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Addressing pedestrian safety in New York City

New York City is a city dominated by pedestrians. On any given day, an individual walking around one of the city’s five boroughs is likely to encounter thousands of other pedestrians, walking with purpose and fortitude towards their desired destinations. In some cases, these individuals fail to reach that destination as they are hit and injured while attempting to cross one of the thousands of dangerous intersections in the city.

According to Vision Zero New York, annually an estimated 4,000 pedestrians are injured and 250 killed in traffic accidents throughout the city. In many cities, adding more crosswalks and walk signs would likely be viewed as a key solution to reducing pedestrian accidents. In New York City, however, pedestrian safety is a more nuanced and complicated subject.

By nature, New Yorkers are less likely to abide by the rules and spend time sitting idly by. When it comes to walking, research indicates that pedestrians in the city frequently ignore sidewalks and find their own and more direct routes. Additionally, in cases where New York City pedestrians do choose to cross a street in a crosswalk, many routinely ignore do not walk signals; favoring their own judgment over that of the automated crosswalk signs.

Research shows that New York City pedestrians are also more likely to begin crossing the street before the crosswalk signal turns. In many cases, pedestrians either disregard the walk signal or rely upon changing traffic lights rather than an official walk sign to begin crossing the street. All of these factors combined make the city unique when it comes to addressing pedestrian safety issues.

In general, when attempting to reduce the number of pedestrian traffic accidents, city planners must work to understand how pedestrians in the city think and discover the routes they are currently traveling. Catering to the city's pedestrians as opposed to attempting to get them to follow a new set of rules is likely the most effective way to reduce the number of pedestrians injured and killed each year.

Source: The New York Times, "How Do We Protect New York City’s Pedestrians?," Susan Dominus, April 23, 2015

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