TSTC: Downstate Roads Rank Poorly for Senior Pedestrian Safety

Data from TSTC's Report

Just days after 81-year-old Luis Ruiz was fatally struck by two drivers on Rockaway Parkway in Canarsie, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign has released a report showing that his death is not an aberration. Between 2008 and 2010, 435 pedestrians aged 60 or older were killed in collisions with cars in New Jersey, Connecticut and downstate New York. All told, fatality rates for older pedestrians in this region are higher than the national average.

Pie Chart from TSTC Report
Despite being 15 percent of the NYC region's roadway miles, arterial roads are where a disproportionate majority of pedestrians age 60 and over are killed.

In New York City and its suburbs, in particular, the streets have some alarming safety records. Nassau County has the second-highest fatality rate for older pedestrians in the region, trailing only Litchfield County in Connecticut. At 3.69 deaths per 100,000 people, the fatality rate for older pedestrians in NYC, Long Island, and the five other counties that comprise the MTA service region is almost triple the rate for pedestrians under age 60, at 1.33.

By far, the most dangerous locations for older pedestrians are arterial roads, which have at least two lanes in each direction and design speeds of 40 mph or more. Arterial roads are the site of 63 percent of the region’s older pedestrian fatalities, even though this type of road is just 15 percent of the region’s total lane miles.

AARP New York echoed the report’s findings. “It’s always troubling to AARP to see high pedestrian fatality rates, especially when they affect older persons,” said Bill Ferris, the organization’s New York state legislative representative. “We partnered with Tri-State to pass a complete streets law in New York,” he added, noting that there’s no silver bullet. “The recommendations that Tri-State has in the report would help. It’s an ongoing effort.”

The report recommends using state DOT capital funds to expand programs like NYC DOT’s Safe Streets for Seniors and Safe Routes to School programs.

Another issue that TSTC is highlighting is funding for NYSDOT’s Long Island’s Local Safe Streets and Traffic Calming program, which will be defunded at the end of the year unless action is taken. This program has been at risk before, and TSTC is hoping to keep it alive. “Given that Nassau County is the most dangerous county for older pedestrians in downstate,” TSTC executive director Veronica Vanterpool said in an email, “we want to ensure that the Local Safe Streets and Traffic Calming program is not defunded.” Vanterpool also identified installation of speed cameras as a priority item on TSTC’s agenda.

The report also noted that MAP-21, the new federal transportation bill, reduced support for many active transportation programs, meaning that advocates will have to be even more vigilant at the state level to ensure that pedestrian safety projects are funded. As federal funds shrink, safety concerns for this vulnerable population will continue to grow: The U.S. Census Bureau projects that by 2030, more than one in five tri-state residents will be at least 65 years old.

  • @baderstine

    Not to deny that the areas in question need to improve safety… in all likelihood they do.  But, I’m wondering if the results above are reflecting different population demographics of these areas, particularly the age distribution?  
    An interesting additional comparison to make would be to compare rates among areas with similar age distributions, and then look at differences in urban form and safety policies  between areas. Are there areas with high elderly populations that have better-than-average fatality rates? If so, what are they doing differently?

  • Ben Kintisch

    When you have a street designed for fast moving cars, and not for people, then everyone who is on foot needs to dash across the wide street to avoid being hit. Many elderly people move slower than an able-bodied younger person. Around here in Brooklyn, wide arterial roads like Atlantic Avenue and Eastern Parkway are hard to cross in time on foot when you’re young and spry. Older, slower folks have the toughest time arriving to the other side safely. 

  • Guest

    There may be some noise in these numbers, and Downstate New York may not be so bad, on a comparative basis, as this seems to suggest.

    While there is no doubt that these pedestrian fatality numbers are far too high, the Downstate NY numbers may be driven largely by the very fact that most communities are still accessible enough that the elderly are out there walking in the first place.  

    You can’t have pedestrian fatalities, after all, without pedestrians.In less walkable places, they may be driving more (beyond a reasonably safe age) and getting into more accidents.  Or they may be staying home and slowly dying from their physical deterioration.

  • Guest

    There may be an issue with comparing arterials to the percentage of total streets as well. It seems likely that arterials also constitute a greater percentage of pedestrian activity, since stores and transit (buses as well as subways) are disproportionately located on the arterials.  

    It is hard to say how much of the higher fatality rate is a function of traffic and design issues, versus how much is a function of greater pedestrian usage.

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