An In-Depth Examination of City’s Mission to Make New York’s Roads Safer for Everyone
Our most recent blog post outlined the Sustainable Streets: 2013 and Beyond brief, which provides an update on the Sustainable Streets plan initiated by NYCDOT in 2008. One of the cornerstones of the plan is that of safety. The DOT is committed to making the streets of New York’s five boroughs safer for its pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists; far too many people are the victims of terrible accidents as the result of unsafe road conditions on Queens Boulevard and other thoroughfares throughout the city.
The Sustainable Streets plan provides a comprehensive outline of its safety initiatives, including case studies of successful projects and projections for the future. The initiatives break down as follows:
Designing Safe Streets. According to the DOT, “street design can literally make the difference between life and death.” That’s because the way that a street is designed provides critical visual cues to all of its users – cues that, if ignored or misinterpreted, can put those users in grave danger. NYCDOT’s Traffic and Planning Division is responsible for designing the city’s streets; in the last eight years, they have undertaken 250 projects concentrated specifically on increasing safety through speed reduction, sidewalk extensions, and simplification of intersections. Additional safety measures implemented as part of these street design projects include raised medians, increased pedestrian crossing times for large roads, and the development and expansion of bicycle networks throughout the five boroughs. Safer street design is making the difference in NYC, too – road-related fatalities in these updated areas are down over 30% since 2005. The plan references Southern Boulevard in the South Bronx and Delancey Street in Manhattan, among others, as examples of streets that have benefited greatly from safer street design.
The Science of Safety. NYCDOT employs careful analysis of crash-related data, which in turn informs its decisions about how to improve street safety throughout the city. In its pivotal 2010 Pedestrian Safety Study & Action Plan, the department joined forces with data experts from several leading educational institutions (including New York University) to devise an advanced statistical model; this model evaluated pedestrian and motor vehicle injuries and fatalities in the city over a specified period of time, taking into consideration variables in pedestrian behavior, as well as contributing factors to the accident (driver inattention, alcohol consumption, and so on). By understanding the data surrounding accidents at a given location, NYCDOT is better placed to implement effective safety measures specific to that location – solutions that target problems and provide workable solutions.
Tools for Safe Streets. NYCDOT depends on an arsenal of tools to help fight the war on unsafe streets. These tools include school and neighborhood speed/slow zones, red light cameras, speed cameras, and improved traffic signals. Other, perhaps less obvious tools are making the difference on New York streets as well – tools like “daylighting”, or the removal of parking spaces near busy intersections. The daylighting initiative helps to diminish potentially catastrophic accidents, by removing impediments to the sight lines of both drivers and pedestrians. Another safety tool – banning left turns at certain intersections – has removed the danger often associated with this maneuver, doubtless saving lives in the process. And yet another initiative, focused on education and outreach programs for commercial cyclists, has been very successful.
DOT’s Public Conversation on Street Safety. NYCDOT has worked hard to involve New Yorkers in its mission to improve the overall quality of life in the city by providing safer ways to get from here to there. Sometimes, all it takes is just a reminder to keep pedestrians, car drivers, and cyclists from making costly mistakes. From impactful ad campaigns about the dangers of drinking and driving to curbside haikus reminding people to look both ways before crossing the street, the department is spreading awareness about the importance of being a responsible driver, pedestrian, and cyclist. Educational initiatives, free bike helmet programs, and frequent calls for community input help to get – and keep – the public involved.
Looking Ahead. In the crusade to make New York’s streets as safe as possible, there is no room for complacency. The DOT realizes that, though much progress has been made, there is still much to be done over the coming years – because even one accident on NYC streets is one accident too many. As the Sustainable Streets: 2013 and Beyond brief states, “New York City must be relentless and innovative in seeking ways to continually improve its traffic safety performance.” The plan details specific and important ways in which the city can maintain and expand upon its success, including the allocation of additional funds toward redesigning still-dangerous thoroughfares, as well as lobbying for changes in both federal and state law regarding highway aid.
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