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Are gun nuts and car nuts one in the same?

OPINION

‘Thoughts and prayers’ won’t stop car nuts — but new rules can

Seeing red: Authorities surveyed Ninth Street after witnesses saw a woman behind the wheel of a white Volvo, pictured with its door open, run a red light and kill two kids on Monday.
for Brooklyn Paper
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It’s time we stopped letting car owners talk about murderous drivers the same way that gun owners talk about murderers with weapons.

Follow the logic: Seconds after some gun nut kills innocent people with an AR-15, gun-rights advocates unleash their coordinated strategy: Guns, they say, are a birthright, but activists want to take them away — and besides, there’s no way to prevent crazy people with guns from killing innocents if they’re hell bent on doing it.

In the wake of Monday’s tragic death of two kids on Ninth Street in Park Slope, I’m hearing the same type of argument: Cars are a birthright, but activists want to take them away — and, besides, there’s no way to prevent crazy people with cars from killing innocents if they’re hell bent on doing it.

But none of this is true: Cars have no greater right to the roadways than any other users, and safety advocates are not calling for cars to be banned, only regulated. And it’s a flat-out fallacy that deaths by rogue drivers can’t be dramatically reduced and even stopped with aggressive redesigns of our streets.

I realized that even safety advocates had been co-opted after my own councilman, Brad Lander, told the Daily News, “No intersection design was going to stop this erratic driver from killing these kids.” Lander, who is typically a champion of street safety, later clarified his position in a Facebook post and tweets.

“I wholeheartedly support intersection redesigns & have fought for them in every corner of my district,” he posted to Twitter. “And would certainly support one at 5th/9th. But this killing appears to have been caused by a reckless driver with a driving record that suggests depraved indifferen­ce.”

To me — a cyclist who demands safer streets for all — Lander’s return to sanity was too late. The first words out of a politician’s mouth in a moment of crisis must be, “I will fix this” rather than, “Well, I’m not sure we can ever really stop a killer from killing.”

The fact is, a lot can be done. The city’s own studies show that redesigning streets to include protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands improves safety for everyone. After such a redesign a few years ago on Eighth Avenue in Manhattan, there was a 35-percent drop in injuries for all users. On Ninth Avenue, the drop in injuries was 58 percent. Traffic calming on E. 180th Street in the Bronx led to a 67-percent drop in pedestrian crashes. And better street design on Hoyt Avenue near the Triboro Bridge in Queens led to more safety for pedestrians and less congestion for drivers.

There’s always a pushback — the protected bike lane on Prospect Park West was so controversial that some former city officials sued to block it! And anti-safety activists in Eastern Queens wanted to sue DeBlasio for demanding cars slow down. Both groups of opponents were wrong. Years afterwards, statistics always bear out what the safety advocates predicted: roads get less dangerous for all users when the city adds protected bike lanes and lowers car speeds.

The gun-car parallel also came up recently when Gov. Cuomo supported congestion pricing as a way of taming Manhattan’s notorious, and productivity-destroying, traffic. Car owners in the so-called outer boroughs reacted with completely overinflated outrage: “What about the one time every four years that I have to drive into the city for a doctor’s appointment?”

That sounds like gun owners who assert that they need their weapons to overthrow a tyrannical federal government (231 years since the Constitution was ratified and … still no tyranny to overthrow).

I’m certainly not alone in calling for sanity. On Monday, Wall Street Journal writer Jason Gay joined me in frustration. “Fatalities (are) not anomalies/ don’t let politicians treat them as such,” he tweeted. “Cities must be feverishly serious about traffic calming strategies with speed limit reductions & media/pol jackassery about cyclist/ped rights can’t go unchecked. Literally life/death issue.”

And there’s no reason for delay, he added. “If the city is serious it can fix Ninth Street tonight with a combination of calming strategies that are decades old — if I hear about a study or public survey I’m going to scream.”

For me, the scream-inducing moment is when politicians — who can make the changes they say they want — offer only thoughts and prayers when the all-too-predictable fatality on our streets comes yet again after the activists had been calling for a fix for years. After Monday’s vehicular homicide, activist Doug Gordon — aka Brooklyn Spoke — posted the reaction the Department of Transportation gave him last year when he called for traffic calming on Ninth Street, where drivers frequently speed. The agency told him there was no room to make additional safety improvements. No room? The intersection of Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street feels like the plains of Montana; the open design itself invites speeding and double-parking in the bike lane.

The anti-safety backlash isn’t only happening in Brooklyn. In Queens, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer was a strong safety advocate, getting city action to finally fix the so-called Boulevard of Death with pedestrian and safety improvements. More recently, he supported the city’s redesign of Skillman and 43rd Avenues with a protected bike lane — until Queens drivers pushed back to save their parking spaces and business owners claimed they would lose revenue. Instead of standing on his principles — what’s safe for Queens Boulevard is safe for Skillman — and telling the retail community the truth that business improves when streets are safer, Van Bramer folded like a cheap suit. Makes sense, I guess: When you want to be borough president of Queens, you can’t get too close to us “anti-car activists.” Except we’re not “anti-car activists,” we’re safety advocates. At least that’s how Van Bramer saw us … until higher ambition blinded him.

So let’s not be swayed by the same arguments that the gun lobby makes: like gun nuts who kill, car nuts who kill can be stopped. Just as our society does not have to let gun owners run amok, we need not let car drivers do the same.

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at gkuntzman@cnglocal.com

Windsor Terrace resident Gersh Kuntzman has been a ubiquitous presence in local journalism for 30 years. He can be reached at gershkuntzman@gmail.com.

Updated 5:48 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Rufus Leaking from BH says:
A world without accidents. Where fruit never spoils and all the children are above average.

Dream on.
March 6, 8:07 am
Peter Engel from Fort Greene says:
Rufus,

Sure I understand...because what would your life be if you couldn't make insensitive comments about blood, guts and carnage caused by motor vehicle drivers?

So sad.
March 6, 8:48 am
Not Goish from Prospect Heights says:
So the real Goish returns. Will write for food.
March 6, 8:59 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
This is one of the best roundabout ways to describe De Blasio I've read in a while: "Car owners in the so-called outer boroughs reacted with completely overinflated outrage: “What about the one time every four years that I have to drive into the city for a doctor’s appointment?”
March 6, 10:32 am
BrooklynGersh from The WT says:
^^ To Not Goish

Damn straight! I'm hoping Vince DiMiceli buys me a burger for writing this column.
March 6, 10:39 am
ItsEasyBeingGreen from UWS says:
@Rufus Leaking: a woman with a long history of running red lights running yet another one is not an accident, it's a demonstrable pattern of dangerous behavior.

You seem to think we can't improve, so why are other cities doing better and still trying to improve themselves?

Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 population:
New York 3.49
London 1.6
Berlin 1.6
Stockholm 1.23
March 6, 11:17 am
Jesse from BedStuy says:
Just want to emphasize this: "The fact is, a lot can be done. The city’s own studies show that redesigning streets to include protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands improves safety for everyone."

Pedestrian islands reduce crossing distance and give pedestrians a refuge. This could have ended very differently if they'd been on a pedestrian island.

And no one's saying that changes can prevent every death but they are saying they can prevent SOME deaths. That might not seem like a worthwhile cause to people who "need" to park on the street. But to the victims and their families, it's everything. So, people like Rufus need to shut the ever-loving —— up.
March 6, 11:38 am
Joe from Park Slope says:
First and foremost, yesterday was a horrible tragedy. The woman behind the wheel of the car is responsible for her actions. The car did not malfunction and act on its own. If the woman has a medical condition as rumored, any driver should lose their driving privileges permanently. If her horrendous driving record is reportedly accurate, she should loss her driving privileges permanently. However, I have a feeling her driving record infractions are a result of the speed and light camera infractions which are attributed to a vehicle license plate and not her driving license record. Reckless driving infractions should have a greater consequence to drivers. Government way of consequences is penalizing with fees, surcharges and fines as its all about the money and not true consequences. The loss of driving privileges is a start. Further, any person driving with a suspended or revoked license faces 3 years mandatory jail. If said person, hurts or kills someone while driving privileges are suspended 5 years in jail, if revoked 25 year, mandatory time. Also, bikers must be held responsible to abide by the traffic rules and regulations of the roadway. All to many times bikers are reckless and not obeying the traffic rules of the roadway. Walking pedestrians also are reckless in abiding by the rules and common sense. All to many times do pedestrians walk against a light, stand out of the curb which makes it difficult for a drive to make turns as pedestrians are standing out in the street.
March 6, 11:43 am
Stanley from Park Slope says:
You want to stop all but the most reckless-running red light-type pedestrian "accidents"? Don't give cars the light to turn when pedestrians have to light to walk.
March 6, 11:59 am
BRICK from HOUSE says:
A world without stupid comments from Rufus Leaking from BH. We can dream right?
March 6, 12:22 pm
Lisa from Park Slope says:
If the reported driving record of this woman is accurate, she should have had her license taken away a long time ago. Driving is a privilege especially here in NYC. If the driver completely disregarded the red light, I fail to see how a redesign of the intersection ( with the exception of a physical barrier or gate in front of cars waiting at the red light) would have saved these poor souls. As a long-time cyclist I would like to see safer street designs, but the limitations of design are dictated by human actions. Actions such as no regard for traffic laws, but also assuming that others are going to obey the law. You never know how the other party is going act, so you must act to protect yourself. Never assume that a someone sees you,and never assume that a someone is going to stop. Equating the privilege of driving to the constitutional right to keep and bear arms is a lazy argument. In consideration to how anti-Trump this nabe is, and how he recently mused about how good idea a president for life is.( defacto dictator.) ,why would you want to outlaw types of guns so that the military or police (institutions of the government) would only have them? Laws do not stop criminals, so why would laws stop an elected leader from ignoring laws and oppressing citizens? What recourse would unarmed citizens have in the face of such tyranny, the law that just failed them? or peaceful protest?
March 6, 12:36 pm
Janet from Cobble Hill says:
That would be wonderful. It's my dream too.

BRICK from HOUSE says:
A world without stupid comments from Rufus Leaking from BH. We can dream right?
March 6, 4:09 pm
NN from Boerum Hill says:
NYPD needs to start doing a better job of enforcing the traffic laws.
March 6, 5:28 pm
Mustache Pete from Windsor Terrace says:
Good Gersh column, right on target! I hope de Blasio had a miserable workout this morning.
March 6, 5:34 pm
Jjm from Anywhere says:
Yes this is a tragic situation but you just cant punish all drivers for what a few numbskulls do. Same as with gun owners.
March 6, 10:48 pm
BrooklynGersh from The WT says:
I really just want to get back into local news again. Anyone have any leads? Seriously, this is my life's work.
March 7, 1:19 am
will write from for food says:
Hey Gersh,

Go to Gothamist, they are starting up again.
March 7, 9:18 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Gersh, I hate to brake this to you, but some of these laws will only hurt those that actually follow them. Knowing that some of them are coming from Transportation Alternatives, does make one believe that it will be profiling on all motorists especially since Paul Steely White is known for having an anti-car bias. I find it better just to go after those who are really breaking the laws here, not an entire group. As for gun control, nobody is trying to make sure nobody has a gun, just to most dangerous people won't have them especially with better background checks such as the Brady Bill, but the NRA keeps on trying to claim otherwise even though their claim has been refuted countless times over. On a side note, being an Israeli-born Jew, I'm not against a Palestinian state nor do I hate Palestinians as a whole, just those who actually do the terrorist attacks like Hamas if you know what I mean, but I don't hate every Palestinian just for their actions.
March 7, 3:54 pm
HONEY Pooter from Williamsburg says:
Says the man who never thought or prayed and doesn’t even believe in Jesus Christ! He hates Christians and wants to put us down!
March 11, 7:50 am

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