Everyday, A New Near Disaster

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For Ron Gabriel’s School of Visual Arts MFA Design thesis project, he created a campaign called 3-Way Street to raise awareness among New Yorkers that civility (and common sense) is a lifesaver on the urban streets. He writes:

By summer 2010, the expansion of bike lanes in NYC exposed a clash of long-standing bad habits — such as pedestrians jaywalking, cyclists running red lights, and motorists plowing through crosswalks.By focusing on one intersection as a case study, my video aims to show our interconnection and shared role in improving the safety and usability of our streets.The video is part of a larger campaign I created called ‘3-Way Street’. Go here for more details.

Curiously, the video is also receiving criticism from street-o-philes and bike advocates. So I asked Gabriel to address the good, the bad and the ugly responses and clarify his mission:

I think people have a high interest in street issues in their communities. But on the list of national priorities, and even within the design community, it’s an unglamorous duckling that doesn’t get much attention. I think my video struck a nerve because of pent-up demand. People seem hungry to find a way to evolve street culture nationwide, and get pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists to view streets as multi-use areas.That said, the video jumped out of the bag, and without the rest of the Three Way Street campaign in place to put in context. There’s been overwhelming support, but also hate. Here’s a few points I’d like to stress:This video is not an attempt to say NYC streets are the most dangerous in the world. They are not. It is an attempt to clearly illustrate very specific behaviors —that if adjusted— would make a huge difference in our street and our quality of life.The video is not trying to be statistically relevant in terms of numbers of infractions per day or percentages. Existing statistic-based studies are great for research, but very boring to the general public who are the most important end-users of this information, and already largely ignore existing studies and corporate-feeling ad agency campaigns. The video is a carefully edited collection of clips shot during Summer/Fall 2010, intentionally chosen to graphically illustrate points of tension within NYC intersections, where 74% of all accidents in NYC occur. Does this make the piece subjective? Yes. Garbage? No. It is an artistic approach to a subject (street awareness and education) that up to this point has been treated very formulaically and without impressive results.The video is not about NYC bike lanes. The mention of bike lanes is relevant to give a context to the large increase in cycling in NYC. The video focus is on a single intersection because that is where most confrontation happens between pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists — not mid-block on a bike lane.The video does try to offer a solution (not only point out problems) by working in tandem with a street-level campaign with a clear focus on interconnection (NY Goes Three Ways). The video was intended to live on a website that clearly discusses the bad habits that were highlighted in the video. Pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists all have a section that points out long-standing bad habits, and how to help break them. The bad habits addressed on the website are marked with text on the left hand side of the video.To those who think the accident stats in NYC are not bad, and the street system ‘regulates’ itself I say, HOGWASH. The problem with a barely-functioning system is that it becomes very difficult or impossible to introduce change. And the same people who are obsessed with statistics and percentages are also obsessed with accident stats. But this is the wrong approach. Quality of life is the ideal and is not captured by accident stats. The conflicts highlighted in the video may be nothing more than invasions of personal space (or not) — but repeated block by block, day by day — they amount to an important quality of life issue. We are fortunate to live in a city trying to modernize and evolve. It is not good enough to satisfied with old (selfish) thinking, behaviors, and street systems.

Since initially posting the video its been covered in many online venues, including the Huffington Post, and it has received over 400,000 views at last count. Watch the video (more than once) and then tell me New York City streets are safe.

(Summer Design Books “Visuals” column for NY Times Book Review here.)