Seniors Survey Manhattan’s Deadliest Street

Hours after the Tri-State Transportation Campaign released a report yesterday identifying New York’s deadliest roads, 13 AARP volunteers surveyed part of Third Avenue in an effort to make walking in New York safer.

AARP.JPGAARP volunteer Marlene Ramsey tracks safety conditions on Third Avenue. Photo: Noah Kazis.

The surveyors braved the January cold to spend their afternoon standing on the corner of Third and 49th Street, clipboards and stopwatches in hand, documenting the conditions at the intersection. Tri-State’s report revealed that nine pedestrians were killed on Third Avenue between 2006 and 2008, making it one of the deadliest streets for pedestrians in downstate New York. A 58-year-old man was killed at the survey site on February 21, 2008.

Third Avenue is seven lanes wide at this location, so it’s perhaps no surprise that so many tragedies occur there. Small fixes, though, could make a big difference. Volunteer Marlene Ramsey identified the crosswalks, badly in need of repainting and more visible zebra stripes, as the biggest problem with the intersection. Standing next to her, Alice Wade requested countdown timers for walk signs. Without them, she said, "I have to rush across the street and be scared I’ll fall."

Some of the surveyors had personal experience with the hazards of Third Avenue. Volunteer Bobby Lee, who lives between Second and Third Avenues, explained his motivation for fighting for safer streets. "There was an older adult in my neighborhood who got run over by a bus," he said. "The bus driver was traumatized and the older adult was dead." Susan Ryckman, who lives on Third Avenue, reported, "I had two close calls walking here today. It really is dangerous."

The survey results will be released in the near future, and AARP will send the findings to NYCDOT in hopes of making Third and 49th safe for pedestrians. But the work won’t end there. The volunteers, all of whom were new to transportation activism, will soon put their experience to work on their own blocks, conducting walkability surveys.

AARP volunteers from the other four boroughs, as well as from nearby suburban counties, will also perform similar surveys. Together, says AARP’s Will Stoner, these activists will help advocate for a statewide complete streets bill in Albany in the current legislative session, part of a campaign for livable streets at the local, state, and federal levels that should pay big dividends for all street users. "If you design a roadway for someone older," said Stoner, "it’ll be safer for people with baby carriages or really anyone else."

  • Bravo to these folks for their survey work! I’m very interested in their results–as a resident of the UES who commutes regulalry to work in Midtown East, I am surprised to learn that Third Ave. is more dangerous than First or Second. My impression has always been that motorists are more numerous and aggressive at the access points to the East River crossings on First and Second, than they are on Third.

  • I work on Third Ave in the 50s and there is so much traffic around Midtown that when motorists see 10 feet of open space, they accelerate into it immediately. You would think that traffic makes cars safer since they are not moving as much, but that’s deceptive. What happens is that cars become less consistent and less law abiding. They accelerate fast, make sharp turns, switch lanes, and jump through lights since they feel like they have “waited long enough” when they see a yellow turn red in front of them. Also many just look at the cars in front of them to the exclusion everything else on the road.

    And there is a huge number of pedestrians in this area.

  • Niels

    I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but how the general population of New York finds numbers like these acceptable is unbelievable. Nine deaths in three years on a single intersection gives a very strong message that whatever is currently there, does not work at all.

    Here in Rotterdam (The Netherlands) the city is actively working on solving so called black spots. A black spot is an intersection where in three consequtive years there were six(!) or more accidents where someone got hurt. The city keeps monitoring the statistics, and each year sets an aim of how many to solve. Some are solved with some paint, a speed bump or a change in timers, others require reconstructions of the intersection. Since 2003 the city has set an aim of how many black spots should be fixed per year.

    The point is that having a definition of a black spot is politically very smart. First of all, it helps the acceptance of the idea that the only metric that counts when it comes to evaluating intersections is that of a human life. When you solve a black spot, you solve a dangerous place for humans. You no longer talk about traffic throughput, or efficiency. And guess what, the city council still has discussions on traffic throughput and what not. But nobody questions that the number of injuries is the number one indication of the performance of an intersection. And as such there is no structural fight against slowing down traffi, or removing parking spaces for safety.

    Your current system of fixing things up in a random way lacks structure, vision, and accountability. I know you need visionary plans like major bike routes, or closing up Broadway. But you should also take care of the little things.

    Anyway, if I were to do the next round of advocacy, my bet would be on urging the DOT and the city to set a standard on traffic safety, and holding them accountable for it.

    (And really, I am amazed at how much you can do with some paint or plants. You have seen it over and over the past few years. Getting the DOT to structurally spend time and money on dangerous intersections will not always cost much. In fact I thinkt it will rearrange the budget of the DOT for the better).

  • Glad to see senior safety get attention.

    In 2003 Transportation Alternatives, funded by the NYS Department of Health, created the Safe Routes for Seniors Program, and in his 2008 State of the City address, Mayor Bloomberg launched the City’s very own Safe Streets for Seniors Program (hopefully he’ll give an update on it later this month).

    Transportation Alternatives’ six year program produced groundbreaking research on how to promote walking among senior citizens (their primary form of physical activity) and developed the “Elder District” concept. Research from the government and non-government sectors show that seniors are more than twice as vulnerable as other pedestrians. People 65 and older make up about 12% of the City’s population but make up nearly 39% of traffic deaths in NYC.

    Making streets safe for the most vulnerable users, makes them safer for everyone.

  • Erin Q.

    Niels: Great comment.

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