Report: Traffic Threatens Older Pedestrians Most of All

Senior_Crossing_Street.jpgThe intersection of Bleecker and Carmine is located in New York’s most dangerous county for older pedestrians. Photo: A. Strakey/Flickr.

More than 10,000 pedestrians are injured every year on New York City streets. The people who are most at risk are senior citizens, new research from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign shows. Pedestrians over 60 years old, and especially over 75, are far more likely to be killed by cars than younger walkers. 

Older pedestrians across America are at higher risk of being killed in a car crash, but the problem is particularly acute in downstate New York. Nationally, pedestrian fatality rates are 1.5 times as high for Americans 60 and older than for those under 60. In downstate New York, older pedestrians are killed 3.7 times as often. The pedestrian fatality rate for those over 75 is even higher, almost five times that of those under 60. 

Between 2006 and 2008, 290 pedestrians aged 60 or over were killed by drivers in downstate New York.

Culling information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Tri-State found that of the 12 downstate counties, Manhattan had the highest rate of pedestrian fatalities among senior citizens. Because seniors walk more in New York City, the need to build streets where they can get around safely is all the more striking.

"In most of the country, once you age out of driving you’re kind of stranded," said Tri-State’s Michelle Ernst. "New York is great because you can walk, but that means that more older people are exposed to the dangers of being hit and killed by an automobile." Brooklyn had the second highest rate of pedestrian fatalities among older residents, followed by Nassau County, Staten Island, and Orange County. County-by-county fact-sheets are available on Tri-State’s website.

Tri-State offered a number of recommendations for how to address the crisis of senior safety. In Albany, they highlight complete streets legislation, which has strong backing from AARP, and vulnerable user legislation, like Hayley and Diego’s law.

At the local level, they recommend instituting or expanding programs like New York City’s Safe Routes for Seniors, which targets pedestrian infrastructure in neighborhoods with high concentrations of older residents. "NYCDOT has been a leader in this field," said Ernst, highlighting infrastructure improvements like pedestrian refuge islands and longer crosswalk times as particularly important for older pedestrians.

Finally, Tri-State called for shifting federal funds from the Highway Safety Improvement Program and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program to pedestrian safety.

AARP is due to release a similar report on older pedestrian fatalities in five upstate counties as well. That report could "spur some activity with some upstate legislators" said Will Stoner, AARP’s Associate State Director for Livable Communities. Assembly Transportation Committee chair David Gantt, whose support is critical for passing complete streets legislation, represents Rochester. 

Ernst stressed that taking these steps can help take the fear out of crossing the street and make New York a safer place to grow old. "It’s grandparents," she said. "They’ve seen so much in their lives that to be struck down while walking down the street is just really tragic."

  • ddartley

    When lovely WCBS 880 AM ran a story on this study this morning, they introduced it, “Like we say with our traffic updates, ‘Easy does it.’ Maybe we should say ‘Easy does it pedestrians!'” Yeah. Like @#$% seniors are running around intersections carelessly. Then the reporter signed off, “This is [so and so], at [whatever intersection it was], ‘looking both ways!'”

    Wonderful perpetuation of the blame-the-victim mentality.

  • As someone who is seven years away from being a pedestrian over 60, I can only view this story with fear and alarm. Agree that complete streets and traffic calming would help a lot. For instance, if I cross Broadway in the UWS, I have a nice wide median equipped with barriers that have real car-stopping power. But if I cross 96th Street, there’s no median to buffer the two-way car traffic, the drivers are impatient bordering on savagery, and the risk is unacceptably high. I’m a power walker but that intersection scares the hell out of me every time I cross it, which is daily. As I grow older, the risk will only grow. A city with a pedestrian super-majority sure could do a better job of protecting its municipal income tax paying citizens.

  • I said a city with a ped super-majority … should have said a borough with a ped super-majority.

  • One of the most awful things I ever saw in my six years living in Manhattan was an old lady sprawled in the street, just minutes after having been hit by a car. The cops had just arrived but it was so alarming to see this helpless lady sprawled on the pavement, walker nearby.
    At the time I thought, “Geez! Don’t you slow down for an old lady with a walker?”
    Well, some two years later I got a dog (a big yellow one named Rubia) who is impossible to miss. And no, cars don’t stop for me and Rubia in the crosswalk very often, when they’re rushing to turn right and wait at the next red light.
    One of the biggest solutions to this problem, in addition to the concrete barriers Mark suggested, is greatly increasing the length of pedestrian crossing signals, as well as adding pedestrian refuges in wide streets. The ideal, I think, is Ninth Ave., where the great protected bike lane was coupled with pedestrian refuges. A once perilous street to cross has been made safer for walkers and bikers alike.
    When bike advocates are pressing forward with their safety agenda, we stand a lot to gain when we ally our interests with those of seniors and kids.
    We all want to get where we are going without getting hit by a motor vehicle.

  • Interestingly, the cohort most opposed to traffic-calming measures — like the Prospect Park West and 9th Street road diets in Brooklyn, are in the demographic cohort that’s a decade or two short of being too old to drive. They may find their opposition to losing a few parking spaces diminished when they have to negotiate an extra-wide street plagued by speeding cars.

  • Lora Tenenbaum

    Not only do I fall into this age group, but my 91 year old dad does as well. He has two primary means of transportation available to him: walking and the bus. Crossing streets is always perilous because he goes so slowly, even though he does not need a cane or walker. He looks a lot younger than he is and I notice that many drivers expect him to be able to pick up his pace…which he simply cannot. Sadly, this is true of the attitude of most bicyclists as well…they expect the reactions of a much younger person. We really need to put pedestrians first and both increase the length of pedestrian crossing signals and use countdown signals such as those now used in Washington, DC.

    Now that many bus stops are being eliminated, and many elderly cannot use the subway, they will either be forced to cross many more intersections to get to a bus. That is, if they are fit enough to add multi-block walks to their regimens. I think there are going to be more accidents, and also a reduction of options for the elderly.

  • rudy

    I moved here from San Francisco 6 years ago and I am continually appalled at the complete lack of respect from NYC motorists towards pedestrians. In SF, even taxis would wait as peds crossed the street. Here, in NYC, if a motorist senses a wide enough gap between people he or she will gun it and cut in between them. And these are not isolated incidents. The behaviour is engrained in every motorist that crosses my path. I blame it on the rampant stress.

  • JamesR

    The attitude is basically “me first, f*** you”.

    I’m a young twenty-something, but to be totally honest, between the motorist sociopathy and the lack of universal ADA access at subway stations, I wouldn’t want to live in NYC as an elderly person.

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