Fall 2003, p.18

Lessons from Europe
What Germany and Holland Can Teach NYC About Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety

Crazed cabbies, aggressive sports utility drivers and cell phoning motorists can make New York City streets feel dangerous. Unfortunately, this perception is accurate. Every year, motorists strike and injure an average of 15,000 pedestrians and 4,500 bicyclists in New York City.

New York City has already traffic calmed Herald Square. The project's success should inspire the City to do more.
New York City has already traffic calmed Herald Square. The project's success should inspire the City to do more.

New York City should look to what Germany and Holland have done to encourage bicycling and walking and reduce bicyclist and pedestrian deaths and injuries. Like New York City, these countries are heavily urban and are dependent on public transportation.

In the last few decades, Germany and Holland have made extraordinary progress to improve the safety of people walking and bicycling. From 1975 to 2001, cycling trips in Germany doubled, but bicycling deaths declined by 64% and pedestrian fatalities by 82%. In Holland, pedestrian fatalities declined by 73% and cycling fatalities by 57%. (Note: New York City decreased the number of pedestrian fatalities by 40% between 1983 and 2002, from 305 to 184. Unfortunately, the City has not made similar progress in reducing pedestrian injuries or cycling deaths and injuries.)

Germany and Holland have improved conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians by employing concerted, long-term public policies to reengineer streets, change urban design, strengthen traffic enforcement and traffic laws and institute more vigorous driver education. Almost all of what these countries have done could be replicated in some form in New York City, and would help to reduce significantly the number of New Yorkers struck, injured and killed by drivers.

Better Facilities for Walking and Cycling

German and Dutch policy calls for extensive auto-free zones for pedestrians; wide, well-lit sidewalks; pedestrian refuge islands; clearly-marked zebra crosswalks; and pedestrian-activated crossing signals. Dutch and German cities have also invested heavily in expanding and improving bicycling facilities. Between 1978 and 1996, the Dutch more than doubled their already massive network of bike paths and lanes; the Germans tripled theirs from 1976 to 1995. Germany and Holland also provide an increasing number of "bicycle streets," where cyclists have strict right of way.

In New York City:

  • Tame big, scary streets like Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn and Queens Boulevard in Queens by installing and widening medians, extending sidewalks at corners ("neckdowns") and using raised intersections and crosswalks to slow turning vehicles and reduce speeds at intersections.
  • Re-engineer bridge and tunnel entrances, like the Brooklyn side of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, and mega-intersections like Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn and Columbus Circle in Manhattan to put walkers and cyclists on equal footing with motorists.
  • Connect bridges, greenways and bike lanes with safe bike lanes, including physically separated on-street lanes like the ones in Herald and Madison Squares in Manhattan.
  • Widen the sidewalks on 7th and 8th Avenues near Penn Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan and near other crowded transit hubs.
  • Make Broadway between 42nd and 44th Streets in Midtown Manhattan and the areas near the stock exchange and Federal Reserve Bank in lower Manhattan into pedestrian space, and consider pedestrianizing Broadway between 34th and 42nd Streets.

Traffic Calming

Traffic calming limits the speeds of motor vehicle traffic through both law and physical barriers. Traffic calming techniques include raised intersections and crosswalks, traffic circles, road narrowing, zigzag routes, curves, speed humps and artificial dead-ends created by mid-block closures. In both The Netherlands and Germany, city officials use traffic calming to tame whole areas, not just isolated streets within that area. By approaching the problem from an area-wide perspective, German and Dutch officials ensure that faster through-traffic gets displaced onto arterial routes designed to handle it, and not simply shifted from one local road to another.

In New York City:

  • Launch a Safe Routes to School program with public fanfare, and traffic calm the area around the 135 most pedestrian unfriendly schools.
  • Regularly employ raised crosswalks, intersections and the full range of traffic calming engineering techniques to reduce through-traffic and slow traffic on secondary arterials like Hicks Street in Downtown Brooklyn.
  • Traffic calm streets near museums, universities and other large institutions that are major pedestrian destinations.

People-Oriented Urban Design

Attractive bollards, like the ones on West 8th Street in Manhattan, foster safe and appealing walking areas.
Attractive bollards, like the ones on West 8th Street in Manhattan, foster safe and appealing walking areas.

New suburban developments in The Netherlands and Germany are designed to provide safe and convenient pedestrian and bicycling access. Residential developments almost always include other uses such as cultural centers, shopping and service establishments that can easily be reached by foot or bike. When non-motorists must traverse an obstacle such as a highway, railroad or river, Dutch and German cities usually provide them with safe and attractive pedestrian and bicyclist crossings.

In New York City:

Convert some on-street parking spots in crowded areas into space for newsstands and vendors.

  • Change building regulations to limit curb cuts, thus reducing the number of vehicles crossing sidewalks. Ensure that gas stations, parking lots and drive-through restaurants are safe and easy for pedestrians to walk around.
  • Ensure that big box stores are designed for congenial pedestrian access and are not islands in a vast sea of parking. Do not allow auto-dependent malls or big box stores unless they provide free delivery.
  • Scale down development plans for Hudson River Park and Brooklyn Bridge Park.
  • Continue to limit parking at new residential and commercial developments.
  • Keep motorists from parking and driving on sidewalks by using sturdy bollards.
  • Consider building light rail on heavily used bus corridors like Queens Boulevard in Queens, and First and Second Avenues and 42nd Street in Manhattan.

Restrictions on Motor Vehicle Use

Dutch and German cities also restrict auto use by charging much more for parking than American cities. In addition, most Dutch and German cities prohibit truck traffic and through-traffic of any kind in residential neighborhoods.

The City closed the Columbus Circle entrance to Central Park and reclaimed it as park space. Next step: a car-free park.
The City closed the Columbus Circle entrance to Central Park and reclaimed it as park space. Next step: a car-free park.
In New York City:

  • Make Central and Prospect Parks car-free.
  • Charge more for on-street parking to reduce the double parking threat to cyclists and properly reflect the value of this desirable public property. Expand the DOT's Midtown Commercial Vehicle Congestion Parking Program to include all arterial streets throughout the city.
  • Toll the East River bridges to pay for the cost of bridge upkeep and fund new public transportation.
  • End free on-street parking for municipal employees. Begin by banning city employees from parking in metered spaces

Launch "Kill Your Speed, Not a Child" media campaign.Traffic Education

Driver training for motorists in The Netherlands and Germany is much more extensive, thorough and expensive than in the United States. In their training programs, the Dutch and Germans emphasize how crucial it is to pay special attention to avoiding collisions with pedestrians and cyclists. Motorists are required by law to drive in a way that minimizes the risk of injury for pedestrians and cyclists even if they are jaywalking, cycling in the wrong direction, ignoring traffic signals or otherwise violating traffic regulations.

In New York City:

  • Pass New York State legislation funding the adoption of AAA Traffic Safety Foundation's "Novice Driver, Model Curriculum."
  • Launch "Kill Your Speed, Not a Child" media campaign.
  • Hire an expert consult to audit the existing curriculum of driver education classes in New York City and its suburbs.

Traffic Regulations and Enforcement

Traffic regulations in Germany and The Netherlands strongly favor pedestrians and bicyclists. The most significant difference between the transportation policy of these countries and that of the United States is how much more strictly they enforce traffic regulations for motorists. German and Dutch penalties can be high, even for minor violations. They consider not stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks a serious offense and will ticket a motorist for non-compliance, even if pedestrians are only waiting at the curb and are not actually in the crosswalk.

In New York City:

  • Pass state legislation allowing New York City to deploy 200 red light cameras. (Start with legislation allowing 100.)
  • Pass state legislation allowing New York City to deploy 100 speed cameras. (Start with allowing the city to use six car-mounted speed cameras like Washington D.C.)
  • Increase enforcement of illegal oversize trucks and trucks driving outside of designated routes.
  • Pass state legislation making it a felony for a motorist with a suspended or revoked drivers license to be involved as a driver in a crash in which someone is injured or killed.
  • Raise the fine for speeding, red light running and reckless driving on New York City streets to $250 per violation and allow police to confiscate vehicles driven on sidewalks.
  • Pass state legislation reducing the requirement to prove intent in crashes involving injury and death to one illegal action instead of two. (End the rule of two.)

Based on "Promoting Safe Walking and Cycling to Improve Public Health: Lessons from The Netherlands and Germany" by John Pucher and Lewis Dykstra, September 2003. www.walkinginfo.org/pdf/AJPHArticle.pdf.

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