#StreetSmarts: See and Be Seen

NYC kids skateboard

NYC life. (WanderingtheWorld / Flickr)

We all know New York is the greatest city in the world, but did you ever stop to think about why?

Growing up in NYC gives you more real-world interactions and more independence than living in the suburbs.

Think about it: While your suburban friends are getting shuttled around in cars for school and activities, you’re walking, scooting, biking, or taking the bus or subway.

(Fun fact: Having many ways to get around is called multimodal transportation. Here’s more info about multimodal transportation.)

NYC subway map GIF

Getting around NYC = love. (Giphy)

They’re stuck getting driven while you get to observe and interact with the most interesting and diverse collection of people on the planet. It’s a pretty powerful thing.

But remember Spider-Man’s motto:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

NYC has this crazy awesome idea that if we’re all a bit smarter and more careful on the streets, we can get to the point where no one dies in a crash. It’s called Vision Zero.

Here’s how to be a VisionHero for Vision Zero, and how to see and be seen out there on the streets.

City life is fascinating–and distracting

NYC cars GIF

Life moves pretty fast in the city. If you don’t stop and look around, you could regret it. (Giphy)

It may only take you a few minutes to get from point A to point B, but a lot can happen if you’re not paying attention. Things you do all day without even thinking can suddenly become unsafe when you’re crossing the street.

Part of being savvy in the city is being smart about the world around you. The city is distracting, and some distractions can be dangerous. And not just dangerous–deadly. You don’t need to be scared, but don’t be stupid either.

Walking and texting

texting and walking

Just because so many people do it, that doesn’t make it a good idea. (Matthew Kenwrick / Flickr)

You’ve probably heard that texting and driving is bad. Well, texting and walking can be just as dangerous. Really.

Texting while crossing the street doesn’t always kill you, but it can cause serious injury. In a study of 1,000 teens, 40% of them said they’ve been hit or nearly hit by a car, bike or motorcycle while walking. (That’s 400 people right there!) Can you guess why?

And 63% of those teens who were hit said it was normal to cross the street while texting or talking on the phone. When you go around thinking it’s no big deal to raise your risk of getting hit and maybe killed, that’s a problem.

So many things can happen when you’re crossing the street. A random car may be blocking the crosswalk. A driver could turn without using their turn signal. A bike could run through the red light.

It’s impossible to predict what other cars will do, so look up from your phone and focus on what’s in front of you. Even better: pull off to the side to message and keep going after you’re done.

Walking with earphones

nyc street earphones

Hope she at least turned down the volume when she was crossing. (Ed Yourdon / Flickr)

By the way, if you’re wearing earphones while you’re going down the street, you need to be extra careful when crossing the street.

And not just because you might embarrass yourself.

But because you could really put yourself at risk.

Wearing earphones while walking causes what’s called inattentional blindness–meaning that not paying attention can actually be kind of like going temporarily blind. Of 166 people injured while wearing headphones, 81 died. Scary.

Texting while walking gets a lot of attention, but listening to music is three times more dangerous.

If you really really really want to keep listening to your tunes, here are 5 things you can do:

Rushing across the street while the light is turning

Hey, we’ve all done this at some point, right? Please think twice before you do it again.

traffic signal don't walk GIF

Watch those signals when you’re crossing the street. (Giphy)

It’s tempting to cross the street once a signal starts flashing. But it’s not the safest idea. What if you drop something important, like your phone or MetroCard? Will you have time to pick it up before the signal turns?

That flashing hand sign actually isn’t saying “Hurry up!” It’s saying “You might not have time to cross safely.”

Ideally, you should already be in the crosswalk or even nearly across by the time it starts flashing–not just starting to cross.

The thing is, just walking around is a very common cause of death in the U.S. for kids ages 5 to 19. Crossing the street is one of those times when you’re more likely to get into a bad situation.

walker car crash GIF

Hey, watch where you’re going. (Giphy)

While crosswalk signs are used to guide you to when it’s safe to cross the street, you make the final decision. It’s up to you to decide if you have enough time to make it safely across, when the red hand starts flashing. Make a smart choice!

crosswalk near accident GIF

That was close. TOO close. (Giphy)

And don’t rely on crosswalk buttons. In New York City, not many of the crosswalk buttons actually work. So pushing the button doesn’t mean the light will change right away. Do this: Look both ways before crossing and continue to scan the street as you cross.

Walking at night

walking at night

Walking at night in the city brings up a whole other set of issues. (Greyframe / Flickr)

During the evening and night, visibility is low. That means it’s harder for drivers–and walkers–to see clearly. Wearing light colored and/or reflective clothing makes you more visible–but no matter what you’re wearing, it’s important to be extra careful and aware of your surroundings.

You (and others!) see half as well, so you need to be twice as careful.

own the night gif

To own the night, be aware. (Giphy)

So, especially when it’s harder for cars to see you: Keep your eyes and ears on the street, not your phone or your music.

Be smart and be safe to see and be seen on the street

It’s awesome to have and use multimodal means to get around NYC.

Everybody on the streets deserves respect. Before you use the streets you got to check, check.”

Growing up in the city makes you sophisticated and street smart. Use those smarts to stay safe and we’re all good.