Transportation Alternatives Blasts the MTA’s New Traffic PSAs

December 10, 2014 | Paul Steely White

Today, the MTA released a series of on-air PSAs “to educate bus customers, pedestrians and bicyclists about safety on and around buses.” But for one New York-based traffic advocacy group, the ads don’t address the real threat to public safety: motorists. Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, shares his thoughts about the new spots with ANIMAL.

Seven pedestrians have been struck and killed by New York City Transit buses so far this year. The good news is that the MTA has decided to do something about the problem by launching a series of public safety messages. The bad news is that these videos focus only on the need for pedestrians and cyclists to change their behavior, misrepresenting what’s actually killing people on our streets. That runs counter to the city’s Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2024.

One of the PSAs involves a woman who is killed after she steps in front of a bus while writing a text message (video above). We’re all in favor of common sense, and looking up from the phone while crossing the street certainly fits into that category. But other themes of the campaign are simply out of touch with reality.

We have seen no evidence that a trend of cyclists taking selfies while riding has been a major cause of crashes. What we have seen are several cases where bus drivers failed to yield the right of way to pedestrians, with deadly results. In fact, of the seven pedestrians killed by MTA bus drivers so far this year, six of them were in the crosswalk, crossing with the light, when they were hit.

When a bus hits someone on a bike or on foot, the pedestrian or cyclist will always lose.

Vision Zero is aimed primarily at protecting the most vulnerable users of our streets, and that means the MTA’s safety campaigns should not focus on perfecting pedestrian behavior. Instead, the agency should be emphasizing driver training and accountability, so bus operators can set the standard for safe driving on our streets.

In order for this effort to be successful, the MTA must become a full partner in New York City’s Vision Zero Task Force. Just as Mayor de Blasio has tasked the heads of the NYPD, the city’s Department of Transportation and the Taxi & Limousine Commission to develop and implement traffic safety plans, MTA Chairman Thomas Prendergast should inform the public about the extent of the agency’s safety efforts, and work in partnership with City Hall to prevent traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

To get the safer streets New Yorkers need, the MTA must promote data-driven, systemic solutions, not victim-blaming.

(Screengrab: MTA/YouTube)