Testimony of Noah Budnick, Senior Policy Advisor, Transportation Alternatives to the Transportation and Aging Committees of the

Good morning Chairman Liu and Chairman Jackson and members of the Transportation and Aging Committees. My name is Noah Budnick and I am the Senior Policy Advisor for Transportation Alternatives. Transportation Alternatives' 8,000 dues paying members and 25,000 activist subscribers support our campaigns to promote and increase bicycling, walking and public transit and make New York City's streets safe and livable. In 2003, Transportation Alternatives started a Safe Routes for Seniors program with funding from the New York State Department of Health's "Healthy Heart" programi . Since walking is the primary way older New Yorkers exercise, the purpose of this grant was to enhance senior cardiovascular health by improving walking conditions, removing barriers to walking and encouraging more physical activity. Through our research, we found that little thingsii --like the amount to time we have to cross the street, the height of a curb or the smoothness of the sidewalk--make a big difference to older walkers.

In the past two years the City has taken important strides to address the transportation needs of NYC senior residents. In the January 2008 State of the City Address, Mayor Bloomberg announced the City's Safe Streets for Seniors project, and the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) has begun analysis in 25 pilot neighborhoods and implementing traffic safety street design improvements in 5. Transportation Alternatives applauds this initiative.

I want to take today's hearing as an opportunity to highlight the fact that this is just the beginning. NYC streets are still deadly for seniors. Existing programs must be expanded upon to prevent more deaths and have greater impact on NYC's rapidly growing senior population.

To quickly review some facts:

  • There are an estimated 1.25 million senior citizens living in New York City, 400,000 of whom live in concentrated neighborhoods. Projections indicate that the population of people aged 60 and older living in New York City will increase by approximately 20% and will represent approximately 18% of the City's population by 2015 and 20% by 2030 (a population larger than the city's current 1.1 million school age children). Along with this population shift, projections indicate a corresponding shift from driving to walking will occur, as senior citizens give up their licenses to drive.
  • Seniors are disproportionately impacted by crashes with vehicles and are more prone to suffer a fatality if involved in a crash compared to the general population. Though people aged 65 years and older only make up 12% of the population, they comprised 39% of New York City's pedestrian injuries and fatalities between 2002 and 2006.
  • The number of pedestrians fatality struck by cars in NYC is too high. One fatality is too many, and a pedestrian is killed by a vehicle almost every 36 hours in our city. The New York metro area ranked number one for metro areas (larger than 1 million residents) with the highest share of pedestrian fatalities according to a 2009 Transportation for America report, Dangerous by Design.

How can we build on the momentum of existing senior traffic safety initiatives to expand and sustain the impact?

  • We believe the NYC DOT's laudable Safe Streets for Seniors program could create greater mobility for more seniors if it targeted areas where seniors live, not just where fatal crashes occur. For example, out of 10 high-density senior census block groups in the Lower East Side, only one was included by the DOT in a Safe Streets for Seniors district. While the City's program is a promising start, we shouldn't wait for crashes to mount before making improvements. We know where seniors live and walk in large numbers and should target those parts of the city.
  • To this end, City Council and City Hall should codify Safe Streets for Seniors into law. Since 2006, T.A. has called for the creation of "Elder Districts," neighborhood zones with a high number of senior citizens, similar to school zones or historic districts. These areas would be prioritized for traffic calming and street improvements that make walking safer for senior residents, such as ADA curb cuts, longer crossing times and pedestrian refuges. The legislation could set criteria based on senior centers, senior population, density, travel patterns, casualties and other factors to create the districts. By creating a definition for senior rich areas and a menu of appropriate safety interventions, you could continue this good work far into the future, well beyond the current Council and Administration to when our children are seniors.
  • To help provide future funding for this work, I urge you to speak with the New York Congressional Delegation and help convince them to create a Safe Routes for Seniors program in the federal transportation bill being debated in Washington DC right now. Transportation Alternatives has talked with members of Congress and USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood about including Safe Routes for Seniors in the new federal transportation bill, and they have expressed keen interest. Similarly, Safe Routes to Schools started in New York City, was adopted by the NYC DOT and then became a federal program in the last surface transportation bill, where New York State received $32 million in funding and the entire country gained from an innovation pioneered in the Big Apple.

Finally, improving street design is only one aspect of making the streets safer for seniors and others. Strong enforcement, adjudication and prosecution must be used to hold drivers accountable for their actions. This was proven all too tragically on Thanksgiving eve when 78 year-old Peter Sabados and his 77 year-old wife, Lillian, were run down on Staten Island. Driver, Allmir Lekperic, had a suspended license and has had his license suspended at least 29 times in the past three years. No street design could keep this man off the road, which is why engineering improvements must be paired with rigorous legal and public awareness campaigns aimed at changing behavior.

Transportation Alternatives continues to call on Mayor Bloomberg to create a Mayoral Office on Road Safety, charged with taking a multi-agency approach to improving safety on NYC streets. This would create a centralized location for managing traffic safety issues. We ask the City Council to support the creation and appropriate funding for this new office for 2010.

Despite the risks seniors face on NYC streets, they are walkers. Walking and public transit are the most common modes of transportation for older people in New York Cityiii. This is a good thing. Walking to the park, running errands and visiting friends are all things that allow seniors to be independent and stay in New York City. We want seniors to continue walking. When seniors walk more, they often are healthier, so making streets safer for senior pedestrians positively contributes to their public health and quality of lifeiv. This improves our safety as well as our quality of life, as we do not need to constantly worry about how our elderly relatives and friends will stay active.

All of these initiatives are wise investments because when our streets are safer for the most vulnerable citizens, they are safer for everyone. Thank you very much for your time.

Transportation Alternatives' Safe Routes for Seniors publications

  • Street Design Recommendations: Washington Heights, Transportation Alternatives, November 2004
  • Street Design Recommendations: Nagle Avenue, Inwood, Transportation Alternatives, February 2005
  • Upper West Side Senior Pedestrian Safety Plan, Transportation Alternatives, Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, November 2007
  • Discriminatory by Design: A senior citizen focused study of streets and intersections on New York City's Upper East Side, Transportation Alternatives, December 2007
  • Street Design Recommendations: 135th Street & 145th Street, Harlem, Transportation Alternatives, August 2008
  • Walk the Walk: Connecting Senior Pedestrian Safety to Seniors in New York City, Transportation Alternatives, March 2009

See transalt.org and transalt.org/campaigns/pedestrian/safeseniors to download full reports.

i Transportation Alternatives' Safe Routes for Seniors program worked with hundreds of seniors in neighborhoods throughout the city, ranging from Inwood to the Lower East Side. In focus groups, meetings at senior centers and walking tours, seniors shared where they walk and the impediments they face walking and crossing streets. Transportation Alternatives advocated with these seniors for street improvements. In response the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) installed 65 physical street enhancements across the city. These changes positively impact hundreds of thousands of seniors living nearby.

ii 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.

iii A 2006 survey of older AARP members in the metropolitan area found that 52 percent of city-dwelling respondents often walk to get where they want to go and 52 percent regularly use public transportation.

iv Evidence of increased pedestrian planning as a strategy to improve public health can be found in many public health journal articles. In urban areas, the perception that streets are unsafe due to speeding traffic (as opposed to crime) has led many seniors to stay at home and not go outside (Loukaitou-Sideris, p, 221). More walkable streets also correlate to decreases in elderly depression (Journal of the American Geriatrics Association, Protective Association Between Neighborhood Walkability and Depression in Older Men, Vol. 55, No. 4, February 2007).

Secondary Title
New York City Council's Joint Hearing on "Oversight - What is New York City doing to make the streets safer for seniors?"