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Elderly & Disabled

Report: Traffic Threatens Older Pedestrians Most of All

1:01 PM EDT on May 20, 2010

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."

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