Sunday, May 3, 2015

Traffic Lights Tell It All

Neighborhoods in some parts of New York City and other major cities have extremely wide expanses of roadways. While these may seem to be symbols of how important they are to traffic flow (with a nod to Robert Moses in NYC, I suppose), they are also something else. They cut across communities where those on foot must try to run to the islands of safety in the middle, wait for a lull in the cars or a light change again, and then scurry to safety.

One roadway in a middle-class community in NYC, Queens Boulevard, has been deemed The Boulevard of Death or The Boulevard of Broken Bones. The boulevard runs through one of the major shopping centers in the borough and is the intersection for major subways lines and overburdened rail stations. As the borough experiences a new resurgence of growth, thanks to high rents in Manhattan and Brooklyn, so will it see many more pedestrians on the street.

Twelve lanes of traffic in many sections prevent easily crossing Queens Boulevard for even the most fleet of foot. Consider how the elderly in this area anticipate a crossing of this roadway. Hearts must begin racing at just the thought and then the true racing begins as they push their grocery carts or walkers to reach the other side. Too many never make it. Actually, it was supposed to be a freeway but WWII interfered with the plan. So, between 2003 and 2013, 36 deaths were reported on the boulevard statistics.

Traffic lights have been changed so that a few more seconds are provided for the dash across the huge expanse. The notoriety of the roadway, however, has given it a place in rough-and-tumble video games like Grand Theft Auto IV. Small shrines of plastic flowers or crosses can be found occasionally to mark someone unsuccessful run to the far side. Yes, they went to a far side, but not the one they have hoped for.

The small memorials are quickly scooped up lest they display a lack of government involvement in pedestrian safety. Doesn't look good for tourists, either or persons considering moving to the area. Imagine if you had a child who had to cross that road. You would shudder each time they ventured there or you would forbid them to cross without a vigilant adult. Even an adult is no guarantee they'll make it safely to one of the islands and complete the crossing in one piece.

But traffic lights stand for something else, too, and not only on Queens Boulevard. Too frequently much-needed lights are not installed in unsafe areas. Less affluent areas may have fewer than needed. What prompts the lights to be brought in? Think about it for a moment. The question is simple: How many kids or adults have to be killed or maimed by speeding cars before a light is installed? It's certainly no problem hooking up to the incredible grid that snakes beneath the asphalt so that shouldn't even be a consideration here.

How much is a life worth as opposed to the cost of a traffic light? Are traffic lights really, really expensive, say millions of dollars? Or do we devalue life in specific areas of this great city and wait for a lawsuit to spring into action? Anyone seeing my question would probably explode into paroxysms of anger at the thought of a suggestion of such callousness on my part. Pardon me, but it's not me being callous. Too often people or kids are hit by cars and the cases are cataloged in media stories time and time again and no action is taken.  I know, personally, of a grandmother who was trying to cross one of these intersections and she was hit by a car so hard that she was literally lifted out of her shoes. Yes, she died.

Concerned citizens (aka concerned mothers) shouldn't have to march with baby carriages, block interactions and try to rile up the media and everyone else to achieve safe crossings for all. When you consider that some of these roadways are the equivalent of speedways for reckless drivers, no one who is a thinking person can expect anything but tragedy to be the result. In some areas, the kids have to walk in the roadway because sidewalks are either missing or torn up.

Who is doing the inspections of the roadways? Yes, the infrastructure of major cities is in appalling condition and getting worse. A young couple was killed last week by a chunk of an overpass that fell into their car. Should we accept this in a time of serious unemployment where many could be helped to regain their dignity and provide safety for all?

Ah, but the end is nigh, dear readers because we've now been told that in 2018 The Boulevard of Death will be improved and made safer. Just how they'll do this hasn't been fully outlined. Okay, so you're on the job with Queens Boulevard, now how about Crossbay Boulevard and the raceway that has proven to be for people living in the near-beach communities? Will that receive some added attention?

Budget cuts always seem to enter into these good plans, don't they? Sort of like the current suicide hot line in NYC that the mayor's wife has been promoting while the mayor just recently cut the funding. Good intentions there, but someone didn't get the message about retaining funding, right? How did that happen with the two involved individuals engaging in nightly pillow talk? They don't talk? Who knows.

And, while I'm at it, how does the "Broken Windows" community policing program fit into it all? If we are concerned with maintaining lawfulness, shouldn't this extend to ticketing speeders, people who run red lights and fail to give way to pedestrians crossing the street? Isn't this part of the idea or are we only concerned with how property looks and how one act can theoretically bring on a barrage of lawlessness?

No, it's not such a stretch. A roadway where drivers repeatedly drive 5, 10, 15, 20 or more miles per hour over the speed limit with impunity is just as good a sign of disrespect for the law as a building left with broken windows. Stop looking up and start looking down to street level.

Should we turn that famous reminder, "Caveat emptor" (Buyer beware) into "Pedestrian beware?" I recall seeing a sign on a roadway fence in California that ran across a stretch of undeveloped land. It read, "Beware! You are about to enter the most dangerous area in the United States, the state highway system." Really, folks, it's not the highway system necessarily that's so dangerous.

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