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New York Times Room for Debate


Speed Kills. Fed-Up Pedestrians Can Save Lives

February 19, 2014

By Nicole Gelinas

The physics is easy: Slower speeds save lives. The culture is harder – but it’s changing.

With more than 250 traffic deaths each year in New York City, "We at City Hall don’t accept this reality," Mayor Bill de Blasio told New Yorkers on Tuesday. “So many people losing their lives who we could have saved.”

The good news is that saving lives on the streets is not difficult. The better news is that people are starting to demand that the city save lives – even at the cost of driver convenience.

What, or rather who, kills New Yorkers – disproportionately seniors and children – as they cross the street? Drivers who speed, and drivers who don’t pay attention. A half decade’s worth of New York crash data shows that "dangerous driver choices are the primary or contributing factor in 70% of pedestrian fatalities percent of pedestrian fatalities,” the city reported this week.

And in 53 percent of pedestrian deaths, the pedestrians were following all the rules – crossing in a crosswalk with the light, for example, or sometimes just standing on the sidewalk. But a driver who was inattentive or speeding or who failed to yield hit and killed them anyway.

The biggest step that the mayor correctly put forward on Tuesday, then, was to lower and enforce speed limits. De Blasio wants Albany, which controls much of what New York does on the streets, to allow the city to cut its general speed limit from 30 to 25 miles an hour. Neighborhood groups then can – and should – request one of eight 20 m.p.h. “slow zones” to be put in place each year near schools or senior centers.

The hard part, though, will be enforcement. Police officers can write speeding tickets, and have been doing so. But manual ticket-writing consumes officers’ attention. It’s also inconsistent and incomplete; a speeder may face an officer on one block but not the next.

That’s why the mayor also wants Albany to allow the city to put in place more speed cameras than the 20 New York already has. Automated speed enforcement can free up police resources to focus on other dangerous behaviors, including truck drivers who come into the city without adequate mirrors and drivers who talk on cellphones or text.

Better road design, too, slows car and truck speed. Red "no turn" arrows for cars and trucks can give walkers – particularly elderly walkers – time to cross a busy avenue without having to worry about cars and trucks turning into them. Physically protected bike paths on major avenues slow cars and trucks, too, by taking away a lane for motor traffic and forcing drivers to make narrower and slower turns. The city says it has seen fatalities drop by a third on the avenues and streets that it has redesigned in recent years. Injuries fell, too. After adding a protected bike lane and making other improvements to Eighth Avenue, crashes with injuries fell 30 percent compared to each of the previous three years’ average.

The most important factor in saving lives, though, is a changing culture – which, in turn, is affecting political will. The car and truck once dominated the road, and people, even in dense urban environments, were supposed to get out of drivers’ way.

Now, more and more people are walking or bicycling (often before or after a subway or bus ride). New Yorkers expect to be able to raise children here or grow old here safely, even if that means the minority of people who get around via car must do so more patiently.

Original Source:



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