December 20, 2017

The Dangers of Walking in New York City

By Jonathan Damashek

Posted in

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Over 120 pedestrians die each year while walking on New York City’s crowded sidewalks or crossing equally crowded streets, but 2017 has been a particularly brutal year for NYC pedestrians. As reported by the Slatest, in October, a terrorist deliberately drove his rented Home Depot truck down a Manhattan bike path, killing eight and injuring 15. The bike path was only four blocks from the World Trade Center memorial site.

In May, a car driven by a Bronx Navy veteran careened down a Times Square sidewalk, killing one and injuring 22, four of them critically. ABC news reported that the driver attempted to flee the scene, but ultimately was arrested and tested positive for drugs. As one witness said, “As a New Yorker, you always worry about that kind of stuff, but you always think it’s never gonna happen to you.”

Alarming Statistics

Sadly, however, it does happen – and all too frequently. Data compiled by the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows that 497 pedestrians were killed in NYC between 2012 and 2014 after being hit by a vehicle. Not surprisingly, adults aged 65 and above, although accounting for only 13 percent of NYC’s overall population, represented 37 percent of all pedestrian fatalities, the highest percentage thereof.

Fifty-seven percent of the older adult pedestrians and 72 percent of child pedestrians, defined as youths under the age of 17, died as the result of being hit by a vehicle within 10 blocks of their homes. In the remaining age group, those aged 18-64, 37% of pedestrian fatalities occurred within 10 blocks of home. People living in very high poverty neighborhoods were more than three times as likely to be hit by a vehicle while out walking than those living in low poverty neighborhoods.

Vision Zero Initiative

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration introduced a new traffic safety initiative in 2014 called Vision Zero. As reported by the New York Post, Vision Zero reduced speed limits to 25 miles per hour on many city streets, changed traffic patterns, and installed camera around schools to monitor speeding vehicles. The underlying theory was that vehicle speed is the major factor in pedestrian deaths.

Despite Vision Zero efforts, however, NYC pedestrian deaths have continued to rise. Over 120 pedestrians were killed in 2015 and this number increased to over 126 pedestrian fatalities in 2016. From October 27 through November 14 of 2016, NYPD officers cited 4,268 drivers for failure to yield to pedestrians. During this same period, 4,880 summonses were issued for illegal cellphone use, 3,818 for speeding, and 3,066 for texting while driving.

Distracted Drivers and Distracted Pedestrians

Pedestrians themselves are likewise guilty of being oblivious to their surroundings due to cellphone usage. National Public Radio reported in March 2017 that the Governors Highway Safety Association data showed that approximately 6,000 pedestrians were killed nationwide in 2016, an 11 percent increase from 2015 and the biggest single-year increase in over two decades.

A National Safety Council spokeswoman called it “a perfect storm” of factors, including lower gas prices, more vehicles on the road, more distracted drivers, and more distracted pedestrians crossing busy streets. Vehicle speed, however, does seem to be the major factor in pedestrian deaths. A pedestrian struck by a vehicle going 20 miles per hour has only a 10 percent chance of being killed. Raise the speed to 40 miles per hour, and the chance of the pedestrian dying increases to 80 percent.

Alcohol consumption, too, is a big factor in pedestrian deaths. GHSA statistics show that in approximately 15 percent of such deaths nationwide, the vehicle driver was drunk and 34 percent of the pedestrians killed were themselves inebriated.

As for this year in NYC, reported that 5,577 pedestrians and bicyclists were injured and 46 were killed during the first five months of 2017. This is in comparison to 5,928 injuries and 56 deaths during the same period of 2016.

Pedestrians and New York Traffic Laws

SafeNY gives the following overview of New York laws applicable to pedestrians:

  • Crosswalks: If there is a crosswalk at an intersection, vehicles must yield to pedestrians, whether or not there is a traffic signal.
  • No crosswalk: For mid-block locations where there is no crosswalk, pedestrians must yield to vehicular traffic.
  • Sidewalks: Pedestrians must walk on sidewalks wherever they are provided and are safe to use; drivers must yield to pedestrians whenever they cross a sidewalk, such as when entering into or exiting from an alley, parking lot, driveway, etc.
  • No sidewalk: If there is no sidewalk, pedestrians must walk on the left side of the street or road facing the traffic and as close to the left edge as possible.
  • Traffic signals: Both drivers and pedestrians must obey all traffic lights, signals, and/or traffic control officers.

Bottom line, New York law requires drivers to “take great care” not to hit a pedestrian under any circumstance. This law overrides all others regarding traffic signals, crosswalks, sidewalks or any other pedestrian safety area or mechanism.