone who comes into office looking to make his or her mark, however. Existing laws only serve to move the equilibrium. Crime’s too high? Make them stricter. Once the crime rate goes down, the noose has to tighten a bit more, and the cycle continues. The only question is where does it stop, since common sense never plays into whether the existing rules and regulations are readily enforceable.

Take a good look at the cars on the FDR during the overnight hours, the Mayor’s cavalcade burning rubber through Queens, or any New Yorker in a rush to get to Penn or Grand Central right after work. All of them are in a big hurry to get to where they’re going, limits be damned. Of course, none of them will be targeted under a crackdown in the name of pushing the fatality rate even lower. If not them, then who?

I don’t think I even have to say it.

We’ve endured roller-coaster gas prices, higher lease fees, a six-cent health surcharge, the dispatchers at JFK treating us like the shit that we endure from them, and more aggressive “enforcement” on account of the NYPD in recent years. Although we have so much to give to New York, in terms of value, revenue, and positive impressions, we are not a golden goose that can be raided over and over again at will. If the Mayor wants to cut the number of deaths on the street to zero, everyone’s going to have to contribute. That includes the jaywalkers, livery cabs, buses, speeders, bicyclists, drunk drivers, the MTA, and motorists with suspended licenses. As a group, the Taxi drivers have the best record of any subset of drivers in Gotham but none of the others pull in the bucks where we do and if you’re going to figure out what’s first in the line of fire, the old adage applies here once again:

Follow the money.

For now, we still go. Any change in the speed limit would have to go through the State Legislature and that doesn’t look like it’s happening anytime soon. After that, the traffic lights would have to be re-timed and hordes of signs such as the one pictured above would have to be taken down and replaced as well. While I think that improvements could be further made to the flow of vehicles and certain intersections in the city, a goal of zero deaths by collisions is impossible to achieve. The day that getting into an accident becomes illegal by penalty under law is the day I take my hack license out of the holder at the end of my shift for the last time.

And that’s when we’ve truly hit absolute zero.