Despite gains, Lower Manhattan pedestrian safety still an issue

The cover story of the December 27, 2018, issue of Downtown Express was about Kimberly Greer, a 28-year-old court clerk being killed at Centre and Leonard Sts. by a left-turning bus while she was in the crosswalk.

BY GABE HERMAN | Even as the city saw its lowest-ever levels of traffic fatalities in 2017, pedestrians deaths were up from last year and Lower Manhattan continues to have some of the most dangerous intersections in the city.

The city announced on Jan. 1 that there were 200 overall traffic deaths in 2017, down nearly one-third since 2013, just before Mayor Bill de Blasio started his Vision Zero traffic safety program. However, there were 114 pedestrian deaths this past year, up from 107 in 2016.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted on Jan. 2 about the city’s traffic deaths data for last year, “I am proud of the progress we’ve made on Vision Zero, but we have to do more. Pedestrian deaths actually increased in 2018 over the previous year. New York streets should be safe for all of us.”

Lower Manhattan’s dangers for pedestrians were recently highlighted when a young law clerk, Kimberly Greer, was struck and killed by a charter bus at Centre and Leonard Sts. Greer, 28, was in the crosswalk when the bus hit her while it was making a left turn in the early evening on Dec. 20.

After the incident, Councilmember Margaret Chin said in an e-mailed statement to The Villager, “My heart goes out to the family and friends of the young woman who lost her life last week. Pedestrian safety remains a top concern for the residents of Lower Manhattan. I applaud the decision by the Department of Transportation to revoke the permit of the bus company. We will need to continue to work hard to ensure that pedestrians can safely traverse Lower Manhattan.”

Lower Manhattan has some of the most dangerous intersections in the city, according to NYCrosswalk, a site that compiles pedestrian-safety data at specific streets. According to the site, two local intersections are tied for second-most dangerous over all: Pike St. at East Broadway, and Centre St. at Canal St., each with four collisions in the last year.

And in the Lower East Side, Little Italy and Soho, there were 826 pedestrians injured during a five-year span starting at the beginning of 2013, according to data compiled by the Web site Localize.city, which examines city data by neighborhood. The site found Lower Manhattan to have three times the city’s rate of fatalities and injuries among pedestrians and cyclists during that span.

Joe Cutrufo, communications director for the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives, which advocates for more walking and bicycling in the city and fewer vehicles, said Vision Zero is working, in light of the new record low for traffic deaths.

“D.O.T. has a strong, data-driven approach to saving lives. They ought to double down on that,” he said.

De Blasio has faced criticism for not endorsing congestion pricing to reduce cars in Manhattan, a policy endorsed by other officials including Governor Andrew Cuomo and Speaker Johnson.

Transportation Alternatives supports congestion pricing, and Cutrufo said Lower Manhattan has too many cars.

“It doesn’t make for a livable city to have our streets all clogged up like this, and a big part of that is safety,” he said. “We think that we can create a more livable city through congestion pricing.”

Cutrufo added, “For a long time people have thought of congestion pricing and Vision Zero as two separate transportation ideas. But more cars equals more crashes. More congestion means more friction on the streets. You get safer, saner streets when you’re not dealing with chronic gridlock.”

He noted that congestion pricing is often discussed as a way to raise money for the subways. That’s true, he said, “but that would take time. It would pay immediate safety dividends.”

The city currently uses many programs aimed at increasing pedestrian safety, including Neighborhood Slow Zones that reduce speed limits from 30 to 20 miles per hour; speed cameras in school zones; and more public plazas that are blocked off from traffic.

D.O.T. is also trying out a pilot program called Left Turn Traffic Calming, to reduce car speeds while making left turns. The department has said such turns cause three times more crashes than right turns because drivers have to navigate more traffic variables and tend to accelerate more when turning left.