The Present and Future State of Pedestrian Safety on Long Island

Walk Safe Long Island explores the current state of pedestrian and cyclist safety on our island, and discusses new interventions to come in 2022


The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released new data for the first half of 2021 that shows a serious spike in road fatalities from January to June of 2021.


In fact, the numbers indicate the largest six-month increase in motor vehicle deaths ever recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System’s (FARS) history. As per the USDOT’s official press release, an estimated 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of 2021, up 18.4% over 2020—that’s the largest number of projected fatalities in that time period since 2006.


Then and Now: COVID-19, Miles Traveled, and Pedestrian Fatality

During 2020, the pandemic caused driving patterns and behaviors in the US to change significantly. Vehicle miles traveled plummeted, while speeding motorists rapidly proliferated on increasingly empty streets. Thanks to data published by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), it’s already known that the pedestrian fatality rate rose 22% in the first half of 2020 compared to the same period a year earlier.


Preliminary data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) shows that vehicle miles traveled during the first half of 2021 increased by about 173.1 billion miles—about 13%. NHSTA’s behavioral research findings from March 2020 through June 2021 show that incidents of speeding and traveling without a seatbelt remain higher than before the pandemic. Coupled with the rising number of miles traveled, this reckless conduct on our roads puts motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists at a higher risk of injury and fatality.


New Infrastructure Bill, New Interventions

Passed on Friday, November 5, the bipartisan infrastructure bill (a.k.a. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) promises to “repair and rebuild our roads and bridges with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience, equity, and safety for all users.” The bill also includes the first ever “Safe Streets and Roads for All” program to support projects to reduce traffic fatalities, and it aims to improve transportation options for millions of Americans through the largest investment in public transit in US history. It also includes a more than 60% increase in transportation alternative funding.


Additionally, the bill requires every state to perform a Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment to look at road classification, speed, demographics of the surrounding area, and more. States where 15% or more of roadway fatalities are vulnerable road users—pedestrians, cyclists, etc.— will be required to spend 15% or more of Highway Safety Improvement Plan funds on vulnerable road user safety. The Federal Highway Administration will also be required to research best practices that promote biking and walking, and make walking and biking safer.


January 2022: Incoming National Roadway Safety Strategy

As per the USDOT, the Department’s first ever National Roadway Safety Strategy “will bring together work being done across USDOT and will put forth a comprehensive set of actions to significantly reduce serious injuries and deaths on our nation’s roadways.” The strategy—to be released in January 2022—recognizes the Department’s leadership role to play in addressing the crises on our roadways, while promoting a concerted and coordinated effort across all levels of government, the private sector, and communities to improve the current trends.


Current Interventions

While these issues persist, it’s important to note that there are many interventions already in place to mitigate pedestrian injury and fatality, Walk Safe Long Island being one of them.


According to Cynthia Brown, Director of the New York Coalition for Transportation Safety (NYCTS), ”There are many precautions pedestrians and bicyclists can take to improve their safety. One of the absolutely best things they can do is wear bright colored clothing or add reflective materials to backpacks, bags or clothing. Bicyclists should try to use bicycle lanes, especially protected ones, and make sure their bike is equipped with reflectors and lights, especially if they use their bike to commute to or for work.”


Through law-based campaigns and education, Walk Safe Long Island teaches Long Islanders about the current New York State laws in place to keep pedestrians and cyclists safe on the road. Learn more about WSLI: https://www.walksafeli.org/programming.

About Walk Safe Long Island

Walk Safe Long Island (WSLI) is a pedestrian and cyclist safety campaign that aims to teach Long Islanders about walking and biking safely through law-based education. WSLI is produced for the New York Coalition for Transportation Safety by the Long Island Health Collaborative, funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration with a grant from the New York State Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee.

New York State is taking numerous measures to tackle the issue of pedestrian and cyclist safety, all of which culminate in the New York State Pedestrian Safety Action Plan (PSAP). The plan emphasizes making streets safer by implementing the “Three Es—” engineering, enforcement, and education. Walk Safe Long Island is part of the third “E,” education.

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