How Much Does DOT Use Daylighting to Reduce Dangerous Turns?

Last March a driver fatally struck Xiali Yue while making a right turn at 21st Avenue and Cropsey Avenue in Brooklyn, where visibility is limited by parked cars. Image: Google Maps
Last March a driver fatally struck Xiali Yue while making a right turn at 21st Avenue and Cropsey Avenue in Brooklyn, where visibility is limited by parked cars. Image: Google Maps

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told the City Council there’s only so much DOT can do to prevent drivers from hitting people while turning, but there’s a relatively simple safety measure the agency could put to widespread use: keeping parked cars away from intersections.

Last week, Kate Hinds at WNYC reported on the problem of motorists fatally striking people while turning left. According to crash data compiled by Streetsblog, drivers making right and left turns killed 30 pedestrians and cyclists in NYC in 2014.

WNYC noted several factors that contribute to such crashes, including traffic signals that direct pedestrians and motorists into crosswalks at the same time, drivers who are occupied with several tasks at once (the feds call it “driver workload”), and “blind spots” caused by wide A pillars.

In March, Hinds reported, Trottenberg told the council “there are limits to what can be done” to prevent turning crashes.

“Left turns are a big source of crashes,” Trottenberg said. “But there’s another way to look at it: speeding and failure to yield, which are also pieces of the puzzle, are also sources. There’s no question, in cases where we can minimize left turns, or give vehicles their own turning phase, we want to try to do that.”

She added, however, “We won’t be able to do it everywhere in the city. You can’t create a special turning lane and a special signal in every intersection for left turns.”

One factor that Trottenberg didn’t mention is that many fatal turns occur at intersections where visibility is hindered by cars parked to the edge of crosswalks, a practice that is permitted in New York City but against the law in other places. As we reported earlier this year, NACTO recommends 20 to 25 feet of clearance around crosswalks.

In 2011, acting on recommendations in its Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan, DOT daylighted the corners on several blocks of Lexington Avenue in Midtown. The project seemed like it could set a precedent for quickly improving other dangerous intersections around the city. How many intersections is DOT daylighting now?

We asked DOT to what extent the agency is daylighting intersections to improve visibility at corners, and if DOT follows NACTO daylighting guidelines. DOT said its practices are consistent with NACTO, and that the agency “uses daylighting as appropriate.” DOT said it reviews crash reports and crash data to “develop strategies and interventions,” and is conducting a study, mandated by the City Council, which will guide the agency’s approach to addressing turning conflicts.

DOT didn’t offer any specifics about where and to what extent it has employed daylighting.

  • rao

    Daylighting on its own, eh, maybe, but also may create an incentive to speed more.

    Daylighting + neckdown = win.

  • Paul

    Crosswalks should be moved back about 10 feet as well. That puts people in a better view out the side of the vehicle before the vehicle turns, and and better view in front of the driver later in the turn, if that makes any sense. Many countries do this, but the US tends to put crosswalks right up against the travel lanes. Moving crosswalks and stop bars back a significant amount would also help prevent drivers from breaking the no right on red rule where applicable.

  • BBnet3000

    What other cities allow cars to park right up to the corner like we do? This is something the City Council could fix city-wide without the DOT having to spend 10,000 hours of staff time to do 15 corners.

  • Jeff

    Intersections are so frequent in this city that pedestrians would continue following the desire lines (i.e. directly from corner to corner, sidewalk-to-sidewalk) no matter where the crosswalks are placed.

  • BBnet3000

    Yep. The DOT has set back some crosswalks but you’re walking 10 blocks you are going to follow the straight line to the next sidewalk.

  • The terrible, terrible visibility that parked cars create around intersections leads to all kinds of subsidiary problems. The crashes are obviously the most serious. But it also leads people to stand out well into the street when waiting to cross, to hail taxis while standing in the bike lane and so on. It’s been one of the biggest adjustments of learning to cycle in New York, rather than London where I was before, that it’s so hard to see at New York intersections.

  • Joe R.

    There should be a blanket rule prohibiting parking within 50 feet of an intersection, better yet 75 feet on fast moving arterials. How can you safely cross a street if you can’t see what’s coming because a tall vehicle parked right at the corner is blocking your view of oncoming traffic? You can’t, nor will I place blind faith in traffic signals and risk crossing on a walk signal if I can’t see oncoming traffic. This is a fundamental safety issue. NYC shouldn’t prioritize private vehicle storage over safety.

  • Joe R.

    Totally agree. While we’re talking about desire lines, I typically cross streets with long angular crosswalks perpendicularly, outside the crosswalk, so as to minimize crossing distance.

  • Simon Phearson

    By “fix” I think you mean, “pass a law that subsequently goes entirely unenforced.”

  • Simon Phearson

    Agreed. Having lived, walked, and cycled in many places with daylighting being the norm, the lack of daylighting at most intersections in NYC really blows my mind. I have to cross one street when walking to my nearest grocery store that’s not at all busy, but because cross traffic doesn’t have to stop, I have to double- and triple-check that it’s safe to go, which usually requires walking into the street and leaning around cars.

    I go through the same intersection on my bike, as the cross traffic, so I see the problem from that perspective, too. I have to somehow discern whether a driver is stopping or going (as they are apt to do when the only oncoming traffic is a bike) by looking through a handful of parked cars around a building that’s flush with the sidewalk.

  • Daylighting:

  • AnoNYC

    Daylighting would improve visibility substantially in intersections throughout bthe city. Doesn’t Hoboken enforce daylighting citywide?

  • Brian Howald

    I’m surprised that nobody has mentioned the fact that it is illegal to park within 20 feet of a crosswalk and 30 feet of a stop sign or traffic light in New York State, according to N.Y. VAT. LAW § 1202(a) 2.

    In a manner similar to the state law regarding which side of the street cyclists must be on, New York City’s own parking laws (NYC Traffic Rules § 4-08(e)) override the state law on this subject.

    The city is providing more parking at the expense of safety by sharply limiting sightlines in the city where there is the most pedestrian traffic. Given that the state regulation is most necessary in New York City, it’s shameful that its overridden. We don’t need a new law, just to enforce existing state law.

  • c2check

    Daylighting intersections would be terrific; so many crosswalks are blocked by parked cars in this city.
    Ideally, as many intersections as possible should have curb extensions, not only to improve visibility, but to shorten ped crossing distances and give more space for people waiting to cross.

    http://nacto.org/usdg/intersection-design-elements/visibility-sight-distance/

  • I think the #1 thing we can do to accomplish Vision Zero is lower car speed limits. But right behind it at #2 is daylighting. And also, if we take back those spaces at the corners it also creates more room for people to sit, more greenery and if placed correctly to not obstruct too much view, bike share kiosks.

  • USbike

    The types of cars around also make a huge difference as well. Living in the south, there are SO many pick-up trucks and SUV’s everywhere. Those will block your view on a completely different level. Not only near crosswalks. When driving (a sedan) next to or behind a pick-up truck, my view will often be completely obstructed in that direction.

  • Simon Phearson

    I remember that, from my driving days. Those SUVs aren’t easy to see out of, either. Normally a sedan driver, I would occasionally rent an SUV and be astonished at how little I could see around me. It kind of freaked me out; I felt blind.

    Strangely, on a bike, I feel less frustrated by SUVs and pickups. They don’t block my ability to see, on a bike, as much as they did when I was in a car. What irks me are the… fine specimens of humanity… who park RVs and large commercial trucks right by intersections and driveways.

  • van_vlissingen

    So if the City Council repealed § 4-08(e) it would automatically make the state law the policy in the city? Maybe we should consider a citywide campaign to repeal this rule?
    As someone mentioned the challenge will be getting DoT to neckdown the intersections so it doesn’t lead to more speeding at intersections.

  • Joe R.

    I tend to think drastically reducing traffic volumes would be #1 on the list. Fewer vehicles means less unexpected delays or obstacles. That in turn means drivers less likely to engage in dangerous behavior just to make the next light, or gain one or two places. Also, fewer vehicles means a person crossing a street is less likely to be hit. I would put daylighting at #2, getting rid of traffic signals where possible in favor of roundabouts as #3, and redesigning streets for lower speeds as #4 since #3 would get speeds down where it matters—at intersections.

  • chekpeds

    Daylighting essentially removes parked cars and free up enough space to create a turn lane, the same prerequisite to give turning cars their own turning phase, and pedestrians their own crossing phase. So if you remove the cars, no need to settle for daylighting which still relies on a driver yielding to pedestrians, let;s get split phases – as Polly Suggest – that puts everyone in their places as it should be .. If the hurdle is the same let’s go for foolproof ped safety.

  • chekpeds

    Indeed another option is the “Raised Pedestrian Crossing ” that just got $ 250,000 in funding in the Participatory budget in CB4.. https://youtu.be/_hcof-v4_a4 – If cars have to slow down before they turn , they will not kill pedestrians.

  • Cold Shoaler

    Right on to this. Limiting what vehicles can utilize the parking spot nearest an intersection seems like an easy first step, politically. There’s frequently an RV parked right at the crosswalk near the school down the street from me. It’s bad enough that it’s a legal parking spot, but allowing an RV (or SUV for that matter) to park there is just insane.

  • USbike

    In general I have the same experience when riding my bicycle. The only exception that comes to mind is when riding on a narrow, two-lane road and approaching the intersection with an SUV or pick-up in front. I really have to be careful especially at locations where there are a lot of cars turning left. Some people will just whip across what they perceive as a gap. It’s not always possible to try and get around this, either due to lack of space to pass or the light turns green just right before, etc.

    Luckily we don’t have many RVs or commercial trucks blocking intersections here in this very sprawled-out city.

  • AndreL

    As usual, you come with absurd ideas. Yes, cars shouldn’t be parked near corners. 50ft. is an absurd setback though.

  • Joe R.

    As usual you’re an apologist for car ownership in urban areas.

    Frankly private cars shouldn’t be parked on public streets at all except in designated pickup/dropoff zones. Remember NYC didn’t allow overnight private vehicle storage until the 1950s and somehow we managed. Try crossing the street when a tall vehicle is parked maybe 25 feet from the crosswalk and let me know if you can see oncoming traffic. I know I can’t. Honestly, even with a 50 foot setback I’d have trouble. But of course private vehicle storage matters more than safety in your mind.

    Incidentally NYS law says no parking within 20 feet of a crosswalk. When you consider that many crosswalks are 15 feet wide and setback maybe 5 feet from the intersection that rule means no parking within 40 feet of the intersection. That’s not much less than the 50 feet I mentioned. The NACTO guidelines are similar.

  • Simon Phearson

    I know exactly what you mean, and I agree. Unfortunately most of the intersections where I have to deal with that risk get a lot of industrial truck traffic and garbage trucks. Suffice it to say I’m not doing anything like whipping around on the right.

  • Ian Dutton

    A daylight spot is an available spot to illegally park. What’s the most likely vehicle to occupy a newly-available spot? A delivery truck. What’s worse that a car parked in a parking spot that should be skylighted? A DELIVERY TRUCK!

    A daylight spot in and of itself is a poison pill. There must be a physical deterrent to illegal parking added to the plan – say, a neckdown, bicycle parking racks, planters, benches, etc.

  • johnmassengale

    #1 and #2 can work against each other. Uncertainty makes drivers slow down, which is why shared spaces remove traffic lights, traffic signs, striping, etc.

    I’ve observed that the nice, new, bright striping and turn lanes can induce traffic and raise the average road speed: Lafayette Street got the standard new one-way arterial and suddenly there was much more traffic, going faster than before. Even the protected bike lanes—obviously a good thing in situations where cars are going quickly—make the driver feel safer speeding, because the bike is kept away. In Copenhagen they only use protected lanes in situations where the cars are going over 25—which is the case on Lafayette (but shouldn’t be). There are several times a day when heavy traffic on Lafayette averages 35-40 mph. That was rare before the redo.

    In other words, when cars are going fast, factors like high visibility and heavy-duty protected bike lanes are good and necessary. But I’m sure that Manhattan is moving towards having many streets where cars go below 20 mph, and that means designing the streets in a way that makes drivers uncomfortable going 35, a speed you can legally drive in almost all of Manhattan now.

  • urbanresidue

    Sight lines are critical, but urban space abhors a vacuum. Something needs to occupy the space. Article about this from November: http://urbanresidue.blogspot.com/2014/11/filling-void-maintaining-sight-lines.html?m=1

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