DOT Can’t Control the Seasons, But de Blasio Can Fund Safer Street Designs

Let's design streets to be safe even during the most dangerous times of year. Chart: DOT
Let’s design streets to be safe even during the most dangerous times of year. Chart: DOT

Today DOT announced a “dusk and darkness” traffic enforcement and education campaign to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths during fall and winter, when fatal crashes tend to be more frequent.

“As the days get shorter and the weather colder, crashes on our streets involving pedestrians increase — and so we are enlisting data-driven strategies to address that upturn,” Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said in a statement. “Through education and enforcement with our sister agencies, every driver needs to learn about the limited visibility of this season and the dangers of fast turns, especially in the evening hours.”

Trottenberg cited the redesigned approach to the Manhattan Bridge as a project that will “make crossing our busiest streets safer for everybody,” but that project is independent of the new seasonal safety campaign.

There’s nothing wrong with drawing attention to the fact that streets are more dangerous this time of year, but it’s no substitute for street designs that make walking safer year-round.

“’Let’s all try to be more careful’ doesn’t really work,” Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul White told Streetsblog. “That’s a pre-Vision Zero approach.”

Severe crashes that harm pedestrians increase by almost 40 percent on fall and winter evenings compared to other seasons, according to DOT. In the coming weeks, NYPD will step up police presence and enforcement of dangerous driving behaviors “around sunset hours when data show serious pedestrian crashes increase,” according to a DOT press release. NYPD will also conduct targeted enforcement at intersections with high rates of pedestrian injuries and deaths.

In addition, NYPD and DOT will “educate drivers and other New Yorkers at high-priority Vision Zero target areas” by distributing palm cards, the press release says, some of which will remind motorists that they’re required to yield to pedestrians while making left turns.

Senior centers have already received materials on “improving safety conditions in their neighborhoods and sharing tips for getting around safely,” according to DOT. The Times reported that the city will spend $1.5 million on the campaign.

“Instead of blaming the weather or the seasons, the mayor needs to take more responsibility for fixing hundreds of streets and intersections that his own agency has deemed dangerous by design,” said White. “Darkness, dusk, fog, rain, ice — these are all factors, but as the city’s own data clearly shows, bad street design is a greater factor, and it also happens to be one they can control.”

Last summer, TA called out Mayor de Blasio for shortchanging life-saving street redesigns. DOT has identified the city’s most dangerous streets and intersections, but improvements are not being implemented on the timetable prescribed by Vision Zero. De Blasio denied the City Council’s request to increase DOT funding for safety fixes in the latest budget.

Trying to fight nature with ticket blitzes and palm cards will have a marginal effect at best. What Vision Zero needs is a bigger budget for street redesigns.

“It’s not the weather, or the seasons,” White said. “It’s bad street design. A $1.5 million admonishment campaign is not going to save lives. Street safety fixes will.”

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