Are pedestrian deaths the Titanic of intersection redesign?

June 12, 2014

The death of more than a thousand passengers aboard the sinking Titanic resulted in adoption of rigorous maritime safety regulations. It has taken a rising number of pedestrian deaths in New York’s busy intersections for the city to shift its focus to road safety. Take the example of a busy street where it took another pedestrian death last year to bring about corrective changes.

Why is this intersection high risk?

In Queens, the intersection connecting Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue and Palmetto Street is where 23-year-old Ella Bandes was killed by a bus last year. 25 lanes of traffic come from six directions here, so it was perhaps an accident waiting to happen.

Myrtle Ave/Wyckoff Ave/Palmetto St intersection

The intersection in question. Image by

Subway routes operate both above and below the intersection. A minimum of six bus routes pass through this intersection, too. “The buses, the drivers, they want to get through. But the people coming out of the subway, they want to get home,” says Mike King, a street design expert.

How dangerous is this intersection?

Since 2008, there have been three serious injuries and one death on this spot, with a majority of the injuries happening to pedestrians.  This intersection could very well be a part of the top 20 High Pedestrian Crash Locations identified by the New York City Department of Transportation (NYDOT).

Longer-than-usual crossing distances here make the intersection even more unsafe for pedestrians. Elevated subway tracks and support columns make visibility poor, particularly at night, making this time of the day the deadliest for pedestrians.

What’s the plan to make the intersection safer?

The New York Police Department (NYPD) plans to install five yellow painted curb extensions to shorten crossing distances. These will also ensure that vehicles move more slowly while turning.

Yellow curb lines

Image by Dan Taylor

Newly painted crosswalks will also be easier for pedestrians to spot and use. NYPD also proposes to ban five possible turns for vehicles, so the chances of vehicle and pedestrian crash will, with luck, drop. A vehicle can make 25 possible turns in this intersection.

The NYCDOT has installed LED lights below the elevated subway tracks to help pedestrians see better. Flashing yellow warning lights could also be installed on the subway support columns.

A pedestrian safety awareness campaign is also being planned. A Leading Pedestrian Interval, where pedestrians get a head start to cross before turning vehicles get a green light, could also be installed.

Is safeguarding intersections enough?

Besides infrastructural improvements at intersections, policies to further safeguard pedestrians are also being put in place. Lower speed limits could help reduce crashes.

Mayor De Blasio’s Vison Zero plan aims for zero pedestrian fatalities. To help achieve that end, there will be twenty five slow zones in corridors with high crash rates by the end of 2014. By redesigning twenty five high risk intersections annually, the NYCDOT will be doing its bit towards achieving Vision Zero, too.

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Category: Pedestrian safety, Road 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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