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

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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.

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NYC Agencies Team Up on Guidelines for an Active City

active_design_guidelines.jpgCity officials, architects, planners, and public health advocates crammed into the Center for Architecture last night for the unveiling of New York City's Active Design Guidelines.

Heralded as a first-of-its-kind collaboration between four city departments -- Health, Transportation, Design and Construction, and City Planning -- the effort underscores that New Yorkers, as much as we like to think of  ourselves as a city of walkers, need to live healthier lifestyles.

The statistics touched on last night (included in the manual’s opening chapter), reveal that the majority of adults in New York City are either overweight or obese. More alarming, perhaps, is that 43 percent of elementary school children are overweight, and the rate is rising.

As sobering as those numbers are, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley stressed that the city’s effort "is not just about lowering obesity rates, but also about addressing diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, depression, and cognitive decline.” Such chronic diseases, he stated, are exacerbated by how we currently design the built environment and may be quelled with even the most moderate amounts of exercise, whether it be from walking, bicycling, or even climbing the stairs.

To this end, livable streets activists will find much to applaud in the pages of the Active Design Guidelines. Inside, many elements of the city's new Street Design Manual are further substantiated with research indicating that safer streets will translate to a markedly healthier city. From mixing land uses to -- yes -- addressing the supply and location of parking, the guidelines focus on the role urban design should play in making New York City a healthier place to live.

While this is a far-reaching and impressive document that other cities should seek to emulate, it is, in the end, only guidelines. The hard part, as always, is executing the wisest policies and enacting the right recommendations.

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Confirmed: New Yorkers Reap Health Benefits From Walking and Biking

walk_bike.jpgGraphic: NYC Department of Health
The NYC Department of Health announced the results of a citywide survey today [PDF] assessing the health benefits of regular walking and biking. Based on telephone interviews with more than 10,000 New Yorkers, the health department reveals that people who incorporate walking and biking into their daily routine are significantly more likely to report good physical and mental health than those who don't. The report concludes with recommendations to encourage walking and biking, including steps like building safer infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.

There's a lot of interesting numbers to comb through, including some geographic data with big implications for New York City neighborhoods. First off, here are some of the major takeaways:

  • Sixteen percent of New Yorkers incorporate walking, biking, running, or skating into their daily commute.*
  • Eighty-three percent of adult New Yorkers who regularly walk or bike for transportation report excellent, very good or good health, compared to 70 percent of those who do not.
  • The correlation between better health and frequent walking and biking is significant, regardless of income level.
  • Only 10 percent of New Yorkers who regularly walk or bike report frequent mental distress, compared to 14 percent of those who do not regularly walk or bike.
  • Men are significantly more likely to bike to work in New York City than women.

So in nerve-fraying NYC, getting around using your own muscle power can help alleviate mental stress. And walking and biking improves your chances of living in good health, no matter how much money you make. Chalk up more data to support Elana Schor's coinage from earlier this year: "Transportation reform is health reform."

But the cycling gender divide is real, and it's not the only significant discrepancy revealed by this report. Geographically, there are major variations in the percentage of New Yorkers who walk and bike regularly. Follow the jump to see the DOH map.

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Memo to DOH Commish: Don’t Be Afraid to Bike, or Push for Safer Biking

farley.jpgTo promote biking and walking, new health commish Tom Farley could send DOH representatives to CB meetings about street safety improvements. Photo: Tulane University.
For two days running, the Daily News has reported that recently appointed Health Commissioner Tom Farley feels, let's say, hesitant to ride his bike in Manhattan. Coming on the heels of this week's DOH report on child fatalities -- which downplayed the risks of traffic -- it got us wondering how the agency might influence street safety under the new boss.

First, some words of encouragement for Farley, who biked to work every day at his previous job in New Orleans. Riding in Midtown is a lot less intimidating than it was just a short while ago, with a new bike route running from Columbus Circle down to Madison Square nearing completion. Once Farley's bike gets shipped and he takes a few practice runs on the Hudson River Greenway, a tour of Manhattan's burgeoning bike network is highly recommended.

Second, no one needs to remind Farley that safe streets pay enormous public health dividends. As co-author of "Prescription for a Healthy Nation," he helped coin the term "healthscaping" to express the idea that physical environments can be shaped to encourage healthier habits. In public talks, he's been known to sing the praises of walking and biking as transportation. When it comes to the transportation-health connection, the commish knows what's up.

Under Mayor Bloomberg, the Health Department has been an influential pulpit from which to launch high-profile policy initiatives. Witness the trans-fats and smoking bans that helped catapult our last commissioner, Tom Frieden, to the top job at the Centers for Disease Control. Street safety could be the next frontier for a major DOH campaign -- reducing injuries and fatalities while making streets more appealing for active transportation.

Traditionally, the Health Department has played a marginal role in enhancing street safety, so I asked Transportation Alternatives director Paul Steely White how Farley might go about this. He suggested that DOH start by analyzing traffic injuries and deaths with epidemiological rigor. Safety trends in New York City are positive -- annual traffic deaths have declined about 30 percent this decade -- but if we want to keep moving in the right direction, we'll need to understand a lot more about why this is happening. Currently, no one really knows.

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DOH Report on Child Deaths Offers No Solutions to Biggest Problem: Traffic

fatal_injury_graph.jpg"Non-Transport Accidents" includes burns from fire and scalding liquids, falls, and several other causes of injury. "Transportation Accidents" is mainly comprised of kids on foot killed by autos. Chart: NYC Department of Health.
Yesterday the Department of Health released its yearly report on child fatalities [PDF], which focuses on deaths due to injury. This year's report goes into terrific detail about causes of death inside the home, but when it comes to the most widespread cause of unintentional injuries that kill kids -- traffic -- the document doesn't say much.

Injuries took the lives of 388 New York City children from 2001 to 2007, and if you break down the specific causes of unintentional fatalities cited in the report, the single biggest risk to kids appears to be traffic.

I say "appears" since the report presents information on traffic deaths in a rather indirect fashion. 77 kids age 12 and under were killed by motor vehicle crashes that "involved child pedestrians." This data comes on page 21 of a 29-page document. No graph or chart shows traffic deaths side-by-side with other specific causes of death. It's not until page 23 that one learns "motor vehicle-related accidents (occurring on streets and roadways) remain the largest contributor to child injury deaths overall."

I mention this because the purpose of the report is "to inform policies, laws, regulations, and prevention activities in order to prevent future deaths." To make those policies and laws effective, you need to have a clear picture of relative risk. Preventing deaths from, say, poisoning is certainly important, but preventing deaths from traffic would save more lives by a huge margin. There are broad implications for police, legislators, and planners that follow.

Yet, in its recommendations, the report only touches on measures to improve safety inside the home. It's a stark change from the initial report released by the Health Department's Child Fatality Review Team in 2007 [PDF].

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A Citywide Prescription for Livable Streets

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"Streets to Live By" marshals data from several cities to make the case for investing in livable streets in New York.

Today Transportation Alternatives released "Streets to Live By" [PDF], the report previewed last week in the Observer. It seeks to define what makes a street livable and to synthesize a broad range of data, culled from numerous cities, on the effects of policies that put pedestrians first.

This doc is a big one, and we're still sifting through it. An early impression: The evidence gathered here related to economic development, health, and social wellbeing suggests that a number of city agencies should be shepherded into the livable streets fold. From the report's recommendations:

Improvements that support livable streets, whether through new construction, street rebuilding or zoning amendments, should be the standard. Coordination and creative problem solving between these agencies, including the Department of City Planning (DCP), Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Department of Design and Construction (DDC), Economic Development Corporation (EDC), Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and Department of Sanitation (DOS) would be best led by the DOT and the Mayor’s Office of Planning and Sustainability.

The report also names the Department of Health and the Department of Small Business Services as agencies that can forge stronger ties to a livable streets agenda, and calls for a livable streets training program aimed at the city's community boards. "We recognize that the jurisdiction of each agency only goes so far," says T.A.'s Shin-pei Tsay, "and we hope there can be greater collaboration between them."

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Streetfilm: City Officials Talk Up Bike Month


In contrast -- or, conceivably, as a complement -- to the L.A. Times portrait of city cycling, here's a Streetfilm from Elizabeth Press, shot yesterday at Transportation Alternatives' Bike Month NYC kick-off.

At a press conference held in the new 14th Street plaza, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan talks about present and future street-level improvements, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe sums up progress on greenways, and Health & Mental Hygiene Assistant Commish Jane Beddell promotes biking as part of the solution to the city's obesity problem. TA's Paul Steely White then gives a quick run-down of some of the 200+ Bike Month events.

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Free Bike Helmets for Delivery Workers Today

In anticipation of two new laws that take effect in July, DOT is handing out free helmets to commercial cyclists. One law requires businesses to provide helmets to employees who use bicycles as part of their work, and to make sure their workers wear them. Another law requires businesses to display this poster (pdf) in their workplace. From the DOT press release:

nyc_bike_helmet.jpgTransportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Chinese Chamber of Commerce Chairman David J. Louie will distribute free NYC bicycle helmets to delivery workers on Tuesday, June 26th, 2007. The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will also distribute reflective safety vests at the event. The helmet fitting and distribution will be held from 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association, 62 Mott Street.

The event is intended to inform businesses and bicycle operators about two new laws that take effect on July 26th, 2007 and were sponsored by Council members Gale Brewer and Alan Gerson, both of whom attended today's announcement.

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has begun a pilot program to provide delivery workers with reflective vests that increase cyclists' visibility and allow for easy display of identifying information. Under city law, commercial cyclists must display a sign indicating their employer's name and a personal, three-digit identification number.

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Digging in: How Many Crashes Are Due to “Bicycle Factors?”

Bike-Helmet_1.jpgCharles Komanoff at Right of Way has churned out an initial analysis of the City's bicycle injury and fatality study. Here is his take:

New York City just released its first-ever study of bicycle injuries and fatalities. There's good news and bad news. The good news is that four City agencies (health, transportation, parks and police) admitted, finally, that bicycling is good for New York City, and pledged to expand the City's cycling infrastructure. The study also didn't indulge in the NYPD's habitual victim-blaming in cycling fatalities, a significant though unacknowledged shift.

Going forward, the involvement of the Dept. of Health may help move the discussion from harping on the dangers of cycling to highlighting its health benefits.

But here's the bad news: The study has many methodological flaws and misleading findings, leading it to over-emphasize helmets and bike lanes and neglect the need for universal street safety. And the study completely neglects the fact that most fatal crashes are caused by aggressive, self-entitled drivers, and laissez-faire policing that allows motorists to literally get away with murder.

The study attributes 42% of all fatal bike-vehicle crashes to "bicycle factors," 20% to "vehicle factors" (i.e., drivers), and 36% jointly to both cyclists and drivers (another 2-3% of cases couldn't be coded). That's an improvement from the NYPD's made-up "statistic" that 75-80% of biking fatalities are solely the cyclists' fault. But it's still deeply misleading. I know because I was given access to the NYPD's cause-coding for three of the years studied (1996-98).

I headed up the team at Right Of Way that analyzed 1995-98 fatal bike crashes and wrote RoW's Only Good Cyclist Report (PDF file) in 2000. My review of the NYPD's crash analysis found them rife with errors. In one case, a driver ran a red light and struck and killed a cyclist proceeding lawfully through an intersection; The NYPD gave the cause as "Bike Thru Red Traffic Signal Light And Struck By Vehicle" and actually assigned a Bike Factor of "Traffic Control Disregarded." Similarly: a cyclist was crushed when a Mack truck made a right turn directly into his path. NYPD said, "Unsafe Bike Operator Turned Into Vehicle And Was Struck By Turning Vehicle" and assigned a Bike Factor of "Unsafe Lane Changing," even though it was the truck that changed lanes unsafely and turned into the cyclist, who had been traveling straight with the right of way.

I found that only 20% of the fatal bike-vehicle crashes could be attributed to "bicycle factors" (vs. the City's 42%), while 44% were the exclusive result of "vehicle factors" (vs. the City's 20%). The remaining 36% were the fault of both cyclists and drivers (the same as the City's tally). In effect, my analysis turned the City's cause factors upside down.

Diagnosis dictates treatment. If driver aggression or inattention is killing cyclists, the answer is to change that behavior. To say the very least, the study missed a priceless opportunity to tell it like it is.