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Current Trends Queens Boulevard Pedestrian Safety Project -- New York City

To address the problem of pedestrian injuries, the Safety Division of the New York City Department of Transportation established an Urban Pedestrian Safety Strategy in 1985. The strategy called for the collection, mapping, and analysis of collision data to identify hazardous sites and develop interventions. The Queens Boulevard Pedestrian Safety Project, an example of the application of this strategy, focused on fatal injuries to pedestrians. For this project, 1980-1984 data were examined from investigation reports of a special police unit that responded within 1 hour to calls from local police precincts when a severe pedestrian injury occurred. If a pedestrian fatality had already occurred or the physician providing emergency medical care determined that the victim was not likely to survive, the investigators collected information about the injury circumstances, vehicle characteristics, and persons involved. Using this information, the Department of Transportation identified factors associated with risk of pedestrian fatalities at Queens Boulevard and planned interventions to improve safety at this site.

Queens Boulevard is the widest street (175-225 feet) in New York City. More than 60,000 vehicles traverse its 12 traffic lanes daily. Spot mapping of 1980-1984 police data identified a geographic cluster of 22 deaths and 18 likely fatalities along a 2.5-mile length of the street. Age was known for 36 (90%) of the 40 injured pedestrians; pedestrians injured along Queens Boulevard were older than pedestrians injured in the entire city (Figure 1). All 20 fatally injured pedestrians for whom ages were known were greater than or equal to60 years old.

Because many of the fatalities occurred in older pedestrians crossing the street, the following interventions were implemented: 1) modification of stop light signals to increase pedestrian crossing time; 2) roadway markings to emphasize pedestrian crosswalks, traffic lanes, and the direction of traffic flow; 3) pedestrian signals on median islands; 4) oversized speed limit signs and increased police enforcement of the speed limit; and 5) safety education presentations at senior citizen centers. The estimated cost of these interventions was $150,000.

Based on the average daily motor vehicle traffic volume on the Queensboro Bridge, the average daily traffic volume on Queens Boulevard may have increased by 19% in the 2 years after the interventions when compared with traffic volume during the 5 years preceding the interventions. Despite these increases in volume, the annual occurrence of fatal and likely fatal pedestrian injuries decreased substantially after the interventions (43% and 86%, respectively) (Figure 2). Citywide occurrence of fatal pedestrian injuries decreased by only 4% over the same period. Reported by: R Retting, Safety Div, SI Schwartz, M Kulewicz, Safety Engineering, New York City Dept of Transportation; LT D Buhrmeister, Accident Investigation Squad, New York City Police Dept. Unintentional Injuries Section, Epidemiology Br, Div of Injury Epidemiology and Control, Center for Environmental Health and Injury Control, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Despite a slight decline in the rate of pedestrian fatalities associated with motor vehicle collisions over the past decade, over 7000 such deaths still occur each year in the United States (1). An estimated 80,000 nonfatal pedestrian injuries occurred during 1986 (2). Pedestrian fatalities accounted for an estimated 15% of all 1986 traffic fatalities and 23% of urban traffic fatalities (3). Pedestrian deaths represent an even greater proportion of traffic fatalities in the most densely populated urban areas. In New York City, for example, 314 (52%) of 610 traffic fatalities in 1987 were among pedestrians (4).

Motor vehicle traffic control traditionally has focused on optimization of traffic flow and, more recently, conservation of fuel. In general, safety concerns, particularly pedestrian safety, have received less emphasis. For example, to reduce fuel consumption, all states in the United States had adopted traffic laws allowing right turns on red lights by the end of the 1970s. These right turns, however, appear to have increased police-reported collision rates, particularly for elderly pedestrians in urban areas (5). An additional impediment to intervention is the public perception of such injuries as "accidents"--unavoidable by-products of motor vehicle travel--rather than "injuries," for which preventive measures can be taken. Furthermore, there has been a tendency to blame pedestrian injury on pedestrian negligence (6,7), yet drivers and environmental conditions play an important role and cannot be excluded from the injury prevention equation (8).

The Queens Boulevard Pedestrian Safety Project demonstrates how focusing on injury prevention and incorporating resources not traditionally involved in public health can substantially improve safety with little effort or expense. Studies indicate that pedestrian injuries have their greatest impact on the very young, the very old, and the intoxicated (3,6-13). By recognizing Queens Boulevard as a street segment with an unusually large number of pedestrian injuries and identifying the elderly as the primary population at risk, traffic engineers and others devised interventions focusing primarily on disabilities of vision and agility in the elderly. This project suggests that pedestrian injuries may be prevented with interventions involving engineering, enforcement, education, legislation, and zoning. With a multidisciplinary approach and safety as a priority, public health officials, traffic planners, law enforcement officials, and other public safety workers can continue to take steps to reduce fatalities on U.S. roads.


  1. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital statistics mortality data, multiple cause of death detail (machine-readable public-use data file). Hyattsville, Maryland: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service (annual). 2.National Safety Council. Accident facts: 1987 edition. Chicago: National Safety Council, 1987. 3.National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Fatal Accident Reporting System 1986. Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 1988; DOT publication no. (HS)807-245. 4.New York City Department of Transportation. Traffic fatalities in New York City: 1987. New York: New York City Department of Transportation, Bureau of Planning and Research, 1988. 5.Zador P, Moshman J, Marcus L. Adoption of right turn on red: effects on crashes at signalized intersections. Accid Anal Prev 1982;14:219-34. 6.Solheim K. Pedestrian deaths in Oslo traffic accidents. Br Med J 1964;1:81-3. 7.McCarroll JR, Braunstein PW, Cooper W, et al. Fatal pedestrian automotive accidents. JAMA 1962;180:127-33. 8.Baker SP, Robertson LS, O'Neill B. Fatal pedestrian collisions: driver negligence. Am J Public Health 1974;64:318-25. 9.Allard R. Excess mortality from traffic accidents among elderly pedestrians living in the inner city. Am J Public Health 1982;72:853-4. 10.Baker SP. The man in the street: a tale of two cities (Commentary). Am J Public Health 1975;65:524-5. 11.Haddon W Jr, Valien R, McCarroll JR, Umberger CJ. A controlled investigation of the characteristics of adult pedestrians fatally injured by motor vehicles in Manhattan. J Chronic Dis 1961;14:655-78. 12.Mueller BA, Rivara FP, Bergman AB. Factors associated with pedestrian-vehicle collision injuries and fatalities. West J Med 1987;146:243-5. 13.Tanz RR, Christoffel KK. Pedestrian injury: the next motor vehicle injury challenge. Am J Dis Child 1985;139:1187-90.

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