Thursday, May 6, 2010

Officials and AARP Team Up for Safer Streets

By Conor Greene

Crossing many local streets can be treacherous – and often deadly – for residents, especially senior citizens and children. With that in mind, state Senator Joseph Addabbo is teaming up with the AARP to survey crosswalks and intersections so that steps can be taken to make them safer for pedestrians.

Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) gathered at the intersection of Woodhaven Boulevard and 89th Avenue last Thursday with Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven), Community Board 9 District Manager Mary Ann Carey, Forest Park Senior Citizen President Donna Caltabiano and a group of senior citizens to highlight the need for safer streets.

This location was chosen by Addabbo because the two- block area around the busy intersection includes the senior center and two schools with nearly 1,500 students. Both seniors and students have to cross 10 lanes of traffic on the busy boulevard to reach their destinations.

The effort is part of a broader statewide campaign involving the AARP called “Complete Streets Week: Making New York Walkable for All Generations,” which will survey hundreds of dangerous roads and intersections across the state. Factors taken into account include whether there are adequate traffic and crossing signals, if crosswalks are properly marked and if there is enough time to cross the street – a major complaint along Woodhaven Boulevard. The results will be used to make improvements and develop legislation to make the streets safer for all ages.

“This location highlights a dangerous intersection in the district. If a senior or student needs to cross Woodhaven Boulevard, they have to cross 10 lanes of traffic in a very short time,” said Addabbo. “Additionally, the islands separating the lanes are very narrow, where there is no space for a wheelchair, walker or baby stroller to fit without putting a pedestrian in danger.”

Watching as pedestrians rushed to cross the boulevard, Addabbo added, “Nobody should have to be an Olympic athlete to cross Woodhaven Boulevard.” He noted that the state had the third most pedestrian fatalities among senior citizens last year. Addabbo is co-sponsor of legislation that would require the state to consider factors such as nearby schools and senior centers when planning road projects.

Miller noted that there needs to be better sharing of the roadways amongst drivers and pedestrians. “The roads belong to everybody. We need to make sure [pedestrians] are able to cross these streets.” He added that walkways must be kept free of cracks and potholes and the amount of crossing time must be increased.

An AARP report found that two in five Americans age 50 or over say their neighborhood sidewalks are inadequate, and nearly half cannot cross main roads close to their home safely, preventing many from walking, cycling or taking the bus. From 2006 through 2008, there were 15 fatalities in Senate District 15, including seven involving an individual above 50 years old.

The Complete Streets legislation introduced in the Senate and Assembly will ensure that all new roads constructed provide the same consistent level of safe travel for all motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation users, regardless of age. “We need this legislation to ensure that our streets that we construct in the future provide the same level of safety for all residents of New York State regardless of age. Our streets should not be ones that seniors or any pedestrians are afraid to cross,” said Addabbo.

The AARP hopes their campaign will highlight the need for serious steps to increase pedestrian safety. “We’re not afraid to speak up and make a difference,” said William Stoner, Associate State Director for Livable Communities, referring to the seniors gathered at the intersection. “Too often, our roads are built for cars moving as fast as possible with little regard for pedestrians,” he said as cars sped by. “It will continue until we address this issue through local level improvements and state legislation.”

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