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Posts from the Pedestrian safety Category

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Traffic Engineers Still Rely on a Flawed 1970s Study to Reject Crosswalks

When St. Louis decided not to maintain colorful new crosswalks that residents had painted, the city’s pedestrian coordinator cited federal guidance. A 2011 FHWA memo warns that colorful designs could “create a false sense of security” for pedestrians and motorists.

Shoddy, 50-year-old research is an obstacle to grassroots street safety efforts like this fleur-de-lis crosswalk in St. Louis. Photo: Rally St. Louis

That may sound like unremarkable bureaucrat-speak, but the phrase “false sense of security” is actually a cornerstone of American engineering guidance on pedestrian safety.

You’ll find the words “false sense of security” in Washington state DOT’s crosswalk guidelines too. The city of Stockton, California, makes the same claim. The list goes on.

What gives? Well, you can trace this phrase — and the basis of some engineers’ reluctance to stripe crosswalks — to one very influential but seriously flawed study from the 1970s.

In 1972, a researcher named Bruce Herms conducted a study of crosswalk safety in San Diego. He found that intersections with marked crosswalks had higher injury rates than ones with unmarked crosswalks. He concluded that marked crosswalks should only be installed where they are “warranted” because they can give pedestrians a “false sense of security,” encouraging risky behavior.

But there were problems with the study. For one, Herms didn’t actually study why people made certain decisions at crosswalks — that “false sense of security” was just speculation on his part.

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Total L.I.C. Street Rebuild to Include Safety Overhauls for Key Intersections

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer alongside the DDC and DOT Commissioners this morning. Photo: David Meyer

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer alongside DDC Commissioner Feniosky Pena-Mora (to the left) and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg (on the right) this morning. Photo: David Meyer

The streets of Long Island City are getting a total rebuild, and as part of the project four major intersections along Jackson Avenue and Vernon Boulevard will get redesigned for greater safety.

Many other intersections could get curb extensions or other traffic-calming treatments as part of the $38.47 million neighborhood-wide street reconstruction. Speaking this morning at the foot of the Pulaski Bridge, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer said DOT will prioritize four intersections: 21st Street and Jackson Avenue, 23rd Street and Jackson Avenue, Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue, and Vernon Boulevard and 44th Drive.

Jackson and 11th Street, a complex multi-leg intersection that pedestrians and cyclists have to navigate to get to the Pulaski Bridge, will also be improved. Once the Pulaski Bridge bikeway opens this spring, there will be a lot more room for walking and biking, and the approach on the Queens side could use an upgrade.

Long Island City’s population is on track to soar as new development hits the market. But sandwiched by the Queensboro Bridge to the north and the Pulaski Bridge and Midtown Tunnel to the south, the neighborhood is often overrun by car and truck traffic, creating an unpleasant and unsafe environment for pedestrians.

In December, Van Bramer, DDC, and DOT hosted a public workshop where local residents and business owners overwhelmingly cited Vernon Boulevard and Jackson Avenue as streets in need of safety improvements. Jackson Avenue feeds into the Pulaski and is the site of several popular attractions, including MOMA P.S. 1, but has few safe crosswalks. In 2015 alone, 31 people were injured on Jackson Avenue within the project boundaries.

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DOT’s Astoria Park Safety Plan Calls for 3 Protected Bike Lanes

DOT wants to turn Shore Boulevard into a one-way street with a protected bike lane. Image: DOT

DOT wants to convert a motor vehicle lane on Shore Boulevard into a two-way protected bike lane [PDF]. Image: DOT

Last June, a hit-and-run driver killed 21-year-old Betty DiBiaso at the intersection of 19th Street and Ditmars Boulevard, next to Astoria Park. The loss of DiBiaso prompted a neighborhood-wide discussion about the need to improve street safety around one of Queens’ most visited parks, and on Tuesday night DOT showed Queens Community Board 2 its proposals for the area [PDF].

Despite all the pedestrian and bike traffic, streets near the park lack basic traffic-calming features and safe access for people walking or biking. Since 2009, more than a hundred people have been injured on streets around the park.

The plan DOT showed Tuesday calls for major changes to sections of Shore Boulevard, 20th Avenue, and Hoyt Avenue, with new two-way protected bike lanes on those streets. Separately, DOT is studying a number of other possible improvements for the area, including daylighting intersections and improving pedestrian crossings around the park’s borders and adding speed bumps by the intersection where DiBiaso was killed.

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The Phantom Pedestrian Menace

In case you missed it, here’s the blog post by TWU 100 spokesperson Pete Donohue that set off a local Twitterstorm yesterday, in its entirety:

Pedestrian Menace

BY PETE DONOHUE

JANUARY 11 — Pedestrians are a menace — to themselves. Not all the time, but more often than you might think. “Dangerous pedestrian choices,” including crossing the street against the signal, are the primary cause in 31% of the city’s pedestrian fatalities, according to a two-year study. Pedestrian actions are a contributing cause in another 16% of pedestrian fatalities, according to the city Department of Transportation study.

In other words, pedestrians have at least some culpability in nearly half — 47% — of the traffic accidents in the city that result in a pedestrian being killed.

Pedestrian behavior is most problematic in Manhattan where sidewalks and streets are more crowded. It’s the primary cause in 43% of pedestrian fatalities in the borough and a contributing cause in another 16% — more than half of the accidents, 56%. Those statistics, which were tucked inside the Vision Zero Pedestrian Safety Action Plan that Mayor de Blasio’s administration released last year, are striking. Yet, you never hear about them. Some safety crusaders only want to talk about the city not redesigning streets fast enough and cops not cracking down hard enough on drivers. In their eyes, anyone with a set of car keys is a Mad Max maniac.

The DOT gives pedestrian safety talks in public schools and senior centers, according to its website. But I’ve never heard a city official speaking harshly or at length about pedestrians carelessly and recklessly putting themselves in harms’ way. The role of pedestrians certainly hasn’t been given equal weight to other aspects of the problem. If anything, the city report at times manipulates figures to keep the focus on drivers.

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Queens) and Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (D-Queens) dared raised the issue of “distracted walking” during a December press conference two days after a 17-year-old boy was killed crossing Northern Blvd. by a hit-and-run driver. Peralta said the city should create a public awareness campaign about the perils of texting while walking, along the lines of those targeting drivers. Seems reasonable enough. DenDekker talked about his proposal to issue $25 fines to pedestrians who text in crosswalks. They were overwhelmingly ignored by the media and vilified by one zealous advocacy group’s blog. Peralta and DenDekker “mostly blamed the victims of dangerous driving,” the blog stated.

It’s nonsense, of course. It’s a fact that people are constantly darting or sauntering through intersections against the signal, crossing midblock far from the relative safety of a crosswalk, texting with their heads down. We all do it. Only tourists from the Midwest, or from countries with a more obedient populace, seem to wait patiently on the curb. The city’s statistics quantify the dangerousness of our impatience and inattention. It would be reckless to ignore them.

After I saw the post, the main question I had was “Why?” Why is it so important to the transit union to assign fault to people who get struck by drivers? To blame the same people who are walking to catch the train or the bus.

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Empire Blvd Safety Fixes Run Up Against Parking and Gentrification Politics

A federally-funded redesign and reconstruction of two dangerous Empire Boulevard intersections is in jeopardy, running up against a combination of parking politics and gentrification fears.

DOT has plans to replace a small slip lane that feeds into Empire Boulevard with a pedestrian plaza, but local anger over gentrification could prevent the project from coming to fruition. Image: DOT/DDC/RBA Group

A plan to convert a small slip lane into sidewalk space is being met with resistance at Community Board 9. Image: DOT/DDC/RBA Group

The plan would add sidewalk space by simplifying two complex intersections where several streets converge [PDF]. On the western end of Empire, a slip lane would be closed at the intersection of Washington Avenue and Franklin Avenue. To the east, pedestrian space would be claimed at the even more complicated tangle of streets where Empire meets Utica Avenue, East New York Avenue, and Remsen Avenue.

Empire Boulevard is one of the most dangerous streets in Brooklyn. At these two intersections alone, there were 490 injuries between 2009 and 2013. Removing slip lanes at both locations will eliminate shortcuts where drivers can cut quickly across pedestrians’ paths, without fundamentally changing how traffic flows.

At Wednesday’s CB 9 Transportation Committee meeting, neighborhood residents and community board members joined around 10 representatives from DOT, the Department of Design and Construction, and the RBA Group to discuss the proposal, which the committee approved in a unanimous 4-0 vote in September. Chair Tim Thomas said he invited city officials to come back and make the case after the proposal drew criticism at a meeting of the full community board in November.

Supporters of the proposal presented a petition with nearly 300 signatures Wednesday night. Daniel Kristjansson, who sits on the committee, said in an email to Streetsblog that the project is a small but necessary step to make Empire Boulevard safer. “Empire Boulevard is deadly, and even with these changes it will still kill and subject many more to a lifetime of pain and disability,” he said. “But these improvements will make a noticeable dent in the casualty figures.”

The project has become swept up in the debate over the rezoning of Empire Boulevard, a flashpoint in predominantly black neighborhoods experiencing a rapid influx of more affluent, white residents. “I’ve been living on Washington Avenue all my life and living there has been a great pleasure — until recently, when these changes [have] taken place,” one resident, Felice Robertson, told the committee.

Other complaints were typical of street redesigns anywhere in the city. Robertson also said the neighborhood is “in dire need of parking spaces.” Another resident suggested that instead of pedestrianizing a block of Franklin the city should install a neckdown, which could be done “without taking away 15 parking spaces, which is a critical part of what this community still needs.” (The project would only remove seven spaces.)

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Lentol: Safety Improvements Coming to Meeker Avenue in 2016

The intersection with Skillman Avenue is just one of many unsafe crossing along Meeker Avenue in Williamsburg/Greenpoint. Image: Google Maps

The intersection with Skillman Avenue is one of many dangerous crossings along Meeker Avenue in Williamsburg/Greenpoint. Photo: Google Maps

DOT will present safety improvements next month for Meeker Avenue by the BQE in Williamsburg, according to Assembly Member Joe Lentol. The department told Lentol’s office it would bring a proposal to Brooklyn Community Board 1 on January 12.

Meeker Avenue runs under the BQE for a mile between North 6th Street and Vandevoort Avenue, dividing the neighborhood in half and posing risks to pedestrians and cyclists at nearly every corner. In 2014, 21-year-old Marisol Martinez was killed by an MTA bus driver while crossing the street at Union Avenue. In total, there were three fatalities and 104 injuries on Meeker between 2012 and 2014.

In April, Transportation Alternatives launched the Make Meeker Move campaign, calling on DOT to study pedestrian safety improvements and protected bike lanes along the corridor.

The next month, Lentol sent a letter to DOT requesting a pedestrian crossing where Skillman Avenue intersects with Meeker. DOT’s response indicates that the agency is looking primarily at ways to shorten crossing distances:

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DOT Weakened Riverside Drive Plan to Appease Manhattan CB 9 [Updated]

A DOT road diet for the Riverside Drive viaduct, where the majority of drivers speed, will keep two lanes for northbound drivers and will have no lanes for cyclists. Image: Google Maps

A DOT road diet for the Riverside Drive viaduct, where most drivers speed, will keep two lanes for northbound drivers and will have no dedicated lanes for cyclists. Image: Google Maps

DOT watered down and delayed an already half-hearted plan to make Riverside Drive safer for walking in deference to opposition from Manhattan Community Board 9.

Riverside is a neighborhood street, lined by apartment buildings and parks. It also ranks in the top third of Manhattan streets in terms of the number of collisions, which is supposed to mean it’s a high priority for DOT to redesign under Vision Zero. From 2009 to 2013, crashes on Riverside resulted in 74 injuries, including 23 severe injuries, according to DOT.

In January, DOT released a road diet plan for Riverside that was weak to begin with. By omitting bike lanes where there is clearly ample room, DOT passed on an opportunity to make the street safer for cyclists and pedestrians. But that wasn’t enough to placate CB 9, which refused to endorse the plan as drivers continued to injure people.

The original DOT plan called for reducing through-lanes on the Riverside Drive viaduct, where DOT says the majority of drivers speed, from two to one in each direction. But under the amended plan endorsed by CB 9 last May, the viaduct will remain two lanes on the northbound side, according to the office of City Council Member Mark Levine.

DOT dropped pedestrian islands planned for W. 120th Street after CB 9 objected to them.

DOT reportedly dropped pedestrian islands planned for W. 120th Street after CB 9 objected to them.

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To Make NYC Streets Safer, Focus on the Cause of 98 Percent of Harm

Graph: Google Docs

Source data: DOT and NYPD. Chart by Streetsblog

On Wednesday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer spoke in support of legislation that would create a “bicycle safety task force.” The language of the bill, introduced by Council Member Rosie Mendez at Brewer’s request, says the task force would make recommendations for improving bike infrastructure. But in testimony to the council transportation committee, Brewer suggested the panel would also provide a venue for people to gripe about cyclists.

“My office fields nearly daily complaints, many from seniors, who experience near misses with bikers, many of [whom] are breaking the law in some fashion,” Brewer said.

Earlier in the week Mendez staffer Matt Viggiano said basically the same thing to AMNY: “We have a lot of seniors who have called our office with complaints when cyclists don’t follow the rules of the road, and present dangerous conditions for pedestrians.”

There’s no way to pinpoint the extent of the problem described by Brewer and Viggiano. The city does not track near-collisions between cyclists and pedestrians, just like it doesn’t track near-collisions involving motorists or the actual incidence of traffic law-breaking. But for the past few years the city has collected data on reported collisions between people biking and walking. The numbers show that targeting bikes can’t achieve major gains in pedestrian safety, because nearly all pedestrian injuries and deaths are caused by motorists.

DOT recently released 2014 figures on cyclist-pedestrian collisions [PDF] reported to NYPD. People on bikes struck and killed three NYC pedestrians last year, according to DOT, and injured 305 people walking. By comparison, motorists killed 134 pedestrians in 2014, and injured 10,981. So last year cyclists were accountable for just over 2 percent of pedestrian deaths, and less than 3 percent of injuries. And that year was an outlier for fatalities.

From 2000 through 2014, cyclists killed 11 people in NYC, while motorists killed 2,425 pedestrians, making cyclists accountable for .4 percent of deaths over 15 years.

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Video Shows Driver Hitting Pedestrian in Brooklyn Crosswalk. Does NYPD Care?


A driver hit a pedestrian who was crossing with the right of way in Brooklyn on Saturday, but it’s unclear if NYPD filed charges or is pursuing an investigation.

The crash happened at the intersection of Marlborough Road and Beverley Road, a signalized crossing. As shown in the above video, sent to us by reader Olgierd Bilanow, the victim (on the far sidewalk, wearing light-colored clothing, at the top of the frame) was crossing Beverley when the driver of a white van struck him while turning left. FDNY has not responded to a query about injuries to the victim.

Writes Bilanow:

The pedestrian was taken by ambulance to the hospital. My security cameras recorded the incident and I showed the video to the police officers at the scene. You clearly see the pedestrian wait for the light, look for oncoming traffic, and then cross in the crosswalk. Two-thirds of the way through the van turns and knocks him over. From what I could tell the driver was allowed to leave once the police took down their report and so far the 70th Precinct has not contacted me for the footage.

Under the Right of Way Law, it is a misdemeanor for a driver to cause physical injury to a person who is walking with the right of way. But NYPD does not investigate most crashes in which pedestrians and cyclists are injured by motorists.

Because the Collision Investigation Squad was not dispatched to the scene, the NYPD public information office had no record of the crash. Attempts to reach detectives at the 70th Precinct were unsuccessful.

With NYPD showing no interest so far in video evidence that’s known to be available, this looks like another collision that won’t get much attention from police.

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Rodriguez Backs Bill to Strengthen Legal Protections for People in Crosswalks

Momentum is building in the City Council for a bill to strengthen pedestrians’ right-of-way. Introduced by Public Advocate Tish James last week, Intro 997 picked up the support of Transportation Committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez today.

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: NYC Council

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: NYC Council

The bill fixes a flawed city rule that says people should not start to cross the street at any point after the pedestrian signal begins flashing red. With the proliferation of countdown signals that start flashing early in the pedestrian crossing phase, at many intersections there’s very little time for people to step off the curb before their legal right to cross expires. Police and prosecutors have cited the rule when they avoid applying the city’s Right of Way Law to drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

Under Intro 997, the rule would state that pedestrians in the crosswalk “shall have the right of way for the duration of the flashing cycle and vehicular traffic shall yield the right of way to all such pedestrians for as long as the signal remains flashing.”

Citing the 13 people who’ve been killed while walking in New York over the past two weeks, Rodriguez said in a statement that the bill “will fix an outdated traffic law that defends drivers in the event of a pedestrian accident, even if a crosswalk signal is still counting down.”

The current rule could be amended by the de Blasio administration without legislative action, but City Hall has not acted.

In addition to James and Rodriguez, there are currently four sponsors in the City Council: Margaret Chin, Debi Rose, Peter Koo, and Costa Constantinides.

A hearing on the bill is not yet scheduled. A spokesperson for Rodriguez said the transportation committee’s agenda for the next few months is currently being formulated.