An April 9 report on WNYC Radio informs us that last year, 21 bicyclists were killed in vehicle crashes in New York City—but only two drivers were arrested. Local district attorneys, when pressed to cite convictions for cyclist deaths, gripe about how cyclists and their advocates don’t understand how tough it is to call a traffic crash a crime. The most maddening quote:
“We as a society have chosen to drive these big cars,” said Joe McCormack, an assistant District Attorney for the Bronx whose job it is to prosecute traffic crimes. “And we also as a society have chosen not to criminalize every single small mistake that just has a dramatic consequence because you’re driving a car.”
Excuse us? Certainly, a refreshingly blatant admission that cyclists’ lives are cheap as a matter of official policy. One reader commented:
“Society” has chosen not to prosecute traffic fatalities as crimes? Since when did “society” decide laws? “Society” has chosen to use a lot of drugs but that hasn’t kept thousands and thousands from going to jail. This “society” argument is baloney.
True enough, but it is actually much worse than that. “Society” has “chosen” nothing. The decision to start producing and aggressively marketing gas-guzzling death machines (“SUVs”) was made in corporate board rooms in Detroit and Yokohama. Long before that, the decision to make New York and other US cities heavily car-dependent was literally taken in a conspiracy among General Motors and allied companies, which bought up trolley lines around the country only to dismantle them. In New York, they were dealt a big hand by notoriously hubristic development czar Robert Moses, who fetishized neighborhood-crushing highway construction. “Society” has decided that big cars should be careening recklessly across a landscape of endless asphalt and that cyclists’ lives are dirt cheap? The hell!
Meanwhile in San Francisco, a bicyclist could face vehicular manslaughter charges for plowing into a pedestrian in the Castro district, the Chronicle informs us April 6. The case has apparently sparked a big anti-bicycle backlash in the Bay Area. Now, cyclists who plow into pedestrians are merely emulating the car culture that cyclists should be the alternative to. We aren’t arguing that this jerk shouldn’t face prosecution. But, as one of our readers in the Bay Area wrote in bringing this case to our attention:
Background numbers are what you’d expect. This is the second cyclist-kills-ped crash in the past year or so, but those are the only two anyone can remember for at least five years. Cars and buses killed 17 peds last year [in San Francisco]. They hit 800 peds a year (plus cyclists and other vehicles). San Francisco ped fatality rate is around 2.5 per hundred thousand. Relatively few drivers are even cited for “accidents” that injure or kill peds, felony charges are vanishingly rare, sentences are commensurate with society’s deference to the private automobile: days in jail (maybe), moderate fines, community service, probation.
To cause this much outrage in the local press with a car, you’d have to kill a dozen people at the foot of Market Street, during rush hour, driving naked and waving a machete out the window.
The uproar here is a striking reminder of the fact that there is, as there has always been, a fairly large segment of the American population that absolutely hates adults on bicycles, hates us as intensely as blacks and migrants and poor people and gays and Christians and Muslims and Jews are hated by some—hates us as Other.
If such words come from a reader in the Bay Area, how much truer are they in New York?