When Crossing the Street Means "Assuming Risk"

Photo taken in Queens, NY, by Rachel Quednau

Photo taken in Queens, NY, by Rachel Quednau

Streetsblog shared a truly awful story last week about a New York City police officer who struck and killed a local Spanish teacher with his vehicle. The teacher, Felix Coss, was crossing Broadway in Brooklyn on a green light (during daylight hours), when suddenly a police officer driving an NYPD van turned left and hit the man. He died soon after in the hospital.

As if this story weren't horrific enough, the New York Police Department is currently fighting a lawsuit from Mr. Coss's family with the argument that: “No criminality and no traffic-law violations are suspected," according to the NY Post. Furthermore, the NYPD is also arguing, "Plaintiff(s) voluntarily performed and engaged in the alleged activity and assumed the risk of the injuries and/or damages claimed… Plaintiff(s)’ implied assumption of risk caused or contributed, in whole or in part [sic] to his/her/their injuries."

To put that argument in plain language: In spite of the fact that Mr. Coss had a green light and the right of way as a pedestrian crossing an intersection, his death at the hands of the driver of a large metal vehicle (who, by the way, is a member of law enforcement) is his fault. By crossing the street, Felix Coss risked and lost his life.

It's time for a change in the way we respond to these pedestrian deaths. No amount of fancy signage, lighting or following elaborate traffic laws--all of which are often proposed to increase pedestrian safety--would have saved Mr. Coss. He had all of that and he was still killed. Decreasing speeds on our streets through design and increasing awareness of pedestrians is the only thing that will protect those walking or wheeling through an intersection. Read more about our #SlowtheCars campaign here.

A city with as many pedestrian as New York should take their safety more seriously. The dirty truth about New York City is that, while it has many commendable pedestrian amenities like wide sidewalks, parklets, and even pedestrian-only streets, it also has overly-wide streets in many of its neighborhoods which induce fast driving.  It also has notoriously negligent cops. As Streetsblog reports:

NYPD has a history of mistreating victims of police-involved traffic crashes. The department keeps a tight lid on information related to crashes that involve police personnel, going so far as to withhold data from other city agencies, a policy that has not changed since Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the Vision Zero initiative in 2014.

 Read the whole story on Streetsblog.

More from our #SlowtheCars Campaign