Walking is good exercise; it’s literally the first step on the road to better health. But it’s also more dangerous than it ought to be if crossing streets or roads is involved. According to a national highway safety organization, it looks like the pedestrian death rate on the nation’s roads is on track to set an all-time record in 2020 despite — or perhaps because of — the drop in vehicle miles traveled. One reason for the seemingly paradoxical statistic: Those drivers still on the roads are traveling on them faster, which makes the roads more deadly for pedestrians. The fix for this problem is simple: slow the cars down. Hoboken, N.J., has done that as part of its overall “Vision Zero” plan to eliminate pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on its streets, and it’s worked: The city hasn’t had a traffic death of any kind for three years running.
Of course, another way to reduce pedestrian deaths is to replace the cars with smaller, lighter vehicles that are less likely to cause fatal injuries if and when they strike pedestrians. That makes the announcement that e-moped sharing has arrived in our nation’s capital welcome news: the more people get around Washington on mopeds, the less they will drive around it in cars.
Pedestrians can make use of these vehicles, but wheelchair users cannot. What’s more, in New York, they can’t even use much of the subway system because such a low percentage of its stations are accessible. The city’s transit authority has decided that the quickest way to fix this problem is to get developers to provide the access in exchange for zoning bonuses.
Pedestrian Death Rates on The Nation’s Roads Could Set an All-Time HIgh This Year, But in One City, They’re As Low As They Can Go
According to a news report in Smart Cities Dive, the Governors Highway Safety Association projects that the pedestrian death rate on the nation’s roads will hit an all-time high in 2020, even though vehicle miles traveled fell significantly this past year. Through June, 2,957 pedestrians — six more than in the first six months of 2019 — had been killed in collisions with vehicles, but vehicle miles traveled fell 16.5 percent over the same period.
Because pedestrian deaths usually rise in the second half of the year because more people are moving around outdoors, the association of state highway safety officials predicts that we could see the largest ever annual increase in the pedestrian death rate once figures for the second half of 2020 are tabulated.
But one city is bucking the trend in a serious way: Streetsblog NYC reports that Hoboken, N.J., has recorded no traffic fatalities of any kind since the start of 2018. In addition, collisions of all kinds have fallen sharply: in 2020, 35 percent fewer pedestrians, 11 percent fewer cyclists and 27 percent fewer vehicles were struck by other vehicles than in 2019.
The article attributes this achievement to two factors: significant expansion of the city’s bike-lane network and traffic-calming improvements on its main street, Washington Street. The city’s 16.3 miles of bike lanes is almost half the total length of the city street network, and that figure is 38 percent higher than it was in 2018. And this past year, the city gave Washington Street a total makeover, adding bike lanes, installing curb extensions at intersections, marking wider crosswalks and retiming traffic signals to give pedestrians a seven-second head start. In addition, during the warmer months, sections of Washington and other commercial streets in the city of roughly 54,000 are either closed to cars entirely or designated “slow streets” with reduced traffic volumes and speeds.
All of this is part and parcel of Mayor Ravi Bhalla’s project to make Hoboken a better and safer place for families to live; Bhalla, the first Sikh to be elected mayor of an American city, is himself a father of two. But the city’s pedestrian-oriented development makes the task easier: “Hoboken is a pedestrian-oriented city,” Hoboken’s director of transportation and parking, Ryan Sharp, told Streetsblog. “There are so many ways that you can get around without driving, some people have stopped driving in Hoboken.”
Shared E-Mopeds Make Their Debut in DC
Shared micromobility provider Lime has added electric mopeds to its mix of vehicles with the rollout of its first fleet of e-mopeds in the District of Columbia. The first 100 mopeds hit the streets at the end of March, joining the scooter and electric bike fleets Lime already manages in the city. Under a District-sponsored pilot program that will last the rest of the year, the company aims to deploy 600 mopeds in all.
Smart Cities Dive’s report on the rollout notes that mopeds have had a rough time gaining traction in the world of shared vehicles. A previous moped-share effort in New York, started in 2018 by Revel, ended after a series of fatal crashes two years later. Revel restarted its program later that year after improving its safety and training efforts for riders.
Lime is making safety a top priority from the start, according to the report. New riders are required to take an in-app safe riding course and take a selfie to show they are wearing helmets before they can take off. In addition, sensors will detect whether a rider has opened the helmet cases on the moped — each one comes with two, one for the operator and one for a passenger — and facial recognition technology will match the rider’s face with their driver’s license photo.
“I think that, frankly, a lot of the existing players haven’t taken [safety] seriously enough,” Lime CEO Wayne Ting told Smart Cities Dive. “That is going to be a big reason, ultimately, on whether or not this is accepted as a mobile app. And so that’s probably the biggest differentiation.”
Lime chose Washington as the first city to get the e-mopeds because the District government has been especially supportive of shared micromobility. The company plans to launch an e-moped-sharing program in Paris in the near future, then expand to other cities.
New York Moves to Build Better Transit Access Through Zoning
Riders with disabilities cannot use New York’s extensive subway system because so few of its stations are accessible to them. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority states that just 132, or 28 percent, of the 472 New York subway stations are accessible to people using wheelchairs.
Mass Transit reports that the City of New York and the MTA both want to increase those numbers, and to do so, the city will dangle carrots in front of developers of new projects.
A proposal now before New York’s City Council called “Elevate Transit: Zoning for Accessibility” will require developers to work with the MTA to provide easements for future access and even build the accessibility improvements themselves. In return, the developers will receive density bonuses to compensate for the space and cost of the improvements.
The proposal aims to leverage the $5.2 billion the MTA has already pledged to spend on accessibility improvements at train and subway stations in the city. The authority has set a goal of having 50 percent of New York subway stations accessible by 2029 and achieving “maximum possible systemwide accessibility” by 2034.
“This joint effort with the city and private sector will drive the type of innovation we need to create a more equitable city where all New Yorkers, and visitors, have access to everything the city has to offer,” said MTA Chief Accessibility Officer Quemuel Arroyo.
The proposal began making its way through the city’s complex review process with its introduction in Council on April 5. Like the projects themselves, both the city’s planning department and local community boards will need to review the proposal before Council can vote to make it law.
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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.