Fall 2003, p.12

Safe Streets
New York City Pedestrian Fatalities at Historic Low

New York City Pedestrian Fatalities at Historic Low
* 2003 projection based on data through Sept. 30, 2003

Tucked away inside a routine October 2nd press release from the Department of Transportation was the startling announcement that, according to preliminary figures, motorists killed 102 pedestrians in New York City during the first nine months of this year.

Although it is unquestionably a grievous loss of human life, the fatality figure is significantly lower than ever before and far lower than a decade ago.

In 1993, motorists killed 214 pedestrians during the same period. If this year's trend continues, New York City will finish 2003 with fewer than 140 pedestrian fatalities. The previous historic low was in 1998, when police reported 183 pedestrians killed.
Pedestrian fatalities have declined steadily since about 1990, when motorists killed 365 pedestrians. Since then, the Department of Transportation has improved safety at the 100 most dangerous pedestrian crossings.

At some crossings, like Herald and Times Square, the agency has re-engineered streets with wider sidewalks, narrowed roadways and turn restrictions.
At many crossings, including Queens Boulevard (aka "The Boulevard of Death"), the DOT has improved lighting, extended crossing times and placed fences on medians to reduce jaywalking.

The police department has improved and focused its traffic law enforcement through TrafficStat; the program has allowed the DOT to be faster at fixing dangerous locations. And, the reduction in crime has freed more police for traffic enforcement.
But these longer term safety measures do not help explain why motorists have killed such a relatively low number of walkers this year. Last year, motorists killed 184 pedestrians (the second lowest year ever). So, why are pedestrian deaths down by 24% in one year? Is it luck? Steady improvements in emergency medical care? Reductions in motorist speeding? We do not know.


NYC Pedestrian Injuries Remain Around 15,000 Per Year

While pedestrian fatalities have plummeted, the number of walkers struck by motor vehicles drivers has changed very little over the decade: 14,732 in 1991 versus 15,009 in 2001. (Note: This is actually a slight improvement, since the population of the City increased by 9.4% between 1990 and 2000, so the percentage of the population struck every year has declined a bit.) The question is why do motorists continue to strike so many, but kill so few? One explanation is that drivers are striking pedestrians while traveling at lower speeds. This explanation would make sense if the number of serious pedestrian injuries is also declining sharply, but this is information T.A. does not have at the moment.

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