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Pedestrian safeguard

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As New York City becomes more congested, there is more need than ever to implement new measures to protect pedestrians and bicyclists. To that end, the City Council recently unanimously passed legislation sponsored by local City Councilmember Vincent Gentile that aims to render the city’s thoroughfares safer. The Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety Act, which was signed into law April 1, takes “a three-pronged” approach, said Gentile, speaking about it during the March meeting of Community Board 10. Addressing the group gathered at the Norwegian Christian Home, 1250 67th Street, Gentile said that the bill requires the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) to identify the 20 intersections around the city which are most hazardous for pedestrians and, “Implement improvements.” In addition, Gentile said, the legislation requires DOT, “To inspect patterns of crashes involving pedestrians or bicyclists.” This includes locations where there have been five or more accidents within 12 months, he noted. The agency would also be required to inspect locations where fatalities have occurred. Finally, said Gentile, the bill requires DOT to do “a five-year analysis of pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries,” in order to develop mitigations. “DOT categorizes pedestrians as the largest at-risk group for traffic accidents in the city,” Gentile stressed. Indeed, according to information supplied by his office, while the number of pedestrian accidents had declined from 1990 to 2005, between 2005 and 2006, the number of pedestrian fatalities increased by six percent, from 154 to 163. The trend has been noted by Transportation Alternatives (TA), a not-for-profit advocacy group. “Currently, crash data demonstrates that over 50 percent of all pedestrian-related crashes occur at just 10 percent of all intersections,” emphasized Paul Steely White, the group’s executive director. “Improving the most crash-prone locations for pedestrians will save lives and go a long way to address community concerns at historically dangerous intersections. “Pedestrian crashes are not random occurrences,” White added, pointing out, “In using the term ‘crash’ instead of ‘accident,’ the bill further heralds a significant shift towards accountability and systematic prevention of traffic injuries and fatalities.” Gentile said that the rationale for the legislation, in part, “Had come out of this board’s concerns about 65th Street,” where heavy, often fast-moving traffic has posed a danger to schoolchildren as well as the elderly. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had previously announced the Safe Streets for Seniors initiative, whose purpose is to re-engineer 25 intersections that have been identified as high-accident areas to make them safer for elderly residents. In his 2008 state of the city address, Bloomberg said, “Making our streets safe is a priority on all fronts…. We consider safer streets for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers a matter of public health – like smoking or obesity – that deserves our full attention.” The Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety Act, Gentile concluded, is, “Ground-breaking legislation, so much so that a councilmember from Seattle called me for a copy because they are thinking of doing the same thing in Seattle.”

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