Monday, April 29, 2013

NYC's Making Streets Safe for Seniors

NYC, like many big cities globally, has a large and growing senior population. This population is especially vulnerable to the dangers of street traffic. In NYC, seniors make up 12% of the population but as pedestrians account for 36% of all traffic fatalities.  To address this growing problem, in 2008 NYC became the first major US city to establish a safety program specifically focused on making the streets safer for senior pedestrians. Bolstered by initial success, over the past 5 years NYC DOT has been expanding the program to include more streets across the city.

The program was inspired by the Safe Routes to Seniors program organized by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. This program engaged with the senior population to identify dangerous areas and challenges the community faced.

In 2008, the NYC DOT started their own Senior Pedestrian Safety Program (now called Safe Streets for Seniors) that identified neighborhoods with high rates of severe injuries, fatalities, and pedestrian crashes among seniors.

The initial program focused on 25 Senior Pedestrian Focus Areas across the city.  The program found common recurring pedestrian challenges, including insufficient street crossing time, missing pedestrian ramps, worn street markings, bad drainage causing street ponds during rain, and a lack of driver yielding at many intersections.

The City has improved these areas by implementing targeted design changes such as lengthening crossing times at crosswalks, installing median refuge islands, widening curbs, narrowing roadways, and installing new traffic control devices.  Between the start of the program in 2008 and an evaluation in 2011, senior pedestrian fatalities decreased 24% citywide with some locations seeing up to a 60% decrease in injuries.

The second phase of the program, which continues until the end of this year, includes 12 new focus areas.  This phase moves beyond just using crash data analysis to identify study areas.  Locations were chosen that have high senior populations and services, and the program has increased senior outreach during all phases.

Overall, the program has been a success at delivering focused and cost-effective pedestrian improvements to NYC's most dangerous areas.  It will be important to see how the program changes as the focus on senior-specific needs increases.

Do you think that this is a good way to address the safety of seniors on the road?  Should this kind of program be distinct from a pedestrian-safety program, or would resources be best used to address all pedestrians together?  Are there other aspects of senior road safety that this program is neglecting?

See the original Transportation Alternatives study here:

Get more details about the program and study areas from NYC DOT:

Thanks to Brett Lezon for editing this post.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Interesting topic, I generally would've thought that addressing senior pedestrians would be part of a pedestrian safety program. In a big city with wide streets, median islands would be beneficial for all pedestrians. I am curious, with the addition of this program, has there been a significant decrease in drivers yielding at intersections?


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