Summer 2000, p.7

Signs Abound. Traffic Calming to Come?

With the recent inauguration of the DOT's new School Safety Engineering Department, the New York City Department of Transportation is poised to build the traffic calming that will save children's lives. Traditionally, the DOT has responded to the city's cries for student-friendly streets with signs and more signs. In fact, in the past few months alone, thousands of new high-visibility school crossing signs have been put up by the DOT and will soon be seen around every school in the five boroughs. These brighter and more reflective fluorescent yellow-green signs are the final product of a gargantuan school sign inventory project that dates back multiple DOT Commissioners.

While the stop sign inventory and replacement program show the DOT is hearing parental complaints about their children's safety, signs are not a panacea. Many traffic safety experts agree that more is less when it comes to signs because of the visual clutter they create. Sign clutter has been such a big concern with the DOT that the agency refused to post speed limit signs until forced to by mayoral order in the late 1990's. While signs create an expectation of a clearly defined behavior, drivers often ignore them.

In contrast, traffic calming engineering has been proven over decades to reduce both the number and severity of pedestrian crashes. Traffic-calmed streets compel drivers to slow down to speeds that allow them greater time to react to unexpected situations -- like a child darting across the street to retrieve a ball. If a lower speed crash does occur, it is less likely to kill or seriously injure. Thorough and serious traffic calming measures are the only antidote for the malady of child pedestrian accidents. This is especially true because children are much less careful than adults and far more vulnerable to injuries from speeding and traffic. This is why school-based traffic calming programs, like The Bronx Safe Routes to School, are particularly effective reducing child pedestrian crashes.

With signs in place, the DOT's School Safety Engineering Department can move beyond the polite suggestion of a sign to traffic calming devices that will make the streets safer. T.A. encourages the DOT to keep moving forward.

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When was the last time that your six year-old actually stood still for more than five minutes? Without abdicating responsibility as parents to teach our children 'street smarts,' we need to realize that children will be children, and make streets safer with this in mind. The best thing we can do for our children, in addition to teaching them 'streets smarts', is to make sure that the streets they walk are safe and traffic calmed. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has identified five physical and mental factors that make children unusually "bad pedestrians," even when they know the rules:

  • Children are short and have short legs. They don't move as quickly as grownups, and they're easily hidden behind cars and SUV's.
  • Children have a hard time identifying where sounds come from and have not yet fully developed their peripheral vision.
  • Children are inattentive and impulsive. They are likely to choose the shortest route across streets, often darting out mid-block or entering the roadway between parked cars.
  • Young children can't assess the threat of traffic. Their senses are not as well developed as adults, they process information more slowly, and they don't have the experience necessary to anticipate driver behavior.
  • Children make up their own rules of the road, such as believing that they are protected within the confines of a painted crosswalk.