Pedestrian Safety Tips & Anti-Pricing Talking Points From AAA

AAA.jpgCar & Travel magazine is published by the Automobile Club of New York, also known as AAA. In addition to being the friendly guys who schlep out at a moment’s notice to tow your broken-down car, the Automobile Club has, over the course of decades, done everything in its power to ensure that nothing like congestion pricing will ever be implemented in New York City. They even opposed park-o-meters when they were first introduced in the 1930’s.

This month’s issue of Car & Travel, sent to New York area AAA members for free, offers two must-read articles. First there’s the cover story, "6 Big Myths About Pedestrian Safety." It leads with this: "People who tout walking as a healthy activity have obviously never lived in New York." Only three other states, car-worshipping California, Florida and Texas, have higher annual pedestrian death and injury tolls. For the Automobile Club of New York, the inside of a car is the safest, healthiest place to be. Never mind that New York state might have lots of pedestrian injuries and fatalities because it happens to have a city in it with more walkers than any other place in North America.

The article goes on to claim that "All things considered, drivers and pedestrians share blame pretty much equally" when pedestrians are run over, and suggests that the next time you plan to go for a walk around the block, "Experts recommend carrying a flashlight and wearing reflective or retroreflective clothing." And don’t forget to wave your hands in the air as you cross the street, kids!

But the real must-read in this month’s Car & Travel is the lead editorial, "Paying to Park on Your Own Street." Considering that the Automobile Club is the heavy-weight of anti-congestion pricing lobbying groups, the article provides some valuable insight into traffic-relief opponents’ communication strategy for the coming months:

1. Appear reasonable and open-minded.
As we’ve seen with various legislators, the editorial doesn’t directly come out against congestion pricing. Instead it "raises concerns" and focuses on "unanswered questions" and suggest that there is a "lack of detail in the Mayor’s plan."

2. Turn the issue into Manhattan vs. Everyone Else.

Whatever your opinion about the need for congestion pricing, the Automobile Club writes, "the plan raises concerns for residents just outside the pricing zone." The main concern? Congestion pricing will increase traffic on alternate routes and turn bordering neighborhoods into "vast parking lots as drivers try to avoid the pricing zone." There is, of course, no mention that in study after study "there continues to be no evidence of adverse traffic impacts on roads surrounding the charging zone" in London.

3. Play the "class card."

Not surprisingly, Manhattan vs. Everyone Else quickly evolves into class warfare. The Automobile Club wonders aloud: Will congestion pricing limit "a nonresident’s ability to visit certain, perhaps, more affluent, neighborhoods?" Never mind that only 14% of trips to the Central Business District are done by car, that 78% of Manhattan households don’t own a vehicle, and that those who do own cars in and around New York City tend to have significantly more income than those who do not.

4. Frame congestion pricing as a "privatization" scheme.

Not only are wealthy, elite Manhattanites and their Republican mayor trying to prevent the rest of us from visiting their neighborhoods, they’re trying to "privatize" public streets.

5. Focus on parking

Perhaps most notable, this editorial’s congestion pricing critique focuses almost entirely on parking. PlaNYC authorizes the possible establishment of residential parking permit zones to help ensure that neighborhoods near transit hubs don’t become the "vast parking lots" noted above. Yet, the editorial suggests that this "cure could be worse than the disease" by "unfairly excluding nonresidents who work, shop, dine, attend school or have other legitimate reasons for parking in the area." Here’s the kicker:

Before our elected officials toss out the "public" in our public streets, they should think carefully about the effect this "Balkanization" of neighborhoods may have on our freedom of movement and the economic viability of neighborhood merchants.

As we’ve seen here on Streetsblog, parking is the flashpoint of so many neighborhood-level Livable Streets battles. Parking space — or a lack thereof — is the never-ending obsession of Community Boards and neighborhood groups. If anyone knows that, it’s the Automobile Club of New York.

Addendum: While you’re enjoying this month’s Car & Travel check out the article suggesting Central Park as a motoring destination. Thanks to the genius of Olmstead and Vaux’s transverse Drives, the Automobile Club writes, "the traffic never intrudes." Thanks also to Transportation Alternatives’ decades-long Car-Free Central Park campaign that is actually almost true.

24 thoughts on Pedestrian Safety Tips & Anti-Pricing Talking Points From AAA

  1. Incisive post, Aaron. The AAA has a long history of being far to the right of their membership. apparently the AAA leadership will only give up their free motoring when it is pried from the fat, anti pedestrian hands.

    this from a previous issue of T.A. mag:

    Using the weight of its 43 million members – most of which are blissfully unaware that they have joined an anti-environmental lobby – as a cudgel, AAA has tried to stop legislation to limit smog and soot (1997); require vapor traps in gas tanks (1989); and encourage tailpipes that spew less carbon dioxide and ozone (last year). When the 1990 Clean Air Act was before Congress, the group’s government and public affairs office bleated that the bill would “threaten the personal mobility of millions of Americans”.

  2. The biggest myth of pedestrian safety is that if you’re vigilant, observant and agile, you’ll be safe from being hit by a car.

    For every responsible pedestrian, there’s a distracted, ill-trained, drunk or aggressive car driver (and it’s bumper has your name on it!)

    This “6 big myths” article is the best argument for an outright ban on automobiles in Manhattan I’ve seen in a long time.

  3. Also from that article: For example, how will a parking-permit system avoid unfairly excluding nonresidents who work, shop, dine, attend school or have other legitimate reasons for parking in the area?

    Ridiculous. I’ve lived in Baltimore and Boston, both of which are cities that had resident permit parking systems. In fact, I’ve long been shocked that NYC doesn’t already have it, since it’s so common everywhere (of course, NYC also felt the need to pilot those walk signs that count down rather than just implement them, because just because it works in the rest of the USA doesn’t mean it’ll work in NYC…) Not that I really think this is much of an issue myself, but just look at any other American city: there are many ways to implement a non-resident parking plan. This is a non-objection.

    Let’s say it once again: almost no one needs to drive into Manhattan. It’s going to be a lot safer, cleaner, and more pleasant for everyone if they just get over their fear of public transportation and get on the subway.

  4. Never mind that almost everyone currently living, working and visiting those more affluent neighborhoods use mass transit.

    Do you have numbers to back up that statement?

  5. Yeah, “almost everyone” is sloppy. I didn’t have the numbers at my fingertips and was rushing to get this published. I’ll dig ’em up and post the census and dmv numbers as soon as I can.

  6. So let me get this straight: The only states that have more _pedestrian fatalities_ than New York are the ones that have more _people_ than New York. Hmm, I wonder if there’s any sort of relationship between number of people in a state and the number of people in a state hit by cars.

    Wait a minute, New York is the third most populous state and the fourth in terms of ped fatalities. And we have more pedestrians per capita than those other big, auto-dependent states. So even though Florida has fewer people it has more people hit by cars.

    This argument by the AAA is so amazingly weak that it is actually disingenuous to print it as if it were some sort of academically rigorous, researched argument.

    “People who tout the safety of walking have obviously never lived in New York.”


  7. I wrote the rather lame sentence, “almost everyone currently living, working and visiting those more affluent neighborhoods [in Manhattan] use mass transit.” Here are some stats to back that up:

    – 14% of trips to the Central Business District are by car, 42% transit and 38% foot.

    According to 2000 U.S. Census data 54% of NYC households do not own or lease a motor vehicle. Broken down by borough:

    – Manhattan: 78% of households do not have a vehicle.
    – Bronx: 60% are car free
    – Brooklyn: 54% are car free
    – Only in Queens and Staten Island do more households have more cars than not: 34% and 20%

    Car ownership per 1000 residents:

    – U.S. as a whole: 750
    – Paris: 383
    – London: 356
    – Copenhagen: 225
    – NYC: 210

    Thanks to Paul White at T.A. for compiling this data.

  8. Car ownership per 1000 residents:

    Copenhagen: 225
    New York: 210
    London: 356
    Paris: 383
    US as a whole : 750

    This is simply astounding. New York has fewer cars per person than bike-land Copenhagen, congestion-pricing-land London, and freedom-bike-land Paris. Meanwhile, putting in a bike lane in New York gets huge opposition because of the perception that it takes away the ability of people to park illegally.

    Where is the livable streets political will here, people?

    (Yes, yes I know it’s getting a lot better, but sheesh. We have the potential numbers, obviously)

  9. Thanks for the stats Aaron.

    So if only 21% of New Yorkers (including the American Boroughs of Queens and Staten Island) own cars who exactly is doing all this killing?

    Certainly not New Yorkers.

    Makes you wonder why we bother with drug dealers in Columbia and Gun dealers in Florida and South Carolina when so many are killed here by Lawn Guyland and New Joisey car murderers.

  10. MrManhattan:

    21% is still a lot of people. Plenty enough to arrive at the hundreds of regional fatalities a year that we see as a consequence of the American auto fetish.

    But the question is not so much one of blame. It doesn’t really matter who is behind the wheel, because the problem is not the driver per se — yes, some people drive more or less safely than others, but the main thing to take away from all this is that driving is /inherently unsafe/ and should be reduced regardless of the driver’s residence.

  11. Facts:

    Also, the above statistics don’t much address the question of the “nonresidents who work, shop, dine, attend school or have other legitimate reasons for parking in the area” (which, of course, presupposes that all these things are “legitimate reasons for parking”). But I can refer you to the Schaller SoHo study at , which found that pedestrians in SoHo who arrived by subway or taxi accounted for 80% of total spending in the area.

  12. The low car-ownership rates of NYC (particularly Manhattan) needs to be tempered by the high availability of taxis. I imagine taxis don’t get counted in these statistics anywhere. Not that this contradicts any of the above, just softens it slightly.

  13. Anyone car-owners here who want to have the benefits of road-side assistance etc. etc. of AAA, without supporting their reactionary political and environmental positions should take a look at:

    They offer essentially everything AAA does, minus some of the discounts (no Amtrak discount, for instance) and minus the short-sighted and destructive policy positions.

  14. Ianqui wrote: “Let’s say it once again: almost no one needs to drive into Manhattan. It’s going to be a lot safer, cleaner, and more pleasant for everyone if they just get over their fear of public transportation and get on the subway.”

    For many years, I lived in South Jersey and traveled into the city once or more a week. I initially tried to “do the right thing” and took the bus. However, I quickly grew tired of, A. fitting my schedule to the bus schedule, B. having to go downtown (typically) from Port Authority, C. paying more for the bus ticket than I would for the Turnpike/tunnel tolls (as I recall), D. drive a half-hour from my house to the bus station, and E. sitting on a bus for hours.

    If I were still driving into the city from South Jersey currently, I would probably pay the extra $8 to drive into Manhattan. The reality is, mass transit doesn’t fit everybody’s needs. If only there were a rail system in suburban South Jersey (and please don’t say that the Princeton station is in South Jersey).

  15. Fendergal – would it have been impossible to drive to a NJ rail station (I know many have parking problems, but surely not all) and then take the train?

  16. Aaron’s car ownership figures in #8 (courtesy of
    Paul White) might mislead us in comparing NYC w/ Euro cities if, as I suspect, NYC has many more children. And besides, if I didn’t own a car but my spouse did, I would likely self-ID as a car-owner anyway. Wouldn’t cars per 1,000 households be a better metric? Can someone provide? Oh, and BTW, the corollary, in #10, that lots (most?) of NYC driving is by out-of-towners is almost certainly false.

  17. Dave H. wrote, “Fendergal – would it have been impossible to drive to a NJ rail station (I know many have parking problems, but surely not all) and then take the train?”

    Impossible? No, it wouldn’t have been impossible. But I’m not talking about what’s possible and not possible, but rather about what was the path of least resistance for a trip that I was making once or twice a week. Consider you’re in the car driving toward the city. An hour gets you to Princeton for a train to the city. Then you have another, what, another hour once you’re on the train (not including the time you’re waiting for the train), which takes you to Penn Station, then a subway ride to wherever you’re headed. And trainfare is generally more expensive than a bus ticket. Can you say, giant pain in the ass?

    I agree that congestion pricing needs to be implemented, and that should be incentives to get people out of their cars, but all I’m asking people here on Streetsblog to understand that, unless mass transit is massively (pardon the pun) improved and expanded, it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to get all those coming into the city to leave their cars at home.

  18. Fendergal —

    I don’t think you’ll find too many people here that won’t agree that though we have a reasonable mass transit system on the NYC region, it is still substandard and doesn’t meet the needs of the population. Having been on other systems all over Europe, I can say NYC’s rates poorly.

    I complain constantly about (and to) NJ Transit in particular – if I was a NJ resident, I’m sure that my state legislators would get to know me!!

  19. One out of 10 americans live in california so expect to have in excess of 10% of the pedestrian deaths in this state. Similar to new york or Florida…and expect Alaska to be at the bottom of the list..without seeing a single statistic.

  20. New Yorks was state of the art when it was built 100 years ago.
    How do you propose paying for it? Tripling fares? taxing upstate new yorkers who never use it?

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