Testimony of Amy Pfeiffer, Program Director, Safe Routes for Seniors, Transportation Alternatives

Good morning Chairman Liu and members of the Transportation Committee. My name is Amy Pfeiffer, I am the Program Director for Safe Routes for Seniors, a joint project of Transportation Alternatives and the New York State Department of Health. Transportation Alternatives is New York City's advocates for biking, walking and safe and livable streets.

Thank you for convening this hearing.

Intros 125 and 217 are potentially important pieces of legislation for New York City's elderly population and the disabilities community. People with visual impairments rely on consistent pedestrian crosswalk markings as guides to navigate an intersection. Likewise, people with mobility impairments who use walkers and wheelchairs need pedestrian curb cuts in order to access streets in general. Without pedestrian curb cuts this community does not have the same opportunities that all other pedestrians have.

It is important to recognize that senior citizens and people with visual and mobility impairments are more vulnerable to traffic crashes and require specific street features in order to use our city streets.

Seniors walk at an average rate of 2.5 feet per second. Most of the traffic lights for New York City streets are timed for a rate of 4 feet per second. On our wide streets and avenues it is almost impossible for seniors to cross the street comfortably during the pedestrian phase. In addition, studies have shown that seniors on average take 2 to 4 additional seconds to ascend the curb when the pedestrian phase starts. This is due to cognitive changes inherent in aging as well as a decreased ability to perceive the crossing distance and the fear of falling.

Many seniors are overtaken by turning vehicles as they are looking at the crossing rather than vehicles. Because they are less visible due to shorten stature, they are harder for turning vehicles to see. This is why many of the seniors that have been killed this year have been victims of buses. Due to the design of our streets and the length of buses, it is almost impossible for bus drivers to see that they have overtaken a pedestrian as the rear wheels meet the curb.

To date, there have been 35 pedestrians killed by motor vehicles in New York City. This is seven more than last year. At least 8 of these victims have been senior citizens. This statistic does not reflect the number of people that eventually pass away in City trauma units from crash related injuries. For many years one statistic has held true: while seniors account for 13% of New York City's population, they account for 35% of the pedestrian fatalities.

The only way to prevent people from being killed or permanently disabled from roadway trauma is to slow down motor vehicles. The speed at which vehicles travel is exponentially related to the rate of death and disability from crashes. A senior citizen or a child can not survive speeds greater than 30 miles per hour. New York City streets are currently regulated to 30 miles per hour.

Intro 125 is important because it does recognize that places with high densities of senior citizens are different from other places. However it has been proven that signage, unless directional, does not modify driver behavior. People are killed every day by drivers going through “STOP” signs. My own great aunt was killed in this manner.

People operating motor vehicles will only modify the speed at which they drive for two reasons: fear of getting a ticket and because there is a physical modifier like a speed hump or curb extension to slow them down. This is why red light cameras work, police enforcement works, and vertical deflectors work. There are no other proven methods to achieve a desired speed.

I have worked for Transportation Alternatives for several years specifically on the area of senior pedestrian safety and have learned what can be done to make our streets safer for everyone. Consistent pedestrian crosswalks and curb cuts are one step, but if this legislation strives to make streets safer for seniors, people with disabilities, and all New Yorkers, it is essential to use people as the design vehicle for streets, rather than motor vehicles.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

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to the Transportation and Aging Committees of the New York City Council's Joint Hearing on Intr. 125 and Intr. 217