The walk signal at the crosswalk on Third Avenue and East 70th Street was recently re-timed to come on seven seconds before drivers get a green light – instead of at the same time – so pedestrians can get across Third Avenue before the cars can move. On New York’s increasingly crowded streets, so-called “pedestrian head starts” have become a key tactic used by city officials to reduce dangers at busy intersections by making pedestrians more visible and reinforcing their right of way. While the concept is not new, the pedestrian measure has quietly multiplied across New York City as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero campaign.

Pedestrians are now given a head start at 2,381 intersections, or seven times more than the 329 intersections in 2014 when the Vision Zero campaign began. The city’s Transportation Department is adding the measure to about 800 intersections a year, or nearly double the rate from 2015. Even so, the head starts have gone largely unnoticed by many pedestrians. There is nothing really to point at. The head starts do not call attention to themselves like the popular countdown clocks that have been installed at 7,507 intersections around the city to warn pedestrians how much time they have left to cross. There are about 40,000 intersections in New York, of which nearly 13,000 are busy enough to warrant traffic signals.

Unlike more costly safety improvements, such as protected pedestrian and bike lanes, pedestrian head starts are relatively inexpensive, and usually involve little more than studying traffic patterns and reprogramming existing lights, according to city officials and urban planners. Over the years, several traffic studies have shown that when pedestrians are allowed to go first, there are fewer crashes.

City transportation officials said the head starts range from 7 to 11 seconds, with more time allowed for wider streets. A 2016 transportation department analysis of 104 intersections giving pedestrians head starts found a significant decline in fatalities and severe injuries to pedestrians, the officials said.

The safety measure is being broadened at a time when city officials have faced questions about whether their Vision Zero campaign has stalled. Even as the overall number of people killed in traffic crashes declined last year to 231, pedestrian deaths – the largest share of those fatalities – rose to 148, from 139 in 2015. In 2017, there have been 86 pedestrian fatalities as of the end of October, or 34 fewer than the same time last year, according to the city.

Of course, as with any measure, there are limitations. The head start does not address a reality of city streets: impatient New Yorkers who insist on crossing against the light or outside crosswalks. City officials said they do not generally break down overall crash data by whether pedestrians were inside or outside of a crosswalk.

Some drivers have grumbled that the measure slows traffic, while others said it is confusing to see conflicting signals at an intersection.

At the corner of Third Avenue and East 70th Street, a woman was fatally struck by a yellow cab turning left into the crosswalk in July – two months before the planned change to the walk signal to give pedestrians a head start. The driver was charged with failing to yield to a pedestrian.

Source: New York Times

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