Marcia Kramer Exposes the Threat of Pedestrian Refuges [Updated]

I had to pull this Marcia Kramer segment out of the headline stack and post it, because you’ve got to see it to believe it.

Earlier this week, CBS2’s chief political correspondent went down to Borough Park to expose the pedestrian refuge threat. Intro: “The Department of Transportation has struck again.” With its outlandish Safe Streets for Seniors program!

Safe Streets for Seniors targets sections of the city with high populations of senior citizens and high rates of pedestrian injuries. It’s linked to a broader citywide initiative called Age-Friendly NYC. When Mayor Bloomberg, DOT and the Department for the Aging launched the program in 2008, they aimed to improve pedestrian safety for seniors in 25 neighborhoods. Borough Park is one of those focus areas, and the pedestrian refuges DOT installed on Fort Hamilton Parkway are designed to make it safer to cross the street.

Marcia Kramer doesn’t say a word about that in her report. She refrains from acknowledging, in general, that people walk.

She does say that pedestrian refuges, still under construction, are frowned upon by local rabbis, slow down fire trucks, and get in the way of ambulances. These refuges are also, apparently, killing local businesses and forcing delivery vehicles to park on the sidewalk. Take Kramer’s word for it.

The rabbis seem to be mainly concerned about emergency vehicle response. While to my eye there’s no evidence in this video that the refuges are causing fire trucks to lose time or making ambulance drivers engage in maneuvers that they don’t already use to negotiate traffic-clogged streets, it’s worth taking a closer look at these claims, because they’re so common among traffic calming foes.

First of all, FDNY recently embarked on its own internal traffic calming project. Because the 442 trucks in the department’s fleet are involved in several hundred major crashes every year — 684 in 2008 — FDNY started testing out the policy of driving normally when responding to less urgent calls. FDNY chief Salvatore Cassano told the Times:

“Often, responding to a call can be even more dangerous for our members than the incident itself,” Mr. Cassano added. “We want to minimize the danger this poses to firefighters and the public.”

So FDNY recognizes that rounding corners at high speed in huge trucks can pose risks that outweigh the benefits of responding a few seconds earlier.

Here’s how Traffic author Tom Vanderbilt has described the trade-offs of designing roads to maximize fire response times:

…the risk of dying in a fire in the U.S. is roughly the same as drowning: In one year, 1 in 88,000, and, over a lifetime, 1 in 1100. The risk of dying in a car crash, according to the article, is 1 out of 6500 in a year. The risk of being killed while being a pedestrian? “A one-year risk of one in 48,500 and a lifetime risk of one in 625.”

Designing roads to meet some supposed emergency response criteria, for that dramatic last-second rescue, actually helps raise the risk of dying in a much more common way: In traffic.

And while Kramer sees an ambulance swerve around a stopped car into an oncoming lane and blames the pedestrian refuge, maybe we ought to take a closer look at the driver’s decision. A growing body of research suggests that driving emergency vehicles at high speeds may not appreciably benefit patients. Slate reported earlier this year on a recent study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, which found no correlation between patient mortality rates and the time it took to get patients to the hospital:

The authors studied more than 3,000 trauma patients—those with low blood pressures from bleeding, head injuries, and difficulty breathing—and looked at various time intervals after a 9-1-1 call. The times were compared with outcomes for the patients in the hospital. The result: shorter intervals did not appear to improve survival.

Update: Local City Council Member Brad Lander has a piece in the neighborhood paper Hamodia today supporting the Safe Streets for Seniors project in Borough Park. It’s not online but here’s an excerpt about the need for this project:

On December 31st, 2009, a 74- year-old woman was hit by a truck and killed as she crossed Fort Hamilton Parkway at 49th Street in Boro Park. In April of this year, a 55-year-old person was killed crossing Fort Hamilton just a few blocks away. Nearby, several other pedestrians have been struck by cars. In 2008, when a car collision at Fort Hamilton and 44th Street killed two people, a local resident called it the “corner of death.”

So when the NYC Department of Transportation came out to Community Board 12 back in June to tell us about their plans to install a few pedestrian islands at key intersections along Fort Hamilton Parkway — as part of their “Safe Routes for Seniors” program — I thought it made sense to try to save the next senior citizen from getting killed. Boro Park has a high concentration of seniors, and we’ve seen too many of them hit by cars in recent years.

  • This is a great story that really puts things into perspective. So often traffic calming in my community is limited or denied because of unchallenged claims of limiting emergency vehicle response time.

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    I am so glad that you guys also saw this. The teasers for this on tv said something to the effect of: “Tonight find out who’s brilliant idea it was to put this slab of concrete in the middle of the road.”

    The truth is if ambulances aren’t able to get thru, it is because there are too many cars on the street. I see ambulances and fire engines do similar moves on Northern Boulevard and Flatbush Avenues where there aren’t ANY ped refuges. Marcia Kramer got really lucky in being there. But the truth is if you were to ask any ambulance driver, they probably do that move multiple times per day.

    I just love that CBS2 (and the rest of the media) also do stories reporting on hit-and-run drivers or pedestrians struck and killed by out of control cars, and implying in some of their stories that something needs to be done to curb speeds. But then when a measure is taken like this to do just that, all they think about is their windshield perspective. Seeing how apoplectic Marsha gets, someone should plunk her down in the middle of Berkeley, CA and watch her have a heart attack.

  • ksarge

    Good points. The story also says that the fire truck runs right into the concrete island–when in fact it doesn’t even hit.

  • Kaja

    Looks to me like the traffic islands were doing exactly what they’re intended to: aggravate reckless drivers; smooth and regulate the flow.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Just stay in Westchester, Marcia, you hack.

  • The video shows what happens when emergency vehicles try to negotiate a turn with an empty pedestrian island.

    It doesn’t show what would happen if an emergency vehicle was trying to negotiate the turn with a family or elderly person trying to cross that intersection without a pedestrian refuge. As much as we want fire engines and ambulances to arrive as soon as possible we don’t want them to hit people along the way.

  • Those crazy pedestrian refuges. They just leap out of nowhere to make elderly people safer as they cross the street.

  • JK

    TV reporters spend most of their time driving around — as do cops and many politicians. Their everyday life is informed, and consumed, by driving in this big, dense city. Anything perceived as a delay is a problem. The mayor could do the DOT and street safety advocates a big favor by making some blunt statements about the need for opponents of traffic calming and protected bicycle lanes to bring some facts, not bullshit, to the table. Along these lines, the mayor should tell the NYPD to end the obstructionism and put its crash data on the web.

  • Streetsman

    I’m no doctor but my understanding of emergency response based on similar studies is that there is little that getting to the hospital a minute faster is going to do in almost all cases. The EMT’s in the ambulance can use a defibrillator to shock the heart back and a CPR bag mask to keep breathing going. They can administer oxygen and blood and fluids and emergency medications. The commonly required trauma procedures that the EMT’s can’t do – taking x-rays, extracting objects, performing surgery and other trauma center specialties – need to happen within the “golden hour” after the accident, but a minute is almost never going to make a difference for anyone that has a reasonable chance. It would not be a good policy to design the city’s streets to be significantly more dangerous to pedestrians 24/7/365 just so that an ambulance can get to the hospital a few seconds faster in an emergency. The only thing that you’d really be ensuring is that there will be more trips to the hospital.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Ten bucks says the emergency vehicles the rabbis are worried about being obstructed are black SUVs with VAS plates.

  • i think pedestrian refuges create pedestrian refugees.

    if a road cannot be designed safely without them, then that road should not be built – obviously.

    if an unsafe road already exists, then it needs to be made safe. if the pedestrian refuges are a temporary workaround to the redesign of the road, fine, but otherwise the road needs to be redesigned/fixed/corrected properly — not with bolt-on half-solutions that degrade our humanity.

  • Gargamel Tralfaz

    You know if it was the 1970s and Kojak was on the case, he wouldn’t have a problem with the ped refuges. Who loves ya, baby?

  • Miriam

    We have all been brainwashed by the tv shows with their endless speeding ambulances and high speed police chases. We think anything different is bad.

  • How long is the green for pedestrians at that crossing? What is the speed limit here? Can grandma get across in one go? A refuge or island is good but should not be a substitute for a neighborhood-appropriate signal-length which lets nearly all people cross in one go, and pedestrian flow is more important than vehicle flow.

    The street goes from facade to facade, and automobilization has stolen most of it.

  • Is it some strange, rare thing for emergency vehicles to use the opposite side of the road in New York? If so, isn’t it a bit odd that private vehicles can turn right on a red, legally, whereas an emergency vehicle using the empty, opposite side of the road is “unsafe”?

  • mike

    BicyclesOnly — I bet you are correct.

  • Lucas

    If you watch that video carefully, you see that the ambulance goes around a car that is either slowed or double parked. The lane ahead of that car is actually clear and the ambulance could easily have gone back into the lane. It looks like it just chose to go around the barrier for no reason. I had to watch it three times to believe it. (time mark 2:45). It’s also very interesting that it’s a hatzollah ambulance and that the main critics of the lane in this piece seem to be rabbi’s. Just sayin…

    And as a physician, I can tell you that there are very few medical emergencies where a minute or two makes a difference. It certainly DOES make a difference if the ambulance violates traffic laws and were to crash into pedestrians or other cars.

    Reckless emergency vehicle driving has gotten so bad for the NY Fire Department that they have instituted various alert levels for calls so that trucks don’t cause as many accidents rushing to low-priority events.

  • Lucas

    Sorry, the time mark is actually 1:15.

  • CBS2 (which I no longer watch) cannot see the forest for the cars. Hello – if people weren’t driving their cars sop needlessly, they wouldn’t be blocking the streets that emergency vehicles need to drive through! Have you ever seen an ambulance stuck in an endless jam of cars… or pedestrian refuge jam?

    It’s you, Ms. Kramer sitting in your car, that is killing the people waiting for the ambulance or the fire truck. If you and your motoring cohorts had taken the subway today, then someone else’s mother wouldn’t have died waiting for the emergency responders.

  • Hi

    OH NO! The pedestrian island which took at most 1 parking spot away is forcing delivery trucks to park on the sidewalk! And businesses are losing business because of some unstated effect the traffic island has on them! Rip it out.

  • Mike

    Sam, have you ever been to New York? Right turn on red is illegal.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    It’s all about 2013 now, people. What’s becoming increasingly clear is that if you want to be the anti-Bloomberg Democratic Mayoral nominee, then you run against livable streets projects like this one. When you campaign in this neighborhood, you tell the rabbis — sure, I’ll get rid of that pedestrian safety project if you throw your support behind me instead of Weiner or DeBlasio or Liu or Markowitz. These JSK/Bloomberg livable streets improvements are going to be the easiest stuff for a Democratic mayoral candidate to give away.

    What are we doing to do about that?

  • OK, there has to be at least one actual progressive with a shot at winning the Democratic mayoral nomination in 2013.

    Just give me a minute to come up with one.

  • clever-title

    Tune in at 11 for Marcia Kramer’s latest report, “NYC would be great if it weren’t for the f***ing pedestrians!”

  • Why doesn’t Scott Stringer run? Isn’t he going to be term-limited out of the beep job by then? He’s certainly got his head on straight on transpo issues.
    He’d have three years to build support in the outer boroughs.

  • Curly Suze

    If the folks upset at slow emergency-vehicle progress on streets truly want to improve things, they should work at getting the movable obstacles (cars) off the streets instead of worrying about fixed obstacles like median islands, sidewalks, power poles, etc.

    $8 gas would go a long way toward cleaning up the streets .. just saying.

  • john

    What terrible bias reporting. An objective report would show how the parked vehicles were the primary source of the problems and how traffic calming devices are converted into liabilities when city officials fail to address the bigger picture. By the way, I see EMS vehicles use the wrong side of the road quite often to pass all the cars sitting at a stop light.

  • BicyclesOnly

    What a pathetic excuse for journalism. The title–“Cement Chaos”–says it all. The pros at WCBS2 wanted two catchy alliterative words, like “Bike Bedlam.” But all the could come up with is two words beginning with “c” that have no alliteration whatsoever. Just like the substance of the story, the title is a failed exercise in cramming into a preconceived formula things that just don’t fit.

    My daughter’s second grade class put together a school newspaper that is more professional than this.

  • Emily Litella

    Channel 2 the people.

  • Doug G.

    What’s interesting to me is that this is one of the first NYC traffic stories that doesn’t immediately feature a comment blaming bikes! Yes, there are only six comments right now, but all of them are written by people criticizing the story, not the DOT or renegade bikers.

    That’s not enough info on which to say that this is a cultural shift, but it has to be a first! Typically it only takes mere seconds before someone blames all of NYC’s traffic woes on bikes running red lights.

  • JK

    Barfo — it’s still about now, right now, because it’s much harder to remove stuff than get it in; the only advantage to NYC status quoism. For 2013, Weiner is an early supporter of Safe Routes for Schools and Safe Routes for Seniors, both of which he earmarked federal funds for. Weiner’s older brother was was killed by a hit and run driver while walking in Virginia about ten years ago. I don’t see him rolling back bike/ped improvements, though he’s not a pricing supporter. DiBlasio strongly supported Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming and was a pro bike/ped voice in council. Liu is… well Liu is Liu. Bill Thompson needs to be worked with over the next three years. He took the low road on bike/ped last election and comes from a Harlem political elite with severe windshield perspective.

  • Shame on CBS2, it’s obvious that the islands in question are made out of CONCRETE. Cement(pulverized stone mixed with other minerals) is just one of the dry ingredients in concrete mixtures.

  • Peter Engel

    @Gargamel – LOL, but I bet even Kojak would’ve slammed that Buick Century into a refuge while doing 60mph.

    Marcia Kramer should go back to yelling at politicians who steal restaurant meals and baseball tickets.

  • Jeff

    Come on Ryan Russo, she crushed you out there. You know Marcia Kramer is gunning for you, so you absolutely must be better prepared than that or find someone who is. Otherwise, don’t give the interview.

    The correct answer is, “even if the island wasn’t there, the ambulance would still have traveled on the wrong side of the street. Now, a pedestrian who gets caught in the middle of street is safe from both cars and ambulances swerving into them.” Then, I dunno, give some statistics about ped island safety and talk about approval from FDNY and NYPD.

    Ugh. Probably wouldn’t get aired, though. How can such obviously biased stories persist?

  • vnm

    Barfo: Quinn.

  • @vnm,

    Ha ha, what a kidder.

  • Seriously, Quinn?

  • SurlyRider

    Okay Marcia, so the cultists masquerading as a religion don’t like it. And what’s your point?

  • Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!

  • Thomas Kent

    Marcia, why don’t you apply for a position at FAUX NEWS? You’d fit right in, since they also play fast and loose with the FACTS!

  • Adam

    Yeah, emergency vehicles drive around the traffic all the time, there is nothing new or unusual about that.

    However, I don’t like these pedestrian islands for a entirely different reason. They encourage people to step into the bicycle lane even when they have a red light. Going back down 2nd Ave during the afternoon rush hour has become very difficult due to the pedestrians swarming around those islands. They feel like it gives them the right to step through the bike lane at any time. It’s just so frustrating. I’ve already seen cyclists running into peds for that very reason and I’ve had few close ones, only my air horn saved me the trouble.

    IMHO, they should have simply increased the timing for the lights and set delayed red for cars everywhere.

    Pedestrians are always shown as victims in the media, but they are a big problem in the city. Jaywalking is rampant, waiting off-the-curb is prevalent, people just do whatever they want. Pedestrians disobey laws more than drivers and cyclists combined.

  • Sarah

    “The video you are trying to view is unavailable”
    I’m kind of relieved, I didn’t really want to see/hear the ridiculousness.


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