Winter 2004, p.13

Safe Streets
Safe Streets: How Much Safer is New York City for Pedestrians? 

New York City pedestrian injuries have clearly decreased, especially when adjusted for New York Cityís 9% population growth between 1990 and 2000.
New York City pedestrian injuries have clearly decreased, especially when adjusted for New York Cityís 9% population growth between 1990 and 2000.

How safe is it to walk in New York City and how should we measure this? T.A., the press and government often consider the number of pedestrian fatalities as the most basic index of walking safety. The good news is that pedestrian fatalities in New York City decreased dramatically during the 1990s, from 365 in 1990 to an all-time low of 178 in 2003. The reduction in fatalities seems to be the result of better targeted police enforcement, especially since 1998 and the implementation of
TrafficStat, the New York City Department of Transportationís execution of big improvements at particularly dangerous locations and, possibly, improvements in medical response time and trauma care.

Another way to measure street safety is to look at the rate of pedestrian injuries. The news here is also good. There has been a substantial decline in pedestrian injuries, from 15,589 in 1990 to 11,616 in 2000; this is an impressive 33% decline when population growth is taken into account.

So why are we not cheering louder? First, cycling deaths and injuries have not dropped significantly since the late 1980s and early 1990s. Second, the everyday walking experience is still marred by speeding, reckless driving and dangerously disrespectful turning motorists. Finally, New York City remains downright dangerous when compared to other, similar cities. Twenty-eight percent more pedestrians are hurt or killed in New York City compared to London, an ethnically- and economically-diverse city that closely resembles New York City in size, land use and transportation mix. In other words, 145 pedestrians are killed or injured annually for every 100,000 people in New York City, compared to 98 pedestrian deaths or injuries for every 100,000 people in London.

Editorís note: In the last issue of Transportation Alternatives Magazine, we cited police department statistics for New York City pedestrian injuries in 2001 as 15,009. This total probably includes bicycling injuries, though we were unable to confirm this by press time.

Are Cyclists Left Out of Safety Success Story?

At first glance, it would appear that bicycling in New York City does not seem to have gotten much safer. In 1990, 3,693 cyclists were struck and injured, in 2000 3,696. But the problem is that we do not really know how many more people are cycling now than ten years ago. Bike counts on area bridges strongly suggest an increase in everyday cycling, but do not tell us anything about casual cycling behavior or cycling within neighborhoods. Though we do not have perfect information, it is still a safe assumption that it is much more dangerous to ride a bike than walk in the city. People make vastly more walking than cycling trips in New York City, yet there are only three times more pedestrian injuries reported than cycling injuries. Even considering that cycling trips are longer than walking trips, and cyclists thus more exposed per trip, the number of cycling injuries are very high.

Is NYC a safe place to walk and bicycle?
Not compared to London.

Given the tremendous amount of walking in New York City, the number of people killed while cycling and walking here is very low compared to other large United States cities. But given differences in cycling levels, and potentially medical care, the fairest comparison between cities is probably pedestrian injuries per 100,000 people, which is 48% higher in New York City than London.

It is no accident London is safer for cyclists and pedestrians. While New York City basks in its improved safety record, London projects images of pedestrians and cyclists killed by motorists on to its city hall, and the mayor launches high profile public safety campaigns.

Londonís Goals
Between 2000 and 2010, London seeks major safety improvements.

  • 40% reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured
  • 50% reduction in the number of children killed or seriously injured
    (Compared to the cityís 1994-98 average)

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