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SELF-DRIVING CAR DEVELOPERS SHOULD PUT PEDESTRIANS FIRST

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Since march, when an autonomous vehicle killed a pedestrian in Arizona, forecasts for AVs have been decidedly less optimistic. But autonomous vehicle promoters are undeterred. AI entrepreneur Andrew Ng contends that self-driving cars will be safe for pedestrians when walkers and cyclists conform to their limitations. “What we tell people is, ‘Please be lawful and please be considerate,’” he told Bloomberg.

Has Mr Ng ever walked for as much as an hour in a city? If so, he should realize that consideration of pedestrians’ needs—and motorists’ compliance with the few laws that protect pedestrians—are so deficient that any pedestrian who values their time (as drivers do) must improvise. And in fact, such improvisation can even make pedestrians’ journeys safer.

To be fair, Mr. Ng’s mistake is a common one. From a driver’s point of view, pedestrians’ behavior may appear erratic, lawless, and even suicidal. The solution, then, is to train pedestrians to do better, or to restrict them. In actuality, most pedestrians are much smarter than the dumb systems that are intended to control them—far smarter than signals, and even smarter than self-driving cars. A pedestrian who is on the right side of the street and wants to turn left at the next intersection may cross early, at mid-block. What may appear to some as selfish and dangerous rule-breaking may actually be safer and less disruptive to vehicular traffic. In one study of pedestrians aged 65 or older, for example, researchers found that the risk of a pedestrian-motor vehicle collision was 2.1-fold greater at sites with marked crosswalks, particularly those with no traffic signal or stop sign.

In the 1970s, research teams led by William H. Whyte filmed pedestrians on busy sidewalks as they walked around New York City. Walkers filtered past each other with extraordinary efficiency, coming within inches of each other but almost never touching. Such performance requires human intelligence. No one would propose putting pedestrians on autonomous Segways as a way to keep them from colliding with each other. Either traffic would slow almost to a stop, or collisions would increase.

Autonomous vehicles are frequently touted as safer and more efficient alternatives to conventional cars. But if safety and efficiency are indeed primary values, then cities should not deter walking by making it harder, but invite more walking by making it easier. This would entail, among many other things, urging drivers to be more lawful and considerate about pedestrians.

Indeed, the success of self-driving cars depends upon a rise in walking as a practical means of getting around. AVs cannot deliver on their own promises of safety and efficiency if they deter walking. Safety matters because we care about human health. Sedentary living is already inducing health conditions such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes; public health can only worsen if an autonomous future compels people to ride in cars for every mobility need. And self-driving cars will not be more efficient if we negate their per-mile efficiency benefits by increasing the total miles each person spends in the car.

Smart traffic signals can increase streets’ vehicle capacity by shepherding cars safely through intersections without compelling them to stop. But we don’t yet know how they’d work for cyclists and pedestrians, those who make the most efficient use of street space, use the least energy, and cause the least danger to others. Either they will have to be equipped with devices that incorporate them into signal systems, or smart signal systems will have to get much better at detecting and tracking them. The social and technical complications of either alternative are substantial.

In the meantime, we have access to innumerable low-tech possibilities. Traffic calming—design features that slow vehicles down—can make select streets much safer for everyone. Planners in the Netherlands, for example, apply humans’ smartness, instead of trying to suppress it, by designating certain streets “bicycle streets”; though drivers can still use them as “guests,” they must defer to cyclists. By conventional U.S. standards, this method is considered dangerous because it depends too much on human judgment. But the traffic safety record in the Netherlands should compel us to reconsider. In 2013, there were 3.4 road traffic deaths per 100,000 people in the Netherlands; the figure for the U.S. was 10.6. Extravagant promises about the driverless future too often distract us from implementing effective, inexpensive, low-tech improvements today.

To succeed on their own terms, AV developers will have to do much better by pedestrians. Bloomberg reports that AV developers are looking into “distinctive sounds—much like the beeping noise large vehicles make when reversing—to help ensure safe interactions between humans and autonomous vehicles.” This technique, in the form of the klaxon or car horn, is well over a century old. Honking was then attacked as a public health menace. Today, such noises can only make the walking environment less inviting, relative to the quiet, climate-controlled interior of a vehicle. For pedestrians who can’t afford this alternative, walking will be less pleasant than ever.

Too often we hear extravagant promises for self-driving cars, or warnings that “the AV future is coming; we have to get ready.” But the saw does not use the carpenter; the carpenter uses the saw. AVs are a tool. We humans have to decide if and how we want to use them. Despite the public relations, AVs will not, on their own, deliver safety or efficiency. We have to put them to work for the purposes of our choosing.

Source: https://www.wired.com/story/self-driving-car-developers-should-put-pedestrians-first/

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New York went an entire weekend without a shooting or homicide for the first time in 25 years

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New York City had its first weekend without a shooting or a homicide in 25 years, the New York Police Department announced Monday.

“We went Friday, Saturday, Sunday without any shootings and homicides,” NYPD Chief James O’Neill told reporters. “That’s the first time in decades, and that’s something not just the NYPD, but all New Yorkers can be proud of.”

The last Friday-Saturday-Sunday time period during which no shootings occurred across all five of New York City’s Burroughs happened in 1993.

In 2017, New York City saw fewer than 300 killings for the entire year, the New York Post reported at the end of December, marking the fewest of those crimes in nearly 70 years.
There were 292 murders in the New York City in 2017, down from the 334 murders that occurred in 2016.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio lauded the department for that in January: “No one believed it was possible to get under 300 murders,” he said, referring to the 2017 numbers. “The NYPD reached the goal that no one thought possible.”

For 2018, the number of murders in the nation’s largest city is on the rise, The Wall Street Journal reported in June.

New York City saw 147 murders between January 1 and June 30, 2018, an 8% increase from the number of murders during the same time period last year, The Journal wrote, citing data compiled by the city.

Source: https://www.thisisinsider.com/new-york-first-weekend-without-a-shooting-in-25-years-2018-10

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Is New York City ready for the e-scooter revolution?

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The micromobility revolution that has permeated cities across the U.S. has yet to arrive in New York City, but—having conquered the West Coast through a combination of rule-breaking and eventual cooperation—electric scooter companies are now looking to make their mark in the five boroughs.

As The Verge has pointed out, there’s money to be made there; Bird, one of the leading scooter companies, has reportedly been valued at $2 billion in recent months. And New York City, with its more than 8 million residents—more than half of whom regularly use public transportation—could be a “tremendous scooter city,” according to Gil Kazimirov, the general manager of Lime, the micromobility start-up.

But before that money can pour in, there’s a skeptical populace to win over, some of whom see e-scooters on the same plane as Thanos. There are also laws that must be changed and streets that need to be made safer for the more rugged version of the push-assist scooters that Bird wants to bring to New York.

Those first two necessities are what Bird, the company most prominently trying to enter New York’s market, seem to be focusing on at the moment. The start-up, which is based in Santa Monica, has been courting politicians on both sides of the aisle, though neither Eric Ulrich (a Republican who’s pushed for unfettered competition among bike share companies) nor Robert Cornegy (a Democrat who participated in Bird’s recent Bed-Stuy demo) would comment about their feelings on e-scooters. Bird even snagged one of the city’s most prominent street safety advocates, making clear that it’s approaching New York City expansion in a responsible fashion not usually embraced by “break shit, apologize later” disruptonauts.

Bird has also tried to win over skeptics with demonstrations of how its service works—there was one in Bed-Stuy in September, and one earlier this month that was meant to show how e-scooters could be a key component of the looming L train shutdown. Bird donated scooters for a mass ride from the Myrtle-Wyckoff station to the Grand Street stop, which will be a departure point for a series of Brooklyn-to-Manhattan SBS routes. The demo offered not just a look at how the scooters work but also a proof of concept of how they could help get people around if trains are packed to the brim.

The group ride seemed to win over Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who liked his scooter enough to throw it in his SUV and show up with it at another press conference that morning in Brooklyn Heights. Before the Bird ride started, Adams told the assembled crowd in the Myrtle-Wyckoff stop’s pedestrian plaza—itself a symbol of reclaiming the streets from cars—that “too many car riders are making decisions for millions of New Yorkers who are not in vehicles. Selfishly, they think that they have to drive alone.” While Adams doesn’t have the power to vote for the impending bill to legalize e-scooters, he did at least give rhetorical support to their legalization.

That effort is being spearheaded in part by City Council member Rafael Espinal, who announced his support for scooters in a Daily News op-ed earlier this year, and is currently working with Transportation Committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez to introduce a bill legalizing them. Espinal’s interest in the scooter issue is driven not only by their potential usefulness during the L train shutdown, but also as a way to include his district (he represents parts of Bushwick, Brownsville, and Cypress Hills) in a transportation system that Citi Bike has yet to meaningfully reach.

“What I’d like to see is an expansion of modes of transportation—not only in Manhattan, but in the outer-outer-boroughs,” Espinal tells Curbed. “We have Citi Bike, but it hasn’t made its way out to East New York and other neighborhoods on the outskirts of the outer boroughs. We have to make sure this transportation is available to everyone.”

But while scooter companies can stage events and work with elected officials, the issue of safety—and aggressively redesigning the city’s streets—is what will no doubt determine how widely adopted scooters become in New York. While their top speed of 15 miles per hour make them inherently riskier than bikes, a Washington Post article about the rise in scooter-related emergency room visits notes that the number of bike lanes in Washington, D.C. was one of the reasons the city didn’t see the same rate of increases in injuries as other American cities.

Bird itself has put a huge emphasis on bike lanes, telling Curbed that “protected, well-maintained bike lanes are part of our vision for a safe future for all road users—be they on foot, bikes, or scooters.” The company has also pledged $1 per scooter per day in each city it operates in to help cities pay for more protected bike lanes, but at least in New York, opposition to bike lanes has had less to do with price and more to do with parking spots. And on that front, radical thinking seems to be in short supply.

Cornegy, whose district mostly encompasses Bed-Stuy, told Streetsblog that he would “stand up for more protected bike lanes” when he was at Bird’s Bed-Stuy event, but he was also a high-profile opponent of the Classon Avenue bike lane, which was installed in response to a cyclist’s death in 2016.

The city’s addition of bike infrastructure has not stopped opposition from community boards; new bike lanes and other improvements are still at the mercy of the right combination of political pressure. Even Adams—who’s called for something as ambitious as a Flatbush Avenue bike lane next to Prospect Park—was ambivalent about the relationship between community boards and the need to quickly shift space away from cars.

“We should never count out the voices of people,” Adams said after the Brooklyn Heights press conference. “[Community boards’] advisory status helps as we carve out bike lanes, because bike lanes are personalized to those communities. It doesn’t mean a community board should be able to have veto power if it’s unreasonable. Allow community boards to have their space to voice their concerns; but at the same time, don’t allow anybody in government to get in the way and stop progress.”

Espinal says that when it comes to New York’s existing network, “the city can be doing more to make sure that bike lanes are acceptable and not being blocked,” though said he’d rather see the results of a scooter pilot program before committing to any type of radical street redesigns.

But Curbed’s urbanism editor Alissa Walker, who’s written previously about how micromobility give cities a huge opportunity to move away from being so car-centric, said that instead of reacting once scooters are being used, street design “needs to be a part of the conversation at the same time.” Without being comfortable on the streets, people either won’t ride scooters, Walker says, or wind up taking to the sidewalks—which simply wouldn’t work in New York City.

One idea the city can embrace is instituting the Vision Zero Design Standard, a series of pedestrian, cycling, and mass transit improvements that are implemented whenever a road needs to be fixed. “It traditionally takes longer to build protected bike lanes than it does to, say, empty a truckload of scooters onto the street,” says Transportation Alternatives’ Joseph Cutrufo. “The best way to accommodate more people on bikes and scooters is to make safer street redesigns part of regular repaving projects. This way, every time a street is repaved, we have the opportunity to make our streets more accommodating for New Yorkers on two wheels, and, more to the point, to save lives.” While Cutrofo says the idea has been endorsed by a majority of members on the City Council, it hasn’t been instituted in any street repavings yet.

As a scooter agnostic/skeptic, Bird’s demonstration earlier this month certainly worked on me: The mass of riders didn’t seem to have any huge problems with Bushwick’s streets that are barely habitable to bikes in some stretches, especially the heavily-trucked and pockmarked stretch of Knickerbocker and Morgan Avenues north of Flushing Avenue. If you squinted, you could see a vision of the future where people used the scooters in peace, although they had some good fortune in clear bike lanes and a dearth of double-parked cars on side streets.

And while some might worry about scooter companies “imposing their will” on the city, the fact remains that car companies have already imposed their will on New York in a way that e-scooters could never possibly match. Besides, if you’re out on the street, you can already see the scooters are there. The same afternoon as the Bird demonstration, I saw a scooter rider salmoning on Ann Street, just blocks from City Hall. Later, I came across an e-scooter rider named Mike while I was walking down Flatbush Avenue.

“It’s convenient, you can slip between cars,” Mike said when asked what he liked about his push-assist scooter that he bought online. He also sees larger benefits for the city if it embraces the scooter revolution. “I feel like you can definitely help the environment, and even start new businesses. Cars suck, and you could open a bunch of mom and pop shops to service the scooters and sell scooters, and just help with the transportation system.”

Source: https://ny.curbed.com/2018/10/15/17969900/new-york-electric-scooters-bird-legislation-street-design

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NYC DRIVER ALLEGEDLY BEAT JEWISH MAN WALKING TO SYNAGOGUE IN ROAD RAGE INCIDENT

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A taxi driver in New York reportedly beat a 62-year-old Hasidic Jewish man on Sunday as he walked to synagogue in Brooklyn, police said.

Lipa Schwartz, 62, was walking in broad daylight on his way to synagogue in Borough Park when he was allegedly brutally attacked by a cab driver. Farrukh Afzal, 37, was driving toward 46th Street and 13th Avenue in Borough Park around 7:30 a.m. before he slammed on his brakes and jumped out of his car. He then proceeded to beat Schwartz, police said.

Surveillance video captured Afzal over the victim in the middle of the intersection while pummeling Schwartz in the head. The victim suffered a split lip, a cut ear and other injuries, according to the blog BoroPark24, which first reported the incident.

“I feared for my life,” Schwartz told the blog. “I knew it was either fight my way out of this or I might be dead.”

In an interview with WABC, Schwartz said he asked Afzal, “What did I do to you that you tried to murder me? Tell me.” Afzal did not respond.

Schwartz told WABC that he did not know why Afzal attacked him, but said he believed it was because he was Jewish. Authorities initially said hate crime charges could be filed, but the investigation led detectives to conclude the attack occurred due to a road rage incident.

Afzal’s lawyer claimed Schwartz punched the vehicle’s window as he crossed the street, prompting his client to fear for his life, the New York Post reported. The two men reportedly began yelling at each other after Afzal honked at Schwartz for walking too slowly, prosecutors said. Schwartz then punched Afzal’s car window, prompting Afzal to jump out of his car and allegedly commit the assault.

The attacker was not licensed by New York City’s Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC). The TLC did not immediately respond to Newsweek’s request for comment.

However, in a statement to WABC, the TLC said, “The driver is not licensed by the TLC, and has been summoned by the TLC in the past for unlicensed operation of an unlicensed vehicle and being an unlicensed operator.”

Afzal, from Staten Island, was arraigned on charges of second-degree attempted assault, third-degree assault, menacing and harassment. None of the charges included a hate crime component, WABC reported. He was being held in lieu of $15,000 bail.

Police said Afzal had eight prior arrests.

Source: https://www.newsweek.com/nyc-livery-driver-allegedly-beat-jewish-man-walking-synagogue-road-rage-1170952

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