Anatomy of a collision: a convergence of impatience

Yesterday was my blog’s second birthday! Woohoo! At least I remembered this one.

I had grand plans to write some sort of introspective retrospective on what I’ve learned over the past two years, and how my blog has grown (or perhaps just meandered?) since that fateful day I cut up a bunch of index cards and threw them into a hat and pulled one out.

But first, I had plans to meet a friend at Prospect Perk a few blocks from my apartment, just across Flatbush Avenue on Sterling Place in Prospect Heights. As I crossed said thoroughfare, I took note of the traffic issues then occurring, and of course offered my unsolicited opinion on Twitter.

I actually really like this intersection. In 2012, DOT installed some of the biggest neckdowns in the city on two corners, returning a huge amount of space to pedestrians. Now, the intersection looks something like this:

Flatbush Avenue Sterling Place intersection

Note: this is not a SimCity-style perspective; the streets hit each other at a strange angle.

I had arrived a few minutes early, and as I waited, I watched the box-blocking continue for a few light cycles. On perhaps the fifth green light for the one-way Sterling Place, the lead vehicle wanted to go straight but could not, owing to the impatience of several southbound Flatbush drivers.

On his right was a cyclist, also looking to continue on Sterling Place; behind him was a dollar van aiming to turn right. Within milliseconds, the van’s captain was on his multi-tone horn, signaling his discontent with the delay.

Flatbush Avenue Sterling Place lineup

A few seconds after the light turned green, the lead vehicle had inched his way into Flatbush, but decided to hold his position until the box-blockers could clear some space.

This is where things got ugly. The cyclist continued through, cautiously. The lead vehicle pulled up a bit, trying to allow the van to turn behind him. But in the meantime, the van’s driver laid on the gas, swerving to the car’s left and cutting in front of him in an attempt to head north.

There’s nothing scarier than seeing a large vehicle wobble due to the sheer physics of making a sudden change in direction like this – until, of course, you hear the crunch of metal on metal, fender hitting bicycle.

Flatbush Avenue Sterling Place collision

Owing to several drivers’ passive impatience (what purpose is there to blocking the box?) and to the “expert skills” of another, an innocent cyclist was down a frame. She’s lucky it wasn’t much more – and through no fault of her own, of course.

Some words were exchanged, and the van pulled over. Here’s the cyclist reviewing the damage, and probably counting her stars.

Flatbush Avenue Sterling Place van bicyclist

This NYPD truck was stationed in the crosswalk, and its occupants saw the whole thing. One came over and spoke with the van’s driver, and (I believe) gave him a ticket. I suppose this is one instance when I’m ok with a driverless vehicle parked in the middle of the street.

Flatbush Avenue Sterling Place NYPD truck

Again, had this taken a turn for the worse, what would have been the story? Would the press have covered it as an “accident”?

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3 Responses to Anatomy of a collision: a convergence of impatience

  1. Great piece, Keith, thank you.

    There are so many things wrong this picture it’s hard to know where to start.

    My favorite starting point would be for NYPD to launch much more serious traffic enforcement, at zero cost to the city. The new traffic enforcers would be paid for completely by the additional ticket revenue they bring in to the city.

    If NYC became known as a place with zero tolerance for traffic violations such as blocking the box, the benefits are clear — “accidents” such as these would become less common.

    Could there be any downsides? Certainly everyone who drives, especially those who are not so careful, would have a painful and expensive adjustment period. Perhaps some who rely on their cars to make a living would have their livelihood threatened by overzealous enforcement.

    Once drivers have learned to stop casually breaking the law, would we be happier for the change?

    • Keith Williams says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, David. There would be a period of discomfort – probably a few months – then people would adapt to the change. Similar to what happened with the backlash to Citi Bike.

  2. Harley N says:

    Excellent reconstruction and evaluation of events. Most drivers are so self absorbed they could care less about anyone or anything around them. When you think of “blind spots”, keep in mind that anything outside of the windshield is a blind spot for too many folks. However, there are instances where drivers are “tricked” into getting stuck in an intersection. No excuse, but it happens.
    Make manual steering and transmissions the only option and you will rid the streets of 80% of drivers. The rest will actually have to DRIVE.

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