Charles Komanoff


Cars I - Who owns the streets?

This page links to much of my writing about traffic violence and the issue of, literally, who owns the streets.

New (Dec. 2021): My look back at the intrepid, impactful NYC guerrilla anti-car / street-safety group Right Of Way, published as a 7-part series in Streetsblog NYC on the 25th anniversary of our first street-memorial stenciling in Dec. 1996. Seven thousand words, two dozen photos, tons of heartbreak, decades of resistance. Download the 13-page pdf, History of a Movement.

Other pages on this site -- A Bicycle Built for All and Cars II - From Auto-Free to Auto-Fee -- link to my work on the related subjects of urban bicycling and traffic pricing. This page focuses on the difficult but central matter of traffic violence.

Much of my writing these days (2022) on these interlinked subjects is published in the NYC-based Streetsblog. My most recent half-a-dozen pieces on traffic violence and safety (aside from the Right Of Way history just noted) are listed immediately below. Click here for a complete compilation of my 200-plus Streetsblog posts.

Disband NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad, April 16, 2020.

Where The Streets Have No Mayor, March 27, 2020.

De Blasio — Even Now — Is MIA on Breaking the Car Culture, March 25, 2020.

The Last Seconds in the Life of Jose Alzorriz, September 2, 2019.

Charting a New Course to Street Safety, March 9, 2018.

DOT Street Safety Treatments Are Working — and Derailed Projects Are Putting Lives at Risk, June 15, 2017.

Around 2018, the fierce cycling-advocacy law firm Vaccaro & White made a video clip in which I extolled their work on behalf of pedestrians and cyclists injured by drivers and in pushing law and policy to support livable streets. The 3-minute segment (click here) is lyrical and lovely.

Killed By Automobile (PDF) -- Right Of Way's seminal analysis of traffic violence in NYC (1999). The first systematic study of who is killing pedestrians in a major U.S. city (NYC), and how -- and with what (little) consequence. This 64-page synthesis of statistics, compassion and outrage -- an outgrowth of RoW's street memorial project -- culled data from nearly a thousand NYPD fatal pedestrian and cyclist crash reports from 1994-1997 and classified all of the reports from a single year (1997) as to driver and victim behavior and their relative culpability.

The New York Times' story on the report, Drivers Are at Fault in Most Pedestrian Deaths, Study Reports, began with "Despite the reputation of New Yorkers as reckless jaywalkers who routinely court death, a study released yesterday by a pedestrian-rights group found that drivers are responsible for the vast majority of accidents in which pedestrians are killed." The story's full-throated indictment of NY's entitled reckless-driving culture starkly reversed The Times' nearly century-long pedestrian-blaming coverage and helped enshrine pedestrian rights and traffic violence as central paradigms in urban discourse. Click here for a visual of the story.

The Only Good Cyclist (PDF) -- This Right of Way 2000 sequel to "Killed By Automobile" addressed cycling fatalities only, but with the same laser focus. It began as follows: "'The Only Good Cyclist' is an analysis of fatal bicycle crashes with motor vehicles in New York City. It refutes police officials’ claim that bicyclists, not drivers, are responsible for most cyclist deaths." The report was prompted by the revelation in late December 1999 that 35 cyclists had been killed that year in collisions with cars and trucks -- a fact that the NYPD first concealed and then blamed on cyclist recklessness.

The last of the Right Of Way 1999-2000 trilogy, if you will, was The Price Of A Ticket: Racial Profiling and Highway Deaths in New Jersey. Co-authored with Michael Smith, this brief but compelling report quantified the collateral damage of racial profiling by NJ State Police in terms of highway deaths: that by misplacing police attention from dangerous driving onto racially-motivated harassment of minority drivers, even when they were not driving dangerously, racial profiling made New Jersey highways less safe than they would have been if the police had concentrated their efforts on dangerous drivers without respect to skin color.

Traffic Justice: A Prospectus -- a manifesto to liberate the streets (Dec. 2004). This visionary 26-page document outlined the underpinnings of and key elements of a proposed "Traffic Justice Policy Project" to undertake judicial, regulatory and cultural organizing "to banish road-crash death and the attendant misery and fear from America." "We cannot eliminate heedlessness or recklessness," this document acknowledged, "but we can diminish their presence on our roads and their impact on our lives. TJPP will do this by making ours a culture in which opportunities for driving dangerously are curtailed, dangerous driving is stigmatized as the antisocial act it is, and perpetrators are held to account." Sadly, this project never obtained the funding needed to get it off the ground, but elements of it can be seen in the 2013-2015 reflowering of Right Of Way and the emergence of the prophetic and heroic Families for Safe Streets, both based in New York City.

Before resuming the list of links, here's A Causerie at the Military-Industrial, a reprint of an address at the National Security Industrial Association in October 1967, on the eve of the now-iconic March on the Pentagon, by the liberational author ("People or Personnel," "Growing Up Absurd") Paul Goodman, as published in the Nov. 23, 1967 New York Review of Books. Goodman's remarks, delivered confrontationally yet conversationally to an assemblage branded by President Dwight Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell address as the U.S. military-industrial complex (and called out here by Goodman as "the most dangerous body of men at present in the world"), constitute both a stunning example of "speaking truth to power" and a clear-eyed expression of moral and political outrage against the militaristic descent of U.S. society during the escalation of the War in Vietnam. It's a worthy bookend to that year's other immortal address -- the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's April 4, 1967 Riverside Church speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence"

Killed By Automobile (PDF) -- Right Of Way's seminal analysis of traffic violence in NYC (1999). To our knowledge, the first systematic analysis of who is killing pedestrians in a major U.S. city (NYC), and how -- and with what (little) consequence. A powerful synthesis of statistics, compassion and outrage.

The Only Good Cyclist (PDF) -- RoW's 2000 sequel to "Killed By Automobile," focusing on cycling fatalities.

My 2nd Declaration on Critical Mass (PDF) -- detailed analysis juxtaposing NYC's suppression of cycling vs. drivers' free pass (Dec. 2004).

My 1st Declaration (PDF) -- Oct. 2004 precursor to Dec. 2004 declaration, above.

Police Must Release Reports On Major Bike Accidents, op-ed decrying NYPD's refusal to share its crash-investigation data with the public, "The Villager," July, 2011.

Silence = Death on Greenwich Street, op-ed on NYC DOT's inaction on vehicular endangerment of children, seniors and other pedestrians, "Downtown Express," June 2008.

PowerPoint Slides of illustrations and aphorisms on automobility's intrinsic inequity. From a talk given at the New School, Dec. 10, 2007

Spreadsheet deriving mortality data for my May 30, 2007 Streetsblog post, The Burbs: Extremely Safe or Especially Dangerous?

My Dec. 2006 op-ed on the death of NYC bicyclist Eric Ng, killed by automobile on the Hudson River Greenway

My 2001 Daily News op-ed, "Yet another helmet law? Let's skip it"

My 2000 essay, "Letters to the Times I Didn't Send," published as "Provocateur" feature in Transportation Alternatives magazine, March-April 2000 (PDF)

My 2000 Daily News op-ed, "Too Many Cyclists Are Dying"

My speech at Jan. 2000 Rider Remembrance Rally

My 1998 New York Times op-ed, "Pedestrians in Peril"

My 1997 Daily News op-ed, "Bikes Are Safe, It's Cars That Kill"

My 1997 City Limits essay, "Commemorating Gavin Cato"

My 1997 essay (with Michael Smith), "Some deaths are more equal than others"

My Fall 1996 correspondence with the office of Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau, published as "Provocateur" feature in Transportation Alternatives magazine, Jan-Feb 1997 (PDF)

My eulogy "For Rachel Fruchter", as reprinted in "Bike Culture," Dec. 1997.

From the archives: "Death in the Streets" -- my 1993 media analysis and cri de coeur from "Lies Of Our Times." This piece anticipated many of the arguments being made today by safer-streets advocates.

My 1993 review of Wolfgang Sachs' book, "For Love of the Automobile"

My 2002 letter to Lester Brown (Earth Policy Institute) on whether automotive pollution outranks road-traffic crashes as a global killer

Another from the archives: In 1994, the editors of The Workbook -- the invaluable activist journal published in Albuquerque, NM, invited 20 activists to reflect on the "past, present and future of citizen action." My contribution, Undoing Automobile Dependence, was both a call to action and a recounting of my personal odyssey in urban environmental-transportation activism.