Walking in NYC can't always be fun, but it should be safer

A pedestrian crosses Queens Blvd. in Rego Park.

A pedestrian crosses Queens Blvd. in Rego Park. (Credit: Jeremy Bales)

Liza Featherstone

Liza Featherstone Liza Featherstone

Liza Featherstone is the author of "Selling Women Short: The

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Pedestrian is an adjective meaning dull or boring. But in New York City, it's a powerful noun that describes the millions of us who love the city's varied streetscapes, from the wig stores on Fulton Street in Brooklyn to stylish brunch-goers in the West Village to the parade of Sunday hats in Harlem.

Not always, though.

This winter, unshoveled snow and ice turned our daily travels into treacherous Himalayan treks.

Even worse, pedestrians are dying at an alarming rate. In the Upper West Side, three were killed in traffic accidents within 10 days last month. Though the overall death toll from car-pedestrian accidents has declined in recent years -- former Mayor Michael Bloomberg deserves some credit -- 176 pedestrians were killed in traffic in last year.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled a plan that aims to eliminate traffic deaths. He called for reducing the speed limit, installing more red-light and speeding cameras -- measures that need Albany approval -- and stringently enforcing driving laws. Unfortunately, he is still not sold on pedestrian plazas -- a Bloomberg measure that calmed traffic -- but his plan is a step in the right direction.

The approach to traffic deaths by de Blasio's NYPD, however, is altogether different. Officers have blanketed the Upper West Side with pamphlets on safe street crossing, while they have ignored some careless driving in the neighborhood. Through Feb. 9, the city issued 215 jaywalking summonses (compared with 27 in the same period a year ago), while tickets issued to drivers declined.

Traffic-safety activists have protested, and there are signs de Blasio is listening. Now he needs to get Albany to approve his plan on speed limits and cameras.

The issue of snowy sidewalks, too, demands more enforcement. Councilman David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn) has a plan that makes sense. Property owners who don't shovel sidewalks now are issued $100 summonses. But he proposes to have city-contracted laborers clear unshovelled sidewalks and bill property owners $250 for the service.

Walking in the city can't always be fun. There will be smelly garbage in the summer and dirty slush in the winter. But it should, at least, be safer.

Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.

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