Thursday, August 19, 2010

City DOT Unveils Study on Pedestrian Fatalities

Officials Aim to Cut Number in Half

By Eric Yun

Walking across city streets can be a deadly experience. In 2009, there were 256 traffic fatalities in the five boroughs. In response, the Department of Transportation (DOT) this week unveiled the results of recently completed a landmark study examining pedestrian accidents.

Introducing the study, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan notes New York City is one of the safest cities in the world for pedestrians. “New York’s streets are far safer than any other big city in this country. Our traffic fatality rates are more on par with world class cities such as London, Paris or Berlin,” she said.

Mayor Bloomberg and Sadik-Khan held a press conference announcing the results of the study on Monday at the intersection of Northern Boulevard and 108th Street.

The DOT study, which examined data from 2005 to 2009, found that pedestrians account for 52% of traffic fatalities. The highest incidence of pedestrian crashes involve vehicles that fail to yield: the study found many instances of pedestrians who have a green light and are struck by vehicles making left turns.

Gary Giordano, District Manager of Community Board 5, has seen these problems firsthand. He believes one of the best ways to prevent crashes is “to give pedestrians the right of way.” Giordano is tired of seeing cars cut in front of pedestrians trying to cross streets.

Other highlights of the study include the fact that 80% of the crashes that kill or seriously injure a pedestrian involve male drivers, and driver inattention was the reason for 36% of crashes resulting in pedestrian death or serious injury.

In Queens, pedestrian safety has been a major issue for residents. Queens Boulevard has long been known as the Boulevard of Death, with fatal accidents continuing to occur along the busy stretch, despite safety improvement over the past decade.

In a study released earlier this month, the New York Daily News found crossing times were too short for slower walkers such as senior citizens or parents crossing with children. The report found the crossing time at Queens Boulevard and 51st Avenue was 43 seconds, but approximately 96 seconds are needed. Similarly, Cross Bay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue has a crossing time of 35 seconds, but 53 seconds are needed to safety cross.

One way the city is attempting to make crossing streets safer is the installation of 1,500 countdown clocks at busy intersections. Areas where these countdown clocks will appear include along Queens Boulevard at both 71st Avenue and 108th Street, Woodhaven Boulevard from Queens Boulevard to Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue from 157th Street to 168 Place.

Increasing pedestrian safety has been a major issue for local communities, and the news of countdown clocks were met with enthusiasm. “I could go back 15 years and pull letters asking for something to be done,” said Mary Ann Carey, District Manager of Community Board 9. She believes installing these clocks is an “excellent idea.”

“Anything to make conditions safer for pedestrians, I’m all for,” Giordano said about the countdown clocks. However, he feels much more should be done. “Pedestrians are less safe than ever,” he said. One of the biggest issues, according to Giordano is people do not realize the city speed limit is 30 miles per hour. Educating city drivers on the speed limit was discussed in the DOT study.

Another major way the city plans to curb pedestrian deaths include safety modifications along 60 miles of streets per year. These modifications will include installing pedestrian refuge islands, lane reconfigurations and signal timing modifications.

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