City Pedestrian Crossings Are Discriminatory by Design

Even the sprightliest city pedestrian sometimes has to hustle across the street to beat a short walk signal. In a new report, Transportation Alternatives examines what it’s like for New York’s elderly to face flashing lights, wide crossings and unyielding motorists. 

From Karla Quintero, Deputy Director of Planning for TA:

There are currently over one million senior citizens living in New York City. While they represent only about 13 percent of the population, they account for 33 percent of pedestrian injuries and fatalities. Discriminatory by Design (pdf), a report released today by Transportation Alternatives, finds that street design, and in particular the width of a street, is a major contributing factor in negatively influencing pedestrian and driver behavior.

The study focused on the Upper East Side, an area with a high concentration of elderly residents as well as wide cross-town streets that are crossed by thousands of pedestrians and vehicles each day. Within this neighborhood, Transportation Alternatives and Rachel Krug, a doctoral student at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, observed vehicles and pedestrians at 18 locations, 6 wide crossings and 12 narrow crossings (30 feet).

The team found that senior citizens begin to show signs of distress and engage in dangerous crossing behavior — such as speeding up their walking pace, walking unsteadily, standing in the street before beginning to cross and crossing before the signal has changed — at wider crossings to compensate for the fact that they walk at slower speeds. Coupled with the fact that 95 percent of vehicles observed during the study period did not yield to pedestrians, the study concludes that wider streets present unacceptable risks to elderly pedestrians. These risks have an overwhelming impact on the well-being and quality of life of senior citizens.

To reduce these risks, Transportation Alternatives recommends that the city re-time pedestrian signals to accommodate senior average walking speeds of 3 feet per second (currently the signals are timed for speeds of 4 feet per second) and implement measures such as leading pedestrian intervals and curb extensions that would protect senior citizens from turning vehicles. The study also calls for a public awareness campaign to educate drivers and the public as to what it is like to be a senior pedestrian.

This seems like an ideal cause for the Daily News, concerned as they are with the ages of cyclists hit and killed by drivers

Photo: Transportation Alternatives

  • Jonathan

    Great picture, Brad!

  • Brad Aaron

    I wish I could take credit for it, but it’s a TA pic. (Credit appended.)

  • BicyclesOnly

    What criterion was used to determine whether the motorist yielded to a pedestrian? Keeping out of the crosswalk as long as there is a pedestrian in any portion of it? I couldn’t find this in the study.

  • An ideal cause for the Daily News:

    Only one person thought it was still safe for x to cross the street – and that was x.

    For years, friends told the 72-year-old to “stop walking around the city.”

    His two sons were so worried about their dad they offered him a car.

    “We told him so many times, ‘Don’t walk across the street. 95% of drivers fail to yield to elderly pedestrians who are crossing.'”

    The elder x brushed such demands aside, saying he loved walking too much to quit. It was that fondness for experiencing the city on two feet that cost him his life Thursday night when he crashed into a charter bus in midtown.

  • Ryan

    I hate to sound callous, but pedestrians don’t get enough priority as it is. Why should we be nitpicking and pulling apart the nuances of war between flesh and steel?

  • Amy

    Motorists were considered not yielding to pedestrians if they proceeded into the crosswalk during the pedestrian walk phase without slowing their speed so as to avoid conflict.

  • ln

    Wider streets, blaming pedestrians for bad behavior, driver education, timing lights. None of that is going to save lives until the NYPD starts enforcing laws that are on the books. They can start with their own behavior.

    It’s illegal to run red lights.
    It’s illegal to turn on red in NYC
    It’s illegal to not yield to pedestrians and cyclists when turning.
    It’s illegal to speed.

    If a death or injury occurs because drivers break those laws, they MIGHT get a summons, no more unless they are drunk.

    If just those laws were enforced, and theres plenty more, many many lives could have been saved.

  • Jonathan

    Thanks, Ryan. There’s no control group of 15-65 year-old adults in the study; don’t younger generations do the same things (speeding up when crossing wider streets, waiting in the street to cross) that the study noticed in seniors?

  • enforcement

    goof points, LN.

    the city needs powers to deploy unlimited red light and speed cameras, fines need to increase substantially, prosecutors must dramatically increase their prosecution and conviction rate for reckless drivers who maim and kill, and the cops need to change their metrics and prioritization of enforcement resources.

    i heard that T.A. is busting on all this in ’08 in addition to the awesome work they are already doing on this and other fronts.

  • Jonathan

    enforcement & ln, while I agree that these things are all illegal, cops are busy now doing other things that are important to society, like finding lost children, keeping battered women safe from their abusers, and getting guns off the streets.

    I’d rather focus attention on building safer streets that have more room for pedestrians and bikers and less room for cars. Sounds safer to me, even without a cop watching.

  • flp

    well, jonathan, i would agree if i truly felt that they actually were busy doing those things. more often than not, i see them sitting idle in their patrol cars while multiple infractions are committed right under their noses.

    sure, there are arguments about jurisdiction, blah, blah, blah, blah. i do not buy these arguments either, because more resources can always be found to handle different jurisdictions and more of those related to traffic infractions. there is no way the nypd cannot claim to lack those resources, since they always seem to have enough to blow on stupid campaigns, such as critical mass (well over $1.3 million by now) and anti-RNC demonstration harrassment, and countless lawsuits stemming from various acts of police brutality, harrassment and general civil rights violations. sheesh, i could go on here.

    the bottom line is that just a little more effort by the nypd, and, really, it would not require much, would make a huge difference.

    full disclosure, i am no fan of a daddy-state, etc, but, we are talking about rules that are already there for good reasons, not about new, frivolous rules about where to sell hot dogs, take pictures, and hail non-yellow cabs, etc, etc.

  • gecko

    Pedestrian safety has to be physical just like driver safety, i.e., safety belts, air bags, etc. If cars cannot not be made safe around pedestrians, they should not be around pedestrians. It is just that simple.

  • I think that 4 or 6 lanes to cross is way too much for elderly people. Why large streets in NYC (and anywhere else) could not be “split in half”, so that people can cross in two times? There are existing solutions (modifying the infrastructure) to make road crossing easier for everybody.

    I will probably write an article on my transportation blog (Transport Information Group) someday soon about road safety and fatality rate and will discuss this issue.


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