As we look ahead to the rest of 2023, a year when we hopefully increase our efforts to enhance public space in Sleepy Hollow/Tarrytown, it is important to reflect on 2022.
In that regard, what transpired in the early morning of August 4 deserves attention. At approximately 7:15am, a Nissan Frontier pickup truck and its driver hit Mr. Anthony Napoli, 70, as he crossed McKeel Avenue, near Broadway.
Tarrytown police officers quickly arrived on the scene; members of the Tarrytown Volunteer Ambulance Corps soon did so as well. Due to Mr. Napoli’s injuries, the TVAC team transported him to Westchester Medical Center. The life-long Tarrytown resident died there later that day.
To almost anyone who frequented the businesses along Broadway and walked on or near the aqueduct in the vicinity of McKeel Avenue, Anthony Napoli was a familiar, often smiling, face.
Whether you wanted to engage Mr. Napoli or not, he would often speak to you—about work at the General Motors plant in Sleepy Hollow where he had been employed, about music (one of his nicknames was “Rock and Roll Tony”), or about whatever happened to fancy him at the time.
According to an analysis of the incident that led to Mr. Napoli’s death by the Accident Investigation Team from the Westchester County Department of Public Safety, “there is no indication that this was anything but an accident.”
Underlying this assessment is the fact that Mr. Napoli was not in a crosswalk when he was struck; he was traversing McKeel near the entrance of the Village of Tarrytown parking lot located between the aqueduct trail and the Chase Bank branch on Broadway. Furthermore, the report, which was completed on October 20, declares, there was “no way” for the vehicle’s driver to have seen him.
This was true for two reasons: 1) the height of the mid-size truck’s hood; and 2) the glare of the sun at that hour. Indeed, the report’s author subsequently drove on McKeel in a similarly sized vehicle on the same stretch of the street where the vehicle struck Mr. Napoli and at the same time of day. The author found that “the sun glare and the pitch of the hood upon acceleration made it extremely difficult to see more than a few feet in front of my vehicle.”
This raises some questions.
One is, if the condition were such that the driver who struck Mr. Napoli could only see a few feet in front of the vehicle, should not that person have been driving more slowly? (New York law prohibits drivers from traveling at a speed “greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions” that reign at a particular place and time.)
A second relates to the actual design of the street. This is a matter that long precedes the current administration in Village Hall. Still, if there are conditions that effectively blind drivers—especially now that it is evident how dangerous this is—should not the Village of Tarrytown redesign and engineer the road in order to constrain the speed at which they travel? A vehicle moving at the legal speed limit—30 miles per hour—covers a distance of 44 feet per second. Clearly, this is far too fast if a driver can only see a distance of a few feet.
This speaks to a problem that goes far beyond McKeel Avenue. “Accidents” such as the one that claimed Mr. Napoli’s life kill dozens of people on foot each week in the United States. The year 2021, for instance, saw 7,485 pedestrians killed by drivers—the highest number in four decades.
It is for such reasons that writer and safe streets advocate Jessie Singer asserts that we need to set aside the matter of individual blame. Yes, people make mistakes that contribute to what are labeled accidents. But, she writes in relation to such cases, “we can trace all human error back to conditions that are—sometimes obscurely, sometimes obscenely—dangerous.”
In the case of McKeel Avenue—like all too many streets in our two villages—conditions are most definitely dangerous. In this regard, the killing of Mr. Napoli is part of a pattern, one to which both the Villages of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow are guilty of not paying sufficient heed.
There are a great many pedestrian-safety-oriented changes advocated by entities such as Bike Tarrytown, Livable Tarrytowns, and advisory committees in both villages in recent years. Officials in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown have ignored, dragged their feet on, or rejected many, if not most of them. This manifests, among other things, the auto-centric logic that dominates discussions of transportation, mobility, and public space.
We need to “create conditions that anticipate errors and make those mistakes less of a life-or-death equation.”Jessie Singer
Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown are villages dedicated to welcoming all. To realize such welcome requires making paramount public safety—especially for the most vulnerable among us. This entails fundamentally rethinking the design of thoroughfares to accommodate young children, the elderly and the physically challenged—in addition to pedestrians and bicyclists broadly. Those charged with the redesign must carry it out in a manner that assumes that people will sometimes violate rules—whether it is a child chasing a ball into the street, or a cognitively challenged individual crossing a road at a location where there is no formal crosswalk.
As Jessie Singer insists in her book There Are No Accidents, we need to “create conditions that anticipate errors and make those mistakes less of a life-or-death equation.”
Doing so in relation to our streets in Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown would be an appropriate tribute to Mr. Anthony Napoli’s life and memory.