Testimony of Karla Quintero, Deputy Director of Planning, Transportation Alternatives to the New York City Council Transportation Committee oversight hearing on Pedestrian Safety
April 11, 2007
Good morning, my name is Karla Quintero and I am the Deputy Director of Planning at Transportation Alternatives.
Pedestrian safety is a critical problem in our city. Each year more than 10,000 pedestrians are injured on New York City streets, and more than 150 lose their lives. This amounts to about 1 pedestrian death every two to three days and about 27 pedestrians injured every day. If killing a pedestrian with a car were considered a crime, it would displace attacks with sharp or blunt objects as the second most common kind of homicide in New York City.
In response to this crisis on our streets, Transportation Alternatives is asking the City to adopt a comprehensive Pedestrian Safety Action Plan (see Appendix A) to reduce pedestrian crashes by 20%. The plan recommends engineering and enforcement solutions that would result in 2,000 fewer annual pedestrian injuries and fatalities on New York City"s streets by 2009 as compared to 2005.
Today, I am here to talk about solutions that the City of New York has control over and can change starting today.
There are two types of streets in New York City. Streets that are complete, and streets that are incomplete. Let me explain what I mean by this. Through the compilation and analysis of over 10 years of citywide pedestrian crash data, we now know that crashes are not random occurrences. We now know that crashes happen more often on streets that that lack important safety improvements such as extended pedestrian crossing time, narrower travel lanes, and the addition of protected pedestrian refuge space. Streets that lack these basic pedestrian safety measures are incomplete.
Unfortunately, complete streets, ones that give pedestrians the safety they need and deserve, are still the exception and not the rule. While Queens Boulevard and a handful of other notoriously dangerous streets have been made more complete with the addition of pedestrian safety improvements, the City DOT has not yet made complete, safe streets part of its standard operating procedure. It defies logic that even on streets that are undergoing routine reconstruction or repaving, the DOT is still failing to automatically include safety improvements that have been proven to save lives.
In addition to causing death and injury, incomplete streets isolate residents and discourage them from walking. With increases in vehicular traffic and poor driver behavior, many New York City streets no longer function as safe passageways through communities, but rather obstacles for residents trying to reach important destinations and institutions, such as local parks, grocery stores, transit stops and senior centers. Harlem"s seven year effort to gain changes at 135th Street and Madison Avenue serves as an unfortunate example.
For the past seven years, elected officials and residents have requested changes to an intersection that is so dangerous that many residents of the adjacent housing complexes will not cross the street to visit their relatives living on the other side. In these seven years the DOT has only made small changes to traffic signals that have failed to make the intersection safer for Harlem residents. The intersection now leads into a beautiful new waterfront park, the Harlem River Park, yet the DOT still refuses to consider recommendations put forth by the community and traffic safety experts to make the area safer.
Sometimes all it takes to fix these dangerous locations, such as 135th Street and Madison Avenue is the political will to do so. On March 31st 2006, Dr. Esther Levine, a senior citizen, was struck and killed at the intersection of 20th Street and 1st Avenue. This death mobilized the senior citizens in her community to organize around winning changes that would make the intersection safer for pedestrians. Together with Council Member Garodnick, the community was able to work with the Department of Transportation to gain important changes at this location to protect pedestrians within a period of 5 months. The changes included, exclusive pedestrian crossing time, realignment of crosswalks, new ADA compliant curb-cut ramps and the conversion of a service road into a pedestrian plaza (see Appendix B). These changes have made this intersection more complete - safer and accessible to everyone.
If the DOT can make such important pedestrian improvements at 20th Street and 1st Avenue, where there are high volumes of vehicular traffic and high pedestrian volumes, then they have the ability to make and consider similar improvements for intersections throughout the city that are equally as dangerous, such as the top 10% of intersections, that account for 50% of all pedestrian injuries and fatalities. If they know how to make intersections safer, it is their duty to make an effort to duplicate this success at these intersections where pedestrian crashes are high or in areas where there are high concentrations of vulnerable pedestrians, such as children, the disabled, the visually impaired and senior citizens. Later you will be hearing testimony from New Yorkers that have lost loved their loved ones, grandchildren, sons and fiancées. Now, I want to take a moment to focus on senior citizens, a population that is relatively overlooked in transportation.
There are close to one million senior citizens living in New York City, yet the City fails to provide them a basic standard of protection when walking. For the past four years T.A. has been working to document the issues of vulnerable pedestrians in New York City, namely senior citizens. Senior citizens are being struck, injured and killed on New York City streets at alarming rates. Almost half of transportation-related deaths in this city are pedestrians and more than a third of pedestrian deaths are sustained by seniors, yet they account for only 13% of the population.
Senior citizens are aware of this danger. I know because I have been working with many older New Yorkers in different neighborhoods throughout the city to collect data on their local streets in an effort to make them safer. Senior citizens are going out with maps, stop watches and disposable cameras to document these conditions (see Appendix C). The senior citizen advocates that T.A. works with want the DOT to know how poorly our streets are functioning for them and how interested they are in improving pedestrian safety. Hundreds of seniors have participated in these efforts and despite broad support from the community and elected officials to bring safer streets to this constituency, the DOT has not responded to their requests. Making streets safer for vulnerable pedestrians such as senior citizens should be a priority for the City. If our city"s streets can be made safe enough for vulnerable pedestrians, then they will be safer for everyone.
Contrary to popular belief, pedestrian safety is not just a transportation issue, it is also a public safety and public health issue.
With COMPSTAT, New York City has been able to set ambitious goals to both measure crime, target resources efficiently and reduce crime and has been reaching important milestones in doing so. The City needs to take the same approach to understand where pedestrian crashes are occurring and where to make improvements to streets to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities and prevent more from occurring. The City should set a goal to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities by 20% by 2009. This would mean 2000 fewer pedestrian injuries and fatalities on New York City streets. As a first step, the City should publish a multi-agency study of serious pedestrian injuries and fatalities since 1995.
The City knows more today about the health of New Yorkers and health disparities than it ever has. Currently, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene estimates that 1 million New Yorkers are overweight or obese and that 675,000 New Yorkers have diabetes. In response to these epidemics the City is taking bold steps to improve New Yorkers access to healthy foods. The second piece of the puzzle is redesigning New York City streets so that they enable New Yorkers to be more physically active and walk more. The City reconstructs 90 miles of roadway each year. One simple way to achieve this goal is to adopt a street maintenance policy that ensures that every time the City reconstructs streets, pedestrian safety measures and traffic calming measures are included in this work as a matter of course, making the street complete. Such a policy and other recommendations in the Pedestrian Safety Action Plan would provide New Yorkers with the adequate infrastructure to walk more and thereby improve their overall health. Furthermore these changes would save lives and restore New York"s preeminence as one of the world"s great walking cities.