NYC Council Hearing - Committee on Transportation
May 4, 2011
Oversight - How has DOT’s plaza program impacted traffic, pedestrian safety, and commerce in New York City?
Good afternoon, my name is Veronica Vanterpool and I am the Associate Director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. Tri-State is a regional policy watchdog organization working for a more environmentally sound and equitable transportation network in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.
Tri-State advocates for funding, policies, and initiatives that reduce traffic congestion, increase safety for all modes of mobility, nurture sustainable land use, and encourage transit use, walking and biking. In our 15 year advocacy history, TSTC has seen the most progress towards these goals under the Bloomberg administration.
NYCDOT’s programs are saving lives making NYC a world class city with world class streets. Pedestrian injuries in midtown are down 35%. Bus ridership has significantly increased along corridors with Select Bus Service, such as a 30% increase in the Bronx. Bicycle commuting has increased 154%.
The DOT’s plaza program has contributed to these promising statistics by redesigning NYC streets so they are safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles. And, because they are safer, people are flocking to these plazas as destinations to eat, shop, and hang out which has been great for business. 42% of NYC residents surveyed in Times Square say they shop in the neighborhood more often since the changes. And supporting this is the 11% increase in pedestrians to Times Square since it became a public plaza.
For those who might be suspicious of data collected by NYCDOT, a separate survey by the Times Square Alliance notes that business opinion and consumer behavior are also largely in line with general public opinion regarding Times Square as an increasingly attractive place and destination. 68% of the major commercial tenants surveyed favored making the plaza permanent. 63% of employees working in Times Square would like the see the plaza made permanent. Of NYC residents surveyed by TSA, 81% had a positive opinion of the plaza. Additionally, a Quinnipiac poll found 58% of New Yorkers thought it was a good idea to close Broadway to cars and give more space to pedestrians.
These statistics show that NYC DOT’s public plaza program has put pedestrian safety at the core of the program. Pedestrians are gravitating towards these safe havens for recreation and commerce. In Times Square, pedestrian injuries declined by 40%; in Herald Square, they declined by 53%. These are staggering statistics that show the impact of balancing streets for vehicles, pedestrians, and bicyclists. When streets are not balanced, they lead to needless and preventable deaths.
Every year, Tri-State does an analysis of the most dangerous roads in the region. Six of the top ten most deadly roads in the region are in the suburbs (#1 in the region is Hempstead Turnpike in Long Island), despite much higher rates of walking in NYC. These roads lack the improvements being made by NYCDOT around the city as part of the Public Plaza Program, Safe Streets for Seniors, and Safe Routes to Transit.
Sadly, 11 pedestrians were killed by cars between 2007-2009 along upper Broadway (from 122 to 181st Streets) making it the second most dangerous road in the region according to Tri-State’s annual analysis. This stretch of Broadway shares characteristics with these deadly suburban roads: wide streets, poor crosswalk markings, high speeds. By comparison, Lower Broadway, which is home to Times Square’s pedestrian plaza and Madison Square Park, had no deaths. These area plazas have pedestrian islands, improved crosswalk markings, and better signage—the changes that TSTC and many others advocate for to make our streets safer for all especially children, seniors, and those who are differently abled. These changes help save pedestrian lives.
Overall, the public plazas have helped reduce traffic congestion and the incidence of vehicular traffic crashes and fatalities. These initiatives show that managing public space more efficiently helps reduce congestion overall and show that the real impediments to achieving traffic safety, pedestrian safety, and robust commerce are outdated planning and parking policies.
NYC needs more of these programs and more political support for the myriad benefits they generate to the economy, local business, health, and the environment.