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Posts from the "Department of Health & Mental Hygiene" Category

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Poor NYC Neighborhoods “Less Conducive to Walking” Than They Appear

A fact sheet [PDF] released by the city’s health department today makes the case that New York City’s walkability contributes to the health of residents — but a deeper look into the research shows that not all New Yorkers are benefitting equally from walkable neighborhoods.

The more walkable your NYC neighborhood, the more likely you are to engage in physical activity. Image: DOHMH

The more walkable your neighborhood, the more likely you are to engage in physical activity. Image: DOHMH

The brief draws on recent data from two sources: Research by Columbia University academics on the walkability of the city’s neighborhoods and the health department’s own survey of 3,800 New Yorkers about physical activity and transit.

The Columbia researchers measured walkability using five components: Residential density, density of street intersections and subway stops, land use mix, and an estimate of the prevalence of large retail parking lots. The health department tracked the health and transportation behaviors of New Yorkers through surveys, accelerometers, and GPS devices. By looking at the two datasets together, the bottom line became clear: ”Physical activity levels were substantially higher in people living in higher-walkability neighborhoods,” the report says.

People in the most walkable neighborhoods averaged 233 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, burning 1,200 calories, while people living in the least walkable areas averaged 134 minutes of activity per week, burning only 690 calories.

The Columbia academics, based in the university’s Built Environment and Health Research Group, dove deeper by adding income to the equation. Matching places with the same walkability scores, they compared neighborhoods where at least 20 percent of the residents live in poverty with neighborhoods where fewer than 20 percent of residents live in poverty.

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City Releases New Design Recommendations for Sidewalks

The latest update to the city's Active Design Guidelines recommends treatments for the four “planes” framing the sidewalk — the canopy, the ground plane, the building wall, and the roadside. Photo: Center for Active Design

Last month at the the eighth Fit City conference, the same day DOT unveiled a new pedestrian wayfinding initiative, the city released an update to its Active Design Guidelines focusing specifically on sidewalk design. Although the new guidelines are just suggestions, the new document lays out a vision for how the city’s sidewalks can be designed to encourage more walking, and it has the imprimatur of the mayor and the commissioners of transportation, city planning, health, and design and construction.

The two-part document, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, categorizes its recommendations into four “planes” framing the sidewalk — the canopy, the ground plane, the building wall, and the roadside. The authors visited more than 30 sidewalks in six cities to observe and measure what gets people to walk more, and what doesn’t. The guide recognizes the many types of sidewalks in New York, from busy Midtown to quiet residential streets lined with trees and lawns. It identifies six attributes of a good sidewalk: safety, accessibility, sustainability and resilience, human scale, continuous variety, and connectivity.

Although the report does not propose specific regulatory changes, it does include general suggestions for how zoning, agency design guides, and other rules can be used to improve the sidewalk experience.

The report recommends constant variety in retail stores — also known as “skinny storefronts” – to foster an engaging environment for walking. On the Upper West Side, a rezoning last year restricted storefront width to 40 feet, with the goal of keeping blocks from becoming monotonous and uninviting to pedestrians.

These types of policies can make or break a streetscape. On Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, a wave of new development following a 2003 rezoning faced the sidewalk with big blank walls and parking lots. Eventually the Department of City Planning updated the zoning, banning garages next to the sidewalk on the avenue and mandating some retail on ground floors.

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How Many NYC Children Were Injured or Killed by Muni-Meters Last Week?

It barely made news and we didn’t hear a peep about it from any elected, but at least three children were seriously injured by drivers in Brooklyn and the Bronx late last week.

At least three kids were put in the hospital by drivers last week. No press conferences were held. Photo: Post

On the morning of Thursday, May 2, a 12-year-old boy was hit by a motorist at Bath Avenue and 24th Street, near Bath Playground and Joseph B. Cavallaro Junior High School. According to the Post, the child suffered head trauma, and was “expected to survive.”

At around the same time, another 12-year-old boy was hit by a school bus driver while riding his bike on 12th Avenue at 40th Street in Borough Park. From the Post:

Witnesses said he was struck by the rear tire while the bus was making a wide turn.

She Rosenbaum, 38, said the child stopped in his store to buy a soda before the accident, and then got on the bicycle.

“I saw the kid’s leg under the bus. I called the Hatzollah ambulance,” said She Rosenabum, 38. “He was screaming and yelling in pain.”

Rosenbaum said the child’s mother came to see him, and was distraught. “She was definitely crying ‘what happened? What’s going to be? I want you to live’,” he said. “He comes here every morning.”

On Saturday, a 7-year-old boy was struck by a driver on East Gun Hill Road at Decatur Avenue in the Bronx. News 12 reported that the child exited a double-parked van before he was hit. He was hospitalized in stable condition.

Traffic crashes have for some time been the leading cause of injury-related death for children in New York City. According to the latest report on child injury deaths from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene [PDF], 144 kids aged one through 12 were killed in crashes from 2001 to 2010. Of those victims, 93 — or 65 percent — were pedestrians.

Since January 2012, no fewer than 11 kids aged 14 and under have been killed by city motorists, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

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Envisioning a Neighborhood Bike Plan for East New York and Brownsville

After local residents and community organizations began organizing to bring bike lanes to East New York and Brownsville last year, NYC DOT is developing a plan to stripe the first bike routes directly through these neighborhoods, and more could be on the way.

Mapping out the next phase of East New York bike routes. Photo: Ben Fried

The process underway in eastern Brooklyn offers an intriguing glimpse at how the city can develop neighborhood-scale bike plans — especially promising for areas with high rates of chronic disease, where safer biking and walking can encourage more physical activity.

About 20 people gathered at the YMCA on Jamaica Avenue yesterday evening to discuss what’s holding East New York residents back from biking more, and to share ideas with DOT and the Department of Health about how to improve local cycling conditions. They heard from DOT about two bike routes that are in the works and hashed out where they think more bike lanes should go.

The Department of Health is taking an active role in East New York because residents have higher-than-average incidences of chronic diseases like diabetes. According to department surveys, local residents report lower than average levels of physical activity, and DOH has identified street design as a major factor. Currently there are no bike lanes in the neighborhood, and many street crossings pose a challenge for pedestrians.

Working with local organizations like the Brownsville Partnership, the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, and the Pitkin Avenue BID, DOH and DOT put on a group ride around the neighborhood last October and distributed surveys to find out how local residents want to improve local biking conditions.

As a result of those surveys, DOT identified two routes to serve as the backbone of the neighborhood bike network: a north-south route on Mother Gaston Boulevard and an east-west route on Pitkin Avenue. Both would consist of painted bike lanes between the parking lane and traffic lane where the streets are sufficiently wide, and sharrows where the streets are narrower. DOT has also mapped out locations for bike racks, which are currently very scarce in the neighborhood. The tentative plan is to show the bike routes to Community Board 16 this fall in preparation for spring 2013 implementation.

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Traffic Still the Top Injury-Related Killer of NYC Kids

Transportation-related deaths, represented on their own as the thick green line in this chart, remain the single largest killer of New York City children. Image: NYC Department of Health

Every year, the Department of Health releases a report on the injuries that kill NYC children [PDF]. And every year, the grim statistics show traffic to be the single largest cause of injury-related death among kids.

Between 2001 and 2009, 1,681 children under 13 years old died in New York City, 324 of them from unintentional injuries. Of those, 41 percent — 134 children — were killed in traffic crashes. Most of them were on foot when they were hit by a car or truck driver.

“Unintentional motor vehicle traffic accidents contributed the most to child injury deaths in NYC overall, with more than three quarters of deaths occurring among pedestrians,” the authors write.

The first report in this series focused specifically on traffic crashes, detailing specifically how motor vehicles kill New York City children. Last year’s report examined the massive racial inequalities in traffic fatalities; though 26.6 percent of New York City residents are black, black children make up 46 percent of all kids killed by cars.

This year, the Department of Health expanded the scope of its research to include serious injuries as well as fatalities. Between 2001 and 2008, 4,944 children were hospitalized with injuries from traffic crashes. Again, most were walking when hit. Traffic crashes are not the leading cause of hospitalizations among kids — about twice as many are caused by falls.

As preventable as these injuries are, and as much as these numbers need to come down, the rate of traffic injuries and fatalities suffered by NYC kids is lower than other American cities. Because New Yorkers extensively ride transit and walk rather than drive, child traffic deaths are three times lower per capita than the national average. New York’s far safer transportation system saves enough lives that it is the primary reason why the overall mortality rate for local kids is 30 percent below the national average.

In addition to urging parents to buckle in their children properly and teach them to cross the street safely, the Department of Health repeated its call for Albany to authorize camera enforcement of the speed limit on dangerous streets. Legislation to that effect went nowhere in the state legislature this spring.

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Slow Down Traffic: It’s Doctor’s Orders

*May 19 - 00:05*

Health Commissioner Tom Farley, a sometimes-bike commuter, offered strong support for slower traffic speeds last Friday. Photo: Daily News

Last Friday, Transportation Alternatives kicked off a new phase of its campaign for safer streets with the Stop Speeding Summit, bringing together doctors, elected officials, transportation advocates and engineers to outline the high costs of high vehicle speeds and plot a course toward slower traffic.

We’ll be bringing you a series of posts from Friday’s event and wanted to let Thomas Farley, the city’s health commissioner, start things off. Farley laid out the public health argument for 20 mph traffic at the summit and offered to send Health Department staff to community boards and other public meetings to lend some lab coat gravitas to livable streets arguments.

Farley made clear that building safer streets is a top priority for him as a health professional. “We are living in the era of chronic diseases and injuries as the top killers,” he explained. Nearly all the top killers in New York are chronic diseases, with heart disease topping the list. “Accidents,” a category which includes traffic crashes, come in at number four.

That means promoting physical activity is a public health necessity. “Even just taking transit as opposed to driving could make a substantial reduction in heart disease deaths,” Farley said, adding that walking or biking for longer distances would improve health even more.

Because obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other conditions correlated to the lack of physical activity are so widespread, Farley said that New York needs to address them by redesigning the city, not through individual conversations with doctors. “The way that we have an impact on the entire population is change the environment in which they live,” he said.

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Department of Health Takes a Snapshot of Bed-Stuy Cyclists

bed_stuy_graphic.jpgImage: NYC Department of Health
The city's Department of Health has made encouraging physical activity, which can help prevent obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments, a top priority. As part of promoting healthy lifestyles, the Department's Brooklyn District Public Health Office spent last summer studying cyclist behavior in Bedford-Stuyvesant to learn who in that neighborhood travels by bike, and how, so as to better be able to promote cycling in the broader North and Central Brooklyn area. The recently released results [PDF] provide a rare neighborhood-scale look at who cycles, how they ride, and what they think of biking conditions. 

DOH studied cyclists on four blocks with bike lanes. Two, DeKalb Avenue where it crosses Throop and Bedford Avenue where it crosses Fulton Street, had buffered lanes. The others, Tompkins at Putnam and Franklin at Myrtle, had unbuffered painted lanes. The researchers gathered most of their data on cyclist behavior using video cameras, and also conducted more than 300 surveys. 

BedStuyBikers.pngImage: NYC Department of Health

During the 10 recorded hours at each intersection, spread across the week, over 2,400 cyclists rode through the study areas: more than one per minute at each crossing. Most cyclists -- 89 percent -- rode in the bike lane, and those riders were obstructed by an illegally parked or idling car fully 10 percent of the time captured on camera. 

Demographically, 80 percent of the cyclists were men, with 40 percent identifying as black, 39 percent as white, 15 percent as Hispanic, and two percent as Asian. They tended to be regular commuters, with 65 percent reporting biking for half an hour or more at least five days in the previous week, and most lived in the area.

The survey also underscored the need for further bike safety improvements across the city. Of the cyclists surveyed, 27 percent had been involved in a crash in the last three years alone and a full 74 percent had felt unsafe on their bike. 

One reason that DOH survey is particularly important is the lack of decent data about biking behavior outside Manhattan. DOT's screenline count tracks only the crossings into the Manhattan CBD while a Department of City Planning study from last year looked at Manhattan bike lanes between 2001 and 2008. Census data covers the entire city, but is believed to undercount cycling by ignoring non-commute trips. These Bed-Stuy numbers may only be a one-year snapshot of a single neighborhood, but it's all part of painting a fuller picture of New York City cyclists. 

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Traffic Remains Top Injury-Related Killer of New York City’s Children

Picture_2.pngTransportation-related injuries, overwhelmingly caused by motorists hitting pedestrians, remain a top killer of New York City children. Graphic: NYC Department of Health
New York's public transportation keeps children alive. New York City traffic kills them. Those are the fundamental facts that explain injury fatality rates among the city's children, according to the Department of Health.

Last week the health department released their fourth yearly report on children's injury deaths [PDF]. As in past years, motor vehicles are the leading cause of death due to injury among children. Between 2001 and 2008, 1,535 children died in New York City, 445 from injuries. Of those, 106 were killed by motor vehicles. The overwhelming majority of these victims were walking at the time they were fatally struck, while a few were in cars themselves or on bikes or scooters. The first report in this series focused more closely on traffic crashes and offered a more detailed look at how cars kill children.

In this year's report, the Department of Health focused on disparities in fatalities, and the unequal burden of traffic couldn't be clearer. For instance, 26.6 percent of city residents are black, but black children account for 46 percent of the transportation injuries that claim the lives of New Yorkers age 12 and under.

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Health Commish: We Can Make NYC More Walkable and Bikeable

Thomas_Farley.jpgHealth Commissioner Thomas Farley: ready to saddle up and ride to work. Image: NY Daily News.

With half a year in New York and (most of) a nasty flu season under his belt, new Health Commissioner Tom Farley recently sat down with Transportation Alternatives to discuss the importance of walking and biking for NYC's health.

Since Farley took the helm at the Health Department, the agency has shown increasing interest in the health benefits of using muscle power to get around. The department worked with several other agencies on the city's new Active Design Guidelines, recommending planning policies to promote walking and biking. The agency also recently released a study linking walking and biking with better health.

In the winter issue of TA's Reclaim magazine, Farley couldn't be clearer about the potential for active transportation in New York, telling TA that "there is more that we can do to make it more walkable and bikeable."

As for the Health Department's role in those improvements, one idea Farley puts forward in the interview is to help to temporarily free city blocks from traffic. "Making that process simple and encouraging people to do that and pointing out its value is something, I think, that is a role for the Health Department," he said. So, block parties and Summer Streets -- doctor's orders. Farley also discussed the Health Department's innovative Bedford-Stuyvesant Bike Lane Study, which is currently underway and seeks to assess cyclist behavior and needs.

Farley has recommitted himself to bike commuting too. Although he pedaled to work at his previous post in New Orleans, since arriving in New York, he's kept his bike reserved for weekend use only. Farley told TA, though, that "when things get a little warmer and flu is behind us," he'll start taking two wheels to work.  

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Council Member Lappin Calls for Citywide Street Safety Office

Lappin_Speaking.pngJessica Lappin, the sponsor of new street safety legislation. Image: NY Real Estate Law Blog.
In order to create a more tightly integrated public policy on safer streets, Council Member Jessica Lappin introduced legislation yesterday to create a new Office of Road Safety within the Department of Transportation.

Lappin imagines the office creating a citywide response to unsafe streets, combining design improvements with better enforcement, education and research. The Office of Road Safety would host monthly meetings with all the relevant government agencies: DOT, NYPD, the Health Department, and the vehicular crimes unit of all five district attorneys' offices. Family members of victims would be present at every session to meet with officials.

"By working together and making road safety a priority," Lappin said, "our city agencies can save lives."

The idea comes from Transportation Alternatives' report "Executive Order," and TA has endorsed the bill. "Every time these agencies have sat around the same table, it has yielded huge gains for street safety," said TA Executive Director Paul Steely White. "We need to institute and formalize this coordination."  

Other council members have also signaled their support. Although they haven't yet signed on as co-sponsors, council members Jimmy Van Bramer, Daniel Dromm, Gale Brewer and Robert Jackson have issued strong statements in favor of the Office of Road Safety. As for hearings and moving the bill forward in committee, Council Member Lappin is expected to meet with transportation committee chair Jimmy Vacca soon.

What resources the Office of Road Safety would have at its disposal is an open question. According to a Lappin spokesperson, details like funding and staffing will be hashed out once the bill gets a committee hearing. Dedicated staff could spell the difference between a valuable monthly gathering with limited authority and an office with some bureaucratic heft.