Thursday, August 14, 2008

Making the Walk to School Safer


By Conor Greene

The walk to school will become safer for thousands of students at public and private schools around the city under the second round of the Safe Routes to Schools program. The city Department of Transportation recently announced that 135 schools will be included in the second round of the program, which aims to make the streets surrounding schools safer for students walking there.

“Safe Routes to Schools takes a comprehensive view of the streets surrounding schools and tailors our bets measures to reduce pedestrian accidents,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. The program, combined with a similar effort for seniors, “comprises the largest traffic-calming campaign of its kind in the nation, and it’s fitting we are targeting our most vulnerable New Yorkers,” she said.

As with the first phase, the new study will identify traffic and pedestrian safety issue and propose short-term improvements and recommendations for long-term capital projects to improve safety, according to the DOT. The city has already completed short-term improvements at the first set of schools across the five boroughs, including improved crosswalks, new traffic medians and other traffic-calming measures such as speed bumps, new traffic signals and improved signage around 135 schools.

Schools chosen for the project’s second phase include P.S 88 and P.S 239 in Ridgewood, M.S 137 in Ozone Park and P.S 100 in South Ozone Park. Also included is P.S 161 in South Richmond Hill, P.S 97 in Woodhaven and P.S 62 in Richmond Hill. Many of these schools are located near busy roads such as Fresh Pond Road or Rockaway Boulevard, meaning students have to cross dangerous intersections to reach the classroom.

In all, the second phase includes 33 schools in Queens, 46 in Brooklyn, 23 in Manhattan, 25 in the Bronx and eight in Staten Island. They were chosen after the DOT studied accident data around 1,436 public, private and parochial elementary and middle schools. “We must calm traffic in areas near our children’s schools,” said Congressman Anthony Weiner. “Better signs, clearer crosswalks and better enforcement will be needed to be implemented.”

Traffic accidents are the leading cause of child injury-fatalities in New York City, with half of child pedestrian injury-deaths occurring within 700 feet of a school, according to Congressman Jerrold Nadler. “We can protect these children and prevent fatalities with a few common-sense safety measures,” he said.

Earlier this year, the DOT launched the Safe Streets for Seniors program, which identified 25 areas citywide that combine a high density of senior citizens and a high number of pedestrian accidents or injuries.

Safety improvements have already been made in two of that program’s five pilot study areas, including installation of refuge islands, vehicle turning bays, painted medians, extended sidewalk curbs and improved signal phasing to increase pedestrian crossing times.

Photo: Traffic speeds through the intersection of Fresh Pond Road and Catalpa Avenue near P.S. 88.

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