Fall 2004, p. 10-13
www.Crashstat.org shows it is no accident. Dangerous crashes occur on all NYC streets big and small. At 7th Avenue and Union Street in Brooklyn there have been 16 injuries in 6 years.
When health professions treat asthma they begin by giving each child who suffers from the condition proper medical attention. But health experts are not content to just stop there. They also look at the child’s surroundings, to determine whether there is an “environmental trigger,” i.e. something in the child’s home or school that might be causing their attacks. And some go even further, examining the entire city to look at neighborhoods that are home to large numbers of kids with asthma, such as the South Bronx. This macro environmental examination enables health professionals to make the connection between high rates of asthma and the high volumes of cars, trucks and buses in given neighborhoods.
Pedestrian-driver crashes, like asthma, are a serious public health crisis in our city, but many people still think of each crash as an isolated event. The City Department of Transportation has yet to truly take a step back and look at all of the factors that connect, and indeed “trigger” these crashes. That is about to change.
Transportation Alternatives is providing local residents, community activists and experts with a powerful new tool. No longer will each tragic crash be viewed as an accidental isolated event. This summer, Transportation Alternatives released CrashStat.org, New York City’s first publicly accessible pedestrian injury and death maps. CrashStat.org contains tables and maps for each borough showing where and how often pedestrians are killed or injured by drivers at particular intersections, mid-block locations and school zones. We are also in the process of creating bicycling crash maps; look for more coverage of them in the next Transportation Alternatives Magazine.
All maps can be accessed at www.CrashStat.org. With a few simple clicks, visitors can see the number of historical injuries and deaths at any intersection in the city, and the crash frequency trend at particular locations. The maps are based on data from 1995 through 2001, the last year for which accurate data is available.
Top Ten Most Dangerous Locations for Pedestrians, 1995-2001
What these maps show, overwhelmingly, is that crashes are not just accidents, but ubiquitous and predictable outcomes of the City’s design decisions. For example, intersections where the City DOT has designed narrower travel lanes and provided more protected space and crossing time for pedestrians have fewer injuries and fatalities; intersections with wide streets and intersections have more crashes. The Crashstat.org maps have already created public pressure on the DOT to stop treating street safety problems as a series of isolated and unfortunate accidents.
In addition to making the problem more tangible and understandable, the maps provide a powerful impetus to fix the problem, particularly when the maps are in the hands of public advocates. Unfortunately, the City Department of Transportation is still keeping its crash maps secret; the agency has also yet to release critical information about street improvements that would help the agency and the public understand what types of measures (i.e. speed humps) save lives and injuries and to what degree. The City DOT should make its own crash maps public and use them to analyze the efficacy of traffic calming and other pedestrian safety measures.
Data on the effectiveness of these measures in New York City would, in addition to saving lives, make public acceptance of controversial traffic calming and safety measures (such as those that limit parking) more palatable to community boards. So far, though, the DOT has not made its own maps accessible to the public, nor has it fully exploited the power of mapping. And though the DOT has criticized the Crashstat.org data for being more than two years old, the agency has not made current crash data available.
Crashing the DOT’s Party
The City Department of Transportation frequently responds to public criticism by commending itself for the fact that fatalities and injuries have fallen sharply in recent years, from 365 in 1990 to an all-time low of 178 in 2003. But the DOT’s response obscures the fact there is much that the agency could and should be doing to make our streets safer. Though New York City may look good compared to the rest of sprawling America, where walking is not a major part of the transportation mix, the city does not compare well to other, similar cities. Twenty-eight percent more people on foot are hurt or killed in New York City annually compared to London, an ethnically and economically diverse city that closely resembles New York City in size, land use and transportation mix. And New Yorkers know their streets are still dangerous; a recent Baruch College survey of 125 neighborhood leaders found “dangerous intersections” to be the top concern of citizens throughout the five boroughs.
In other words, New York City’s street safety problem extends far beyond Queens Boulevard and other big streets. Though the city’s poorly designed big streets are responsible for numerous tragic deaths and injuries, local streets are also suffering from the City DOT’s deadly street design policies. Pedestrians were struck by drivers at 31,038 discreet locations between 1995 and 2001, many of them neighborhood residential streets. Crashstat.org shows that crashes are the norm, not the exception, regardless of the type of street. The ubiquity and high rates of pedestrian crashes underscores the fact that, though the number of pedestrian fatalities may have fallen to historic lows, the DOT’s ad hoc pedestrian safety initiatives are inadequate.
Triage vs. Comprehensive Prevention
Though the agency added space and time for pedestrians on Queens Boulevard and at Herald Square, it has yet to enact systemic pedestrian-first safety measures on the entire street network. The DOT could, for example, create traffic calmed 20 mph zones on residential streets around all elementary schools, or amend its assumed walking speed from its current four feet per second to three feet per second, which is much closer to actual walking speeds for children and New York’s growing senior population. This move would extend crossing times at thousands of intersections throughout New York City and save scores, if not hundreds, of crashes per year.
If the DOT continues to resist the wider application of safety and traffic calming measures, the downward trend in fatalities and injuries will surely plateau, and may even begin to inch upwards. Further cause for worry is the DOT’s penchant for installing restrictive “safety improvements” such as pedestrian barricades and chain link fencing (at last count, there was 46,000 linear feet of pedestrian fencing on Queens Boulevard alone). Pedestrian barricades and fencing may yield some short-term reductions in crashes, but then so would martial law. Such pedestrian confining measures may make streets more dangerous in the medium and long term because they lead to decreases in the rate of overall walking. Research has shown that as walking decreases, the chance that a given walker will be struck by a driver increases. In other words, the more people traveling on foot, the more likely drivers will slow down and pay attention to them.
Crashstat.org suggests that there is even more to the “Safety in Numbers” phenomenon; the areas of New York City with the highest rates of automobile ownership also have the highest rates of crashes that resulted in pedestrian deaths.
Top Ten Most Dangerous Zip Codes for Pedestrians, 1995-2001
If the DOT were serious about increasing pedestrian safety, it would enact a comprehensive set of street design standards. The standards would consist of measures proven to reduce crashes and encourage more walking. The DOT’s increasing application of Leading Pedestrian Intervals and its installation of new sidewalks and tree plantings near schools is a good start.
The DOT has three initiatives in place that, if prioritized, improved and expanded, would ensure that walking fatalities and injuries continue to decline.
Safe Routes to School and for Seniors
Taming Big Scary Streets
Is this intersection at Henry and Joraleman Streets in Brooklyn as safe as it seems? Log onto www.crashstat.org to find out.
How Do I Use It? Go to www.Crashstat.org, click on your borough and click on your neighborhood. Use the legend to guide you through the map symbols.
What Can I See? There are crash maps for each borough for both pedestrian and bicycling crashes. There are also lists of the most dangerous locations and zip codes, most and least improved locations and zip codes and downloadable lists of all crash locations. T.A. is already working on expanding the www.Crashstat.org Web site by including more analysis, breaking down crashes by age and other important factors and updating the maps using more current data. We are also working hard to expand the site to include analyses of bicycling crashes. Visitors can already access bicycling crash maps for all boroughs, and see the top ten most dangerous locations per borough for bicycling. Look for an in depth analysis of bicycling crash statistics in the next Transportation Alternatives Magazine.
T.A. is proud to announce the publication of an updated Streets for People: Your Guide to Winning Safer and Quieter Streets. The booklet is a highly accessible overview of the basics of traffic calming, including how to get traffic calming for your streets. It is based on the wildly popular version T.A. published in 1998, which helped launch many neighborhood traffic calming initiatives. Like Crashstat.org, Streets for People is a powerful tool that New Yorkers can use to win traffic calming on their streets.
To obtain a copy, download the updated version from either www.crashstat.org or www.transalt.org, call 212-629-8080 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that we will also have a Spanish language version available.
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