Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
Data about traffic accidents that nearly happen could help prevent collisions that actually do.
Every day in New York City, car crashes nearly happen. Cabs barely avoid clipping pedestrians. Cars on poorly signed roads all but careen into each other. A biker, somewhere, veers onto a sidewalk and out of the way of a speeding truck.
These almost-events are even more ubiquitous than actual accidents, and in the aggregate they're meaningful signs of an unsafe street. But in the eyes of city officials and police reports, such close calls are more or less invisible.
"The near-miss and minor crash data just doesn’t exist," says Jennifer So Godzeno, the associate director for community research at the New York advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. "There is no way to capture it because it is, by nature, unofficial."
Such data, though, might have real value in helping to head off future more costly crashes.
"I’ve heard from so many citizens that ‘I see people almost get hit here all the time, and how come we have to wait until somebody gets killed in order to fix it?’" Godzeno says. Actual crash data, though, is the only metric officials have to prioritize where to target infrastructure improvements or stricter traffic enforcement.
So how do you document events significant for the fact that they almost happened? Transportation Alternatives recently rolled out a web platform, CRASH stories NYC, that invites New Yorkers to map their run-ins and near-misses.
Transportation Alternatives hopes the tool, built with the help of Hunter College master's student Aaron Fraint, will create that long-lost data that could better help researchers analyze city streets (without relying on hospital records to do that). These narratives, meanwhile, could come in handy for transportation advocates trying to argue the case for infrastructure improvements.
Throughout the site, Transportation Alternatives is careful to identify none of these events as "accidents."
"One of our main narratives is that crashes are completely preventable," Godzeno says. "They’re not accidents."