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Making Our Streets Safer for Pedestrians

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December 7, 2015

by Lionel Beehner

Guest Commentary

The car entered the crosswalk, oblivious to me and the stroller full of my two toddlers I was pushing. It was the corner of Franklin Street and Route 9 – right next to a school, of all places. The driver – a blonde woman in her 40s – struck us head-on. Then she did the unthinkable: She peeled away, looking more annoyed than concerned that she had just hit us. We were a mere road bump on her way to work. Were it not for the remarkably sturdy stroller, my one-year-old sitting in the front would very well have been in the hospital. Or worse.

Sad to say but Tarrytown – its pedestrians, its cyclists – is losing the fight against cars. What all the magazine articles proclaiming this town to be one of America’s nicest places to live fail to mention is that the town steeply sloping down toward the Hudson River is literally an off-ramp for cars zooming to and from homes and work.

Pedestrians are second-class citizens rarely if ever afforded the right of way, even in crosswalks. In some ways, crosswalks are the most dangerous places in town to stand or walk because they create the illusion of safety, when drivers in a hurry largely ignore them and their occupants.

It’s time to take our town back. The long line of daily traffic backed up along Rt. 9 speaks to the town’s recent surge in popularity among ex-Brooklynites – full disclosure: My wife and I are recent transplants from New York City – and other young people fleeing the grime, high taxes, and expensive schools of most cities. I used to nightly bike around Manhattan with one of my toddlers perched on the back of my bike. I never once had so much as a run-in with a driver. Yet in Tarrytown – peaceful, bucolic Tarrytown  – drivers assume a level of hegemony, a sense of ownership of our city streets, where stop signs have become optional or de facto yield signs, and cross-walks are bulls-eyes for car bumpers.

This is insane. We shouldn’t have to wait until tragedy strikes to make Tarrytown more walkable and to calm the speed of vehicular traffic. In New York City, there have been a series of marches and programs like the mayor’s Vision Zero. In Tarrytown, there is a shrugging silence, a sense of defeatism that cars have and will always control the roads here.

I suggest the following:

  • All crosswalks must have signage in the middle of the road reminding drivers to yield to pedestrians.
  • Speed bumps or humps should be installed along any thru-streets that span upward from the train station (Full NIMBY disclosure: I live on one of these streets).
  • The speed limit near all schools should be lowered and enforced all day long – traffic police work the major intersections only until around 8 in the morning. That is not enough, as the rush hour traffic lasts well past 9am.
  • Police should hand out more speeding and traffic violation tickets.
  • Install security cameras at all stop lights.
  • Locals should shame drivers speeding like Formula One racers through their neighborhoods. Post signs with artwork from your kids, imploring them to slow down. Leave your cars parked on the street. (My wife and I even joked to install some kind of bot on the popular Waze App to tell it there is a cop on our street at all times).

The French philosopher Michel Foucault describes a kind of panopticon, whereby people (in his case, penitentiary inmates) do not know if they are being watched and so they internalize accepted norms of behavior. Drivers in Tarrytown need to do likewise. There are literally dozens of families on my immediate block with young toddlers. I don’t want one of them to be struck by an oncoming car. My kids and I were lucky to escape a hit-and-run with barely a dent on the stroller. The next accident, the victims may not be so lucky.

Lionel Beehner is an instructor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He lives in Tarrytown with his wife and two toddlers.  

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