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New York’s Pedestrian Safety Report Sets the Gold Standard for Understanding Pedestrian Crash Causes

August 19, 2010

America Walks Campaign Manager Scott Bricker provides an analysis of the NYC landmark pedestrian plan that was released earlier this week.

On Monday August 16, 2010, New York City released the landmark New York City Pedestrian Safety Study & Action Plan. “The report’s focus on pedestrians is part of a broader effort to address the safety of all vulnerable road users: road users outside a closed vehicle, namely pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists.” By 11:59 pm on Tuesday the 16th the plan had received 211 media hits on Google; I first read about it at the New York Times.

Comprehensive Pedestrian Strategy

In 2008, the NYC DOT finalized their Strategic Plan, Sustainable Streets, which called for cutting annual traffic fatalities 50% from 2007 levels by 2030. Reaching this goal would save over 1,600 lives over the next two decades. Also in April 2008, Mayor Bloomberg signed into law, Local Law 11 (Council Intro 567-A, §3) that set out robust and specific measureable outcomes for pedestrian safety in NYC.

The Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan follows from these commitments.  Its general tenor is refreshing and dead-on; it moves away from blaming the victim and focuses on data-driven engineering, education, and enforcement solutions to make it easier and safer for a diverse NYC population to walk and cross streets.

New Pedestrian Safety Commitments

The 2010 Pedestrian Action Plan calls for:

  • § Installing countdown pedestrian signals at 1,500 intersections.
  • § Re-engineering 60 miles of streets for greater pedestrian safety, according to corridor crash data.
  • § Re-engineering 20 intersections for pedestrian safety on major Manhattan two-way streets.
  • § Launching a pilot program to test the safety performance of neighborhood 20 mph zones.
  • § Implementing a pilot program to improve visibility at left turns along avenues in Manhattan.

There is also incredible political investment in pedestrian safety. Transportation Commissioner Sadik-Kahn’s letter in the report, page five, is a must read. She lays out her department’s many significant accomplishments as well as future actions for NYC leadership on this issue.   One such action is DOT pursuit of legislation to:

  • Increase the City’s enforcement capabilities, to prevent dangerous speeding and red light-running;
  • Use Safety Education and Communications offices to begin transforming the culture of New York City streets, building more respect and safety for all street users; and
  • Work with other City agencies including NYPD and the Department of Health to continue to collect better data and optimize our traffic safety initiatives.

Data-Driven Strategies

Many U.S. traffic safety approaches rely on rules of thumb.  Not so here.  The action plan is based primarily on local data and in-depth evaluation. While many of the findings fall in line with international research, including safety issues for high-speed, high-volume roads, distracted driving, and poor driving records. However, local data is essential to identifying and fixing real local problems such as NYC’s top 20 dangerous intersections or targeting the most appropriate populations. In many cases this in-depth analysis could mean the difference between developing good pedestrian policy and wasteful policy.

An example of this is the finding that male drivers are involved in the vast majority of crashes, while professional taxi drivers (also mostly men) are involved in proportionally fewer. These sorts of findings should allow the DOT to target its interventions more effectively. Using this example, the city might consider adding a new and ambitious requirement for more rigorous and ongoing driver training to the plan’s future policy and legislative action items.

The findings of the report suggest that DOT should focus on the following traffic safety campaign messages aimed at changing driver and pedestrian behavior:

  • Know the speed limits and the exponential danger of speeding
  • Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks
  • Don’t allow unlicensed drivers behind the wheel
  • Always cross with the light, not against it
  • When crossing, watch especially for turning vehicles crossing your path

Additional important programs that New York is currently conducting include:

  • Safe Streets for Seniors
  • Safe Routes to Transit
  • Clamping down on drivers without a valid license
  • Interagency coordination

All large cities should adopt the rigor of New York’s approach to pedestrian safety; new federal and state programs should be developed to help communities of all sizes identify their particular pedestrian safety needs and intervene with proven, carefully targeted strategies.

Scott Bricker is a Campaign Manager for America Walks, a national non-profit organization that fosters walkable communities by engaging, educating, and connecting walking advocates. Scott can be reached at sbricker(at)americawalks.fabapps.com.