What isn’t New York City doing about pedestrian safety?

September 25, 2013

This August, 855 pedestrians in New York City were injured and 12 killed by vehicles, according to the New York City Police Department. Blame it on driver inattention and blatant disregard for red lights and stop signs… or lack of political will. Here’s an account of what one of the richest cities in the world is and isn’t doing about safety of its pedestrians.

What NYC is doing about pedestrian safety: road redesign & slow zones

Pedestrians in NYC at risk

Pedestrians in NYC are at risk. Image by Elvert Barnes.

A 2010 study by the NYC DOT found that most of the pedestrian fatalities and severe injuries that occurred at signalized intersections occurred while the pedestrian was crossing with the signal. This implies that drivers fail to yield to pedestrians, although they must do so under state law. DOT used this information to rank corridors and intersections and took steps like 4-to-3-lane conversion to reduce the chances of pedestrian accidents.

Another law most New Yorkers are unaware of, or fail to comply with: the city’s default speed limit of 30 mph. Pedestrian crashes at unsafe vehicle speeds are twice as deadly as others. DOT’s Neighborhood Slow Zone program, under which a speed limit of 20 mph applies in certain residential areas, has gained popularity for this reason.

What NYC isn’t doing about pedestrian safety: enforcement

NYPD traffic cops should emphasize on pedestrian safety

NYPD should focus more on traffic violators. Image by Elvert Barnes.

Last year, the Bloomberg administration launched the LOOK! campaign, which involved LOOK! pavement markings, reminders on buses, etc. This “is a message to all New Yorkers that safety is in the eye of the beholder and everyone needs to keep an eye out for each other on our streets,” according to DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

While such soft measures serve to educate all road users, “what we really need, the missing piece is…for the NYPD to enforce traffic laws,” says Noah Budnick, deputy director of nonprofit group Transportation Alternatives. The group points out that last year, the NYPD issued only 19,119 tickets for speeding violations on neighborhood streets, with some precincts not issuing any speeding tickets at all. So it would seem that of the 3 Es- engineering, education, enforcement – NYC has focused more on the first two.

A political change of guard could result in improved pedestrian safety

“These crashes are preventable, and we know how to prevent them—all that’s left is marshaling the political will to do so,” says a Transportation Alternatives spokesman. With mayoral elections around the corner, will there be a change?

Recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law that allows NYC to operate 20 speed cameras in school speed zones. This should help law enforcement officials bring down the rate of pedestrian injuries. Mayoral hopeful Bill De Blasio’s Vision Zero plan goes a step further – it aims for “zero fatalities or serious injuries caused by car crashes on the streets of New York.” Impatient New York drivers may prove a stumbling block.

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Category: Pedestrian safety

About the Author ()

A graduate in English Literature from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, India, Nupur also has an MBA from the Faculty of Management Studies, Delhi University. Nupur is currently trying to be as savvy a cook as she is with a book. She likes watching plays and sunsets. Nupur first lived in Kolkata and then for a decade in Delhi, still her favorite city.

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