November 2015

Against Punitive Approaches to Safer Streets

Yesterday, on Halloween, a driver killed three people and injured four on a sidewalk in The Bronx. This morning, across New York City many streets were free of automobiles. Public space usually reserved solely for cars and trucks became dedicated to runners in the Marathon, spectators, and anyone who wanted to enjoy a bit of the fleeting car-free utopia on foot, bicycle, skateboard, or whatever. The contrast is stark. Not only are NYC streets given over to private vehicles almost all of the time, when a driver rampages onto a sidewalk, on the day when children are most likely to be frolicking on sidewalks and streets, the city seems to give a collective shrug—despite waking up to the pacific, friendly experience of today’s utterly different streetscape.

Advocates for safe streets rightly insist that deaths like yesterday’s are preventable, not inevitable. (So too can we fix the very dangerous situations of aggressive and irresponsible driving witnessed daily on city streets that don’t lead to death or injury.) Advocates also recognize that such deaths signal or portend the failure of the efforts on the part of the Mayor’s office and the Department of Transportation (DOT) to make streets safer, whether as “Vision Zero” or in the more diffuse and myriad forms that have proliferated since Janette Sadik-Khan began her six years heading the DOT in 2007. For many advocates of safe streets, however, this failure also signals a need for a punitive, police-led effort in preventing such vehicular violence. Here is where I part ways with (some of) my fellow advocates for safe streets. The carceral state is no answer.

© 2017 Stuart Schrader