Pedestrian Deaths Have Fallen in Every Borough Except Staten Island

Pedestrian fatalities in New York City have been cut in half over the past three decades -- except for Staten Island. Chart: DOT
Pedestrian deaths in New York City have dropped by half over three decades — except for Staten Island. Chart: DOT

DOT released the final installment of its pedestrian safety plans yesterday with a report for Staten Island [PDF], where the nature of pedestrian crashes is different than in the other boroughs.

Map: DOT
DOT’s priority areas cover locations where nearly three-quarters of Staten Island’s pedestrian deaths or serious injuries occurred. Click to enlarge. Map: DOT

Over the past three decades, the city as a whole grew approximately 19 percent while the number of pedestrian fatalities was cut in half. On Staten Island, while the population has increased at a more rapid clip of 30 percent, pedestrian fatalities have not declined at all.

On average, about 40 pedestrians are severely injured and seven are killed on Staten Island streets each year. The borough’s rate of 1.4 pedestrian deaths per 100,000 residents is lower than the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Queens.

But that doesn’t mean, as Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told the Advance, that “Staten Island is by far the safest borough.” Because people don’t walk as much in Staten Island as they do in other boroughs,  it’s difficult to compare to other parts of the city — but the risk of getting around on foot is still substantial.

DOT’s report notes that most of Staten Island is auto-dependent, with 82 percent of households owning at least one car, almost double the citywide average. Two-thirds of Staten Islanders drive to work, more than double the citywide rate.

The North Shore is less car-dependent than the rest of Staten Island, and that’s where pedestrian deaths are concentrated. The area east of the Bayonne Bridge and north of the Staten Island Expressway accounts for about 45 percent of the borough’s pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries, but only 18 percent of its land area. (Outside of the North Shore, Hylan Boulevard is another danger zone.)

Here are more factoids from the report:

  • Afternoons and evenings are deadly, with four in five Staten Island pedestrian fatalities occurring between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m., compared to 31 percent citywide.
  • Almost two in three Staten Island pedestrian fatalities are on arterial streets. DOT identified 16 priority corridors that make up just 6 percent of the borough’s street network — but were the site of 40 percent of pedestrian fatalities and 54 percent of all pedestrian deaths or serious injuries.
  • When combined with priority intersections and areas, priority locations cover just more than half of all pedestrian fatalities and 72 percent of all pedestrians killed or seriously injured.
  • 45 percent of Staten Island pedestrian deaths occurred mid-block, higher than the citywide rate of one in three.
  • Nine in ten Staten Island pedestrian fatalities, compared to 68 percent citywide, were inflicted by someone driving a private car. Dangerous choices by drivers are the primary cause or a contributing factor in 67 percent of Staten Island pedestrian fatalities.
  • Seniors aged 65 and older comprise 14 percent of Staten Island’s population but 25 percent of its pedestrian deaths.

The top Staten Island complaint on DOT’s Vision Zero map was speeding, at 26 percent of all complaints, followed by failure to yield at 20 percent and red light running at 10 percent.

While Staten Islanders may be more car-dependent than other boroughs, they are very interested in traffic calming: DOT says that when it launched the Neighborhood Slow Zone program in 2012, 43 of 97 total requests came from Staten Island.

  • BBnet3000

    Aren’t we also concerned about people who die in cars when they crash into each other? That was part of Vision Zero in Sweden, where apparently lives have value no matter how they’re getting around. Yes, I’m aware that more pedestrians die than people in cars in NYC but deaths in cars is still a non-trivial number isn’t it?

  • AnoNYC

    Absolutely, all road users.

  • Joe R.

    Of course deaths in cars matter. However, the reason I feel pedestrian and cyclist deaths matter more is because car users already “bought into” the risk of driving or riding in a car while non-car users didn’t. I might make a similar analogy if a plane crashes. Those flying on the plane bought into the risk inherent in flying. If they die, it’s tragic but they knew going in there was a finite chance of dying. On the other hand, anyone the plane kills on the ground didn’t buy into this risk. Nobody expects there to be any chance at all getting killed by a plane unless you choose to be on one. That makes the deaths of those on the ground much more tragic, and probably also much more costly from a liability perspective.

    It’s also worth noting modern vehicles have many devices to protect the occupants but few to protect those outside. If anything, the reverse should be true. When I walk or bike, I assume the risks inherent to those activities, be they tripping on an uneven sidewalk, or falling from hitting a pothole. I don’t and shouldn’t have to also assume the risk that someone driving carelessly will hit me. We can eliminate that risk altogether with better street design (and reductions in motor traffic).

  • qrt145

    If you calm the streets to prevent drivers from killing pedestrians, you also help prevent drivers from killing themselves or other vehicle occupants.

  • ahwr

    They recorded 143 pedestrian deaths, 70 drivers, 25 car passengers, 20 bicyclists. The pedestrian totals included some that didn’t occur on public roadways, so in parking lots or similar. That doesn’t sum to the 268 total deaths. There were another ten deaths reported by the NYPD motor vehicle collision dataset but WNYC only has a record that someone died, not whether they were a pedestrian, bicyclist or motor vehicle occupant.

  • BBnet3000

    I should have made my point clearer: We can reduce pushback against Vision Zero by making it clear that we also want to reduce the 70 deaths a year in cars.

  • ahwr

    95, 70 drivers + 25 auto passengers.

  • Boris

    Having the five individual borough reports highlights the problem with our lack of a citywide transportation policy. An 82% rate of car ownership in Staten Island is cited just as dispassionately as a statistic about bike lanes in the West Village, as if those two places are on different planets. Polly Trottenberg has come out against a VMT reduction policy, which I believe is a big mistake. We have to admit, as a city, that we need to bring driving down to some reasonable level no matter where in the city you are.

    Just like “preserving neighborhood character” is used for a variety of causes, from keeping out affordable housing to fighting bike share, so does sensitivity to local driving needs prevents the city from becoming a truly livable place. Using Staten Island’s car-centric nature as an excuse to avoid improvements is a tiring tripe. It wasn’t always that way, and we don’t have to keep making it more and more car-dependent yet pretend Vision Zero will work there.

  • This Staten Islander watched for 12 years as Staten Island politicians fought against and worked to water down Mayor Bloomberg’s traffic safety initiatives so we wound up with a lot of left turn lanes for the benefit of drivers, a bike lane removed because drivers were ticketed for using it as a turning lane, and some remarkably absurd bills introduced in City Council.

  • Joe R.

    That’s really the issue in a nutshell. Sure, Staten Island is less dense than the other boroughs. However, the density argument can’t excuse the level of car dependency we see there (or in Eastern Queens where I live for that matter). Both these places are dense enough to support enough alternatives to bring car ownership rates down radically. For whatever reason cars in both these areas are partially transportation, but also partially status symbols. I don’t doubt the latter accounts for a good amount of car ownership. It’s almost a symbol that someone has come of age when they can afford their first car. If we can find a way to fix this, we might go a long way towards having broad public support for a citiwide VMT policy. And it must be citiwide. No matter how much you reduce car ownership in some parts of the city, if other areas remain heavily car dependent you’ll get a spillover of cars from these areas into areas with low car ownership, much to the detriment of the residents there.

    Maybe just banning these asinine car commercials would be a start, or at least require truth in advertising (i.e. show the cars being driven as they would be-namely stuck in traffic at 10 mph, not going 80 mph on an empty Manhattan street). The more it sinks in that driving in NYC is a chore, and car ownership is a huge expense with disproportionately little benefit, the greater chance you have of those college graduates not striving to buy that first car as a status symbol. If my experience is any indication, if you make it to 25, better yet 30, never having owned a car, chances are great you’ll live the remainder of your life car free. All that money you didn’t spend is enough of a reason to continue not owning a car. Maybe some testimonials like “I retired at 50 by never driving” might help as well.

  • Guest

    If you look at that graph, it also shows the pedestraian fatality rate as statistically negligible on Staten Island. When you’re already at single digits, it doesn’t take much in the way of freak events to throw off your graph.

    I emphasize that I don’t mean that to minimize the tragedy that each of those deaths represent, but it’s disingenuous to call out Staten Island as “dangerous” when it is actually statistically safer by population. 1/16th of the city’s population, well under 1/16th of the pedestrian fatalities over the last 30 years. That’s a good thing, not a bad one.

  • Guest

    I highly doubt that many people calculate the risk of a crash when they buy a plane ticket. To say that someone should expect a higher chance of death because they’re in a car is absurd.
    When engaged in any activity, you need to prepare for the risks of other people doing dumb things. That’s a part of life, and can’t be eliminated.

  • qrt145

    Staten Island is “safer” by population because relatively few people walk there. But part of the reason people don’t walk in places like that is because it is not safe!

  • Joe R.

    I’m not saying they calculated it, or even thought of it. I’m saying from a strictly policy standpoint we should consider that anyone using a car bought into the risk of doing so, while those not using cars didn’t. The end result of such policy is higher priority for protecting those not in cars, even if it’s to the detriment of those in cars. A great example might be bollards protecting the sidewalk. Sure, they may make a car crash into them fatal for the car occupants which otherwise might not have have been, but that’s an acceptable price to pay given the near certainty an out of control car would have of killing anyone it hits on the sidewalk. Sure, there’s always a risk of getting hurt by other people doing dumb things. However, you can alter the physical layout of the streets so mainly only those doing the dumb things get hurt or killed, not innocent bystanders. Doing so even makes sense from a fairness standpoint. I personally feel we’ve made modern cars too safe for the good of those around them. There’s some truth to the saying the best safety device would be a spike in the middle of the steering wheel.

  • Joe R.

    Part of it is also because things are just too far to walk to. As much as many on this site moan the lack of pedestrian amenities in places like Staten Island, or in many NY metro area suburbs, the hard fact is even if they existed they wouldn’t see much use, hence there wouldn’t be popular support to build them. Perhaps the focus should instead be on infill development, rezoning for higher density, less segregation of residential/commercial/educational, etc. Once things are close enough together that it’s possible to walk then more people will want to make it safe to walk. Arguably, that’s why NYC has (mostly) great pedestrian amenities. It had them long before the livable streets movement existed precisely because many people wanted to make many trips on foot. I’ve little doubt the same would be true on Staten Island if it more resembled the other four boroughs.

    There should be more biking facilities on Staten Island (and also in many suburbs). Things there are plenty close for biking. Perhaps we should start there.

  • Bolwerk

    I’m not even clear why fatalities is the interesting metric. Look at state data: 16,432 pedestrian/motor vehicle crashes, but only 343 deaths or about 2% of total crashes. Meanwhile, there are 1944 “serious” (their term) injuries or about 11%. Seems clear to me the odds of being killed in such a collision are low, but the odds of being hurt badly are pretty high.

    (all numbers from 2013).

  • Bolwerk

    Clarification: 2% of total [reported pedestrian/motor vehicle] crashes.

    The statewide number of crashes is significantly higher, but includes things like drivers crashing without hitting peds.

  • D’BlahZero

    Maybe we can get this last idea into the new toll reform plan. Drive into the CBD? Here’s your steering wheel spike! We’ll be disabling your airbags and horn as well (snip goes the seat belt). Hand over the smart phone, turn off the radio, and keep the windows all the way down. This is a pedestrian priority zone, and you’re just visiting.

    Fewer cars driven by people with skin in the game sounds fine to me.

  • Boris

    “Too far” is a matter of perception, a lot of the time. Someone living on Shore Road in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn is the same distance from the supermarket as someone living in the middle of Midland Beach, Staten Island. But SI people drive to go the same distance someone in Bay Ridge would walk. Often people just default to the car because it’s easier, or because the pedestrian amenities aren’t as good, so their perception is then that it’s too far to walk.

  • D’BlahZero

    I don’t think it’s absurd to say that someone should expect a higher chance of death because they’re traveling by car. I think it physics. Driving/riding in an automobile is the most dangerous thing many people will do on a given day. They should be encouraged to see it that way. That perception of danger has lead to high rates of seat belt usage. It could lead to less (and better) driving.

  • Joe R.

    Very true, especially among people who drive everywhere. Actually, most people nowadays have little conception of the distances people can easily cover on foot. I’m not saying extremes, just what the average person in average shape can manage. Half a mile each way on foot really isn’t a big deal, even if someone isn’t in great shape. It’s just that people are clueless. They’re so conditioned to going door-to-door by car anything more than a block is perceived as “too far to walk”. So yes, in cases where the distances really aren’t too great for many to walk (say 1/2 mile or less), there’s no excuse not to have pedestrian amenities.

  • Guest

    Agreed, also a good point. I don’t have data on hand that breaks that down by borough, but it would probably be a more valuable metric to look at.

    Part of the problem comes from how you define “serious injury” but there’s a big range of terrible life changing events that can happen without resulting in a death.

  • ahwr

    Data by county. I don’t see a breakdown of injury severity, but total pedestrian injury counts in Richmond county
    2005: 336
    2006: 310
    2007: 325
    2008: 318
    2009: 284
    2010: 348
    2011: 393
    2012: 416
    2013: 425

    As for how serious injuries are defined, from the DMV, where Bolwerk got his data.
    Injury Severity Key for Summary Tables

    “K” Fatal injuries include deaths which occur within thirty days following injury in a motor vehicle crash.

    Severe injuries include skull fractures, internal injuries, broken or
    distorted limbs, unconsciousness, severe lacerations, and unable to
    leave the scene without assistance.

    “B” Moderate injuries include visible injuries such as a “lump” on the head, abrasions, and minor lacerations.

    “C” Slight injuries include hysteria, nausea, momentary unconsciousness, and complaint of pain without visible signs of injury.


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