With Pedestrian Deaths Up, Mayor, DOT, and NYPD Pledge Safer Streets

Pledging that "even one traffic fatality is one too many," Mayor Bloomberg joined DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and NYPD transportation chief James Tuller today to release new information on traffic deaths in New York City. In 2009, 256 people died as a result of traffic-related injuries on city streets, a 12 percent drop from 2008 and a low figure by historical standards, but a high toll that officials vowed to drive down further.

jsk_bloomberg.jpgTuller, Sadik-Khan, and Bloomberg at today’s announcement at PS 384. Photo: NYC.gov

"While traffic deaths are down 35 percent from 2001 levels, we have more work do to," Bloomberg said at an event held at P.S. 384 in Bushwick, "and we will continue pressing forward with better traffic engineering, stricter traffic enforcement and greater public awareness about traffic safety. Our goal is very simple: continue making our streets safer for everyone."

Breaking down the numbers reveals where much work remains to be done. Motorist fatalities declined 20 percent from the previous year, while pedestrian deaths rose slightly, from 151 in 2008 to 155 in 2009. The share of pedestrian deaths among overall fatalities grew from slightly over 52 percent in 2008 to more than 60 percent last year.

Cyclist deaths, meanwhile, dropped from 26 in 2008 to 12 last year. Although the small sample size of cyclist fatalities makes it difficult to draw hard and fast conclusions, the decline is especially notable given the greater number of cyclists on the streets — a testament to the new bike infrastructure that DOT has built recently. "One year does not make a trend," Charles Komanoff, author of Killed by Automobile [PDF], told Streetsblog, "but it does strongly suggest that
better engineering and flooding the streets with bicyclists are two big
components to making cycling much safer."

Advocates took the joint appearance by Bloomberg, Sadik-Khan, and Tuller as an encouraging sign for traffic safety as a multi-agency priority. "That the Mayor, the DOT, and the police stood up together is great," said Transportation Alternatives Deputy Director Noah Budnick, "because it shows that this is a multifaceted problem that needs coordination to be solved."

Another agency to bring on board, Budnick suggested, is the Health Department. While the yearly decline in traffic deaths is encouraging, it’s tough to determine how much of it can be attributed to different factors like street design, enforcement, or trauma care. An epidemiological approach to traffic injuries could help pinpoint what works and achieve further safety gains, Budnick said.

Other metrics in addition to traffic fatalities could offer a better picture of the state of street safety in New York. Per capita pedestrian injury rates tell perhaps the most comprehensive tale about the danger and risk people face while walking. Better information on why fatal crashes happen — which has been difficult to wrest from NYPD — would also help save lives. "We don’t have injuries, and we have zero analysis for how these pedestrians and cyclists were killed," said Komanoff. "Without the individual analyses, collectively interpreted, further progress is going to be limited."

More data may be released soon. The city announced in its press release that it will be coming out with a report showing that many fatal crashes are caused by speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians, and that DOT and NYPD will collaborate to target enforcement on these violations.

Today’s announcement included a few mentions of initiatives underway to achieve further improvements in street safety. Of particular note: DOT is looking at enhancing the safety of traffic operations near 135 elementary and middle schools, and, in a storyline to watch in Albany, legislation has been introduced to allow New York City to install speed enforcement cameras. The sponsor in the Assembly is Manhattan representative Deborah Glick.

  • JK

    Deborah Glick successfully sponsored the passage of the New York City Traffic Calming Law circa 2002. She is close to Sheldon Silver. That law allows NYC DOT to design streets for speeds as low as 15mph for traffic calming. It is a good sign that she is the assembly sponsor for speed cams. The bad news is that red light cams have been a political football and the mayor has had to make concessions on other issues in order to get Shelly to increase their number. Just the same, she is a good sponsor for Transportation Alternatives and other advocates to work with.

  • JK

    Oh yeah, per Charlie, it would be very helpful if the city also broke out pedestrian and bicycle injury numbers so the ongoing trends would be clearer. Still, that reduction in bicycle fatalities is very impressive and should call for a round of applause for Commissioner Sadik Khan and her team. (I’m not crediting the NYPD, speeding is out of control and enforcement highly predictable and usually absent.)

  • I’m glad the Mayor said that even one traffic fatality is too many. Embracing the Reaching for Zero mantra should be something that DOT picks up.

    Still, the Schizophrenia of the City’s many agencies on street safety is just mind-boggling. I hope this is a signal that the city is going to get more coordinated on this issue.

    DOT should continue to expect a good number of fatalities to continue on First and Second Avenue in East Midtown when it tries to use sharrows for 40 blocks of the worst congested traffic to bridge protected bike lanes North and South of the East Midtown Meatgrinder TM

  • Glenn, you and I agree about the need for first-class bicycle facilities on the East Side, but I think your rhetoric might be a little off. I checked Crashstat just now and it lists two bike fatalities on Second Ave and none on First Ave over the reporting period (1995-2005). I think that’s about comparable to fatalities on the protected-bike-lane Hudson River Greenway over the last 10 years (at least two, maybe a third?).

    My understanding is that most people who might cycle in the city are pretty aware of their risk and that regrettably, there are lots of people who today find that risk too high. I think we agree that sharrows aren’t enough to get people biking on 1st and 2d Avenues; I think I disagree with you that sharrows lead to death. More probable in my view is that folks won’t ride at all.

  • Check out these links from 2006, oth from the old days of Iris Weinshall.http://www.uppergreenside.org/2006/09/30/queensboro-meatgrinder/
    and
    http://www.uppergreenside.org/2006/11/05/lappin-takes-action-on-queensboro-bridge/

    Not much has changed since then.

  • Glenn, agreed. Thanks for sharing the links. Hope you mention them in a Upper Green Side post dedicated to this exact topic.

  • Ariel

    I’m glad to see that the city is addressing this issue head on. My only concern is the state legislatures tendecy to spoil progressive livable- streets initiatives that comes its way. They have already blocked congestion pricing, bridge tolls and enforcement cameras on buses so I don’t see traffic cameras flying by them too easily

    It would be best to contact the legislatures well ahead of time about the traffic camera initiative and hope that are not later pulled away by auto lobbyists and special interests.

  • The danger presented by automobiles ensures its local monopoly on this city’s streets.

  • Last I heard, monopolies are illegal.

  • Duderinski

    The numbers of pedestrian fatalities will not decline in NYC anytime soon. The problem is that NYC drivers have ZERO respect for pedestrian. They have ZERO respect for anything; selfish and impatient. Emergency vehicles get no respect from NYC drivers… they don’t pull over, EVER. This another reason NYC is so noisy. EMT driver have to play with the siren just to get people to pull over. New Yorkers are the worst drivers in the country… it’s like a 3rd world population behind the wheel in NYC.

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