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Posts from the Pedestrian safety Category

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3 Sources of Cluelessness Conspire to Blame Victims for “Distracted Walking”

For a policing icon who built his reputation on being data-driven, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton has a penchant for shooting from the hip on traffic safety.

At the Vision Zero conference yesterday, Bratton cited distracted walking as a reason pedestrian deaths in the U.S. are rising.

U.S. pedestrian deaths were indeed up last year, perhaps by as much as 10 percent. But how does Bratton know that an uptick in distracted walking — texting, earbudding and the like — played a part in the nationwide rise? How about in New York City? Has Bratton heeded the entreaties of street safety advocates and instructed the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad to data-mine its traffic death forensics to ferret out primary causes like drivers’ aggressive turning, speeding, texting, and curb-jumping, vis-à-vis screen-absorbed pedestrians walking into buses?

Unlikely. A better guess is that Bratton’s source was an AP story that ran earlier this week. Here’s the lede (emphasis added):

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Street Safety Benefits of Congestion Charging Are Bigger Than We Thought

Map-of-london-charging-zone-_-annotated

The decline in crash rates in and around the London congestion charging zone has far outpaced the decrease in traffic volumes.

Evidence keeps mounting that congestion pricing can catalyze major reductions in traffic crashes. A year ago I reported on research that vehicle crashes in central London fell as much as 40 percent since the 2003 startup of London’s congestion charge. The same researchers are now expressing the safety dividend in terms of falling per-mile crash rates, and the figures are even more impressive.

The researchers — economists associated with the Management School at Lancaster University in northern England — compared crashes within and near the London charging zone against 20 other U.K. cities, before and after 2003. Their conclusion: Since the onset of congestion charging, crashes in central London fell at a faster rate than the decrease in traffic volumes. As important as the reduction in traffic has been for safety, at least as much improvement is due to the lower crash frequency per mile driven.

In short, driving in the London charging zone isn’t just smoother and more predictable, it’s safer. And safer for cyclists as well as drivers, with the number of people on bikes expanding considerably as car volumes have fallen.

The research reported last year was compiled in a working paper, Traffic Accidents and the London Congestion Charge. The new results stressing crash rates (per mile driven or bicycled), rather than crash numbers, appear in the paper’s final, peer-reviewed version published in January in the Journal of Public Economics.

Here are key findings:

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StreetFilms
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Peatónito in NYC: Protecting Pedestrians in the Crosswalk

Peatónito (“little pedestrian”) might be the most beloved figure in the world of street safety. How can you not love a superhero who protects pedestrians from cars?! Since donning the cape and luchador mask three years ago, he’s become a media sensation in Mexico. This week he’s in New York City for Transportation Alternatives’ Vision Zero for Cities 2016 conference, and Streetfilms was lucky enough to squeeze in this exclusive whirlwind walking tour of Brooklyn and Queens streets showing him in action.

Jorge Canez, the man behind the mask, has been a pedestrian advocate in Mexico City for quite a while. He’s been involved with many tactical urbanism-type of interventions, like painting crosswalks with his own spray can. As Peatónito, he’s attained a new level of fame for gently scolding drivers, escorting pedestrians though dicey intersections, and pushing cars (or occasionally walking over the tops of cars) to make motorists more aware of their transgressions.

Come along for a fun short as Peatónito hits the intimidating streets near Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, the constantly blocked bike lanes on Jay Street by MetroTech, and crosswalks in Jackson Heights, Queens, helping children walk to school.

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DOT’s Meeker Ave Safety Project Gets — You Guessed It — Meeker

DOT's updated proposal for Meeker Avenue opts for new neckdowns instead of a closed slip lane at the triangle formed by Metropolitan Avenue, Havemeyer Avenue and N. 5th Street. Image: DOT

DOT’s updated proposal for Meeker Avenue opts for curb extensions instead of a car-free space at the triangle formed by Metropolitan Avenue, Havemeyer Avenue, and N. 5th Street. Image: DOT

DOT has watered down its safety plan for the area around Meeker, Union, and Metropolitan avenues. And for the second time in as many meetings, Brooklyn Community Board 1’s transportation committee could not make quorum last night to vote on the project.

DOT’s plan calls for sidewalk extensions and crosswalks at several intersections where Meeker, Union, and Metropolitan converge. It’s not a “complete street” redesign of the length of Meeker, but it would be a step up for pedestrian safety at these locations. There were three fatalities and more than 90 injuries in the project area between 2009 and 2013.

DOT wants to bring pedestrian safety improvements to this around around Meeker Avenue in North Brooklyn. Image: DOT

Map: DOT

Last night’s presentation included a few modifications from what DOT showed in January. Significantly, the plan no longer calls for pedestrianizing the short segment of North 5th Street between Metropolitan and Havemeyer. Instead, DOT will add neckdowns at three corners.

DOT Project Manager Julio Palleiro said the change was made at the request of the Church of the Annunciation, whose front entrance faces the would-be plaza. The church initially OK’d the car-free space, but came back to DOT after last month’s presentation. “They made a very strong case about elderly folks that need to get up to the front door here, and by having them over here that will add an extra 30 or 40 feet, which is significant for elderly people,” Palleiro said.

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Streetsblog USA
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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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