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#StreetSmarts: Here’s What Everyone Should Know About Walking in the City

As a walker, you are a citizen of the street.

As a walker, you are a citizen of the street. Let’s do this! (Linh Nguyen / Flickr)

Quick quiz! Walking in NYC is:

a. Free, healthy, and fun.

b. Good for the environment.

c. Safe.

d. All of the above.


If you answered (d), all of the above, you’re right! Walking in the city is by far one of the best ways to get around New York City.

It’s a popular way to get to and from school …

… and kids who grow up in the city pride themselves on being street smart. Are you? Here’s what everyone who walks around NYC should know. (Which means … every New Yorker!) We’re all walkers. (And if you want to get fancy about it, pedestrians.)

Walking is pretty safe–just not 100%

walker death outline nyc

Don’t be this guy, OK? (bikepeacenyc / Flickr)

The good news is that walking is a natural part of city life, and generally safe.

Fact: The number of people who die in traffic incidents in New York City is the lowest among all large U.S. cities! Especially surprising given how many people are out there walking around in NYC. #goNYC

The bad news is that bad stuff still can happen and does happen—people get hurt and even killed in crashes when they’re just walking down the street.

Here are the numbers

Here are some numbers on walker crashes for you:

Yikes.

The city has a plan called Vision Zero to bring the number of walker deaths down to zero. To do that, we have to be smart citizens of the street and be aware of our surroundings. Everyone on the street has the power to help make our streets safer for walkers. Including you!

star wars nyc gif

And you don’t even need to be an intergalactic princess or Sith Lord to do it. (Giphy)

Here’s where walkers are most likely to get hurt

You’ve heard of right of way. It basically means you have the right to walk and drivers have to wait for you. But here’s the thing: Just because you have the right of way doesn’t mean you can stop paying attention.

Like, you may have the walk signal, but some car can still come zooming through a red light and hit you.

So if you know where the riskiest spots are, you’ll know where to be extra careful. Places like these:

1. Wide city streets. Most walker injuries in NYC happen on the widest streets. If the street you’re on has “avenue” or “concourse” or “boulevard” in its name, be even more careful …

… Though Vision Zero is starting to make these streets safer and more walkable (and bikeable). #ThanksVisionZero

2. Intersections. 74% of crashes where vehicles hit walkers happen at intersections. Why? Because that’s where cars, trucks and buses turn and are most likely to (a) not see you and (b) hit you.

Part of the problem is that drivers have “blind spots” that make walkers really hard to see. (Weird but true: The way vehicles are built often make it hard for drivers to see everything around them easily. Those are the blind spots. If you’re in the blind spot of a car or bus or truck, look out!)

You’re like “Dude, I’m RIGHT HERE!” but the driver’s like “What? I totally didn’t see you.”

Watch this car almost hit a guy crossing at the corner:

This video is in slow motion–just imagine how quickly it actually happened at normal speed!

Fact: Drivers have a harder time seeing you when they’re driving fast.

3. Wherever drivers are distracted. Too often, drivers aren’t paying full attention to the road because they’re texting, navigating, reading a map, eating, drinking, talking, making a call, putting on makeup, using GPS, adjusting music … Plus some drivers are speeding or sleepy or sick or are just bad drivers.

Watch out for these guys!

texting and driving

Do you trust this driver to see you if you’re crossing in front of her? Didn’t think so. (irina slutsky / Flickr)

4. Wherever buses and trucks are. Did you know they turn differently than cars? The back wheels don’t follow the same path as the front wheels, so don’t cross the street too close behind a truck or bus.

And besides, the drivers of big trucks and buses can’t always see you. Even if you’re 10 feet tall.

nyc garbage truck

How can drivers of big trucks see people crossing the street near them? Answer: They can’t always. (Salim Virij / Flickr)

Tips for staying safe

So now you know why you need to be careful walking on the street. Here are a few suggestions for how to stay safe.

1. Make eye contact with drivers. By making eye contact, you are making yourself visible and telling the driver “Hey, I’m here!” It’s not a safety guarantee, and it can be awkward, but it can actually help!

2. Know the 3 ways to cross the street. And try to use the right one at the right time. You can cross at a light, cross at a stop sign or cross mid-block.

jaywalking in NYC

New Yorkers cross mid-block like it’s no big thing, but it often is, actually. (Ed Yourdon / Flickr)

In NYC:

And at night, be extra, super careful to make sure you’re being seen.

3. Watch for ways the streets are changing. One day a car can turn at a certain intersection, and the next, turns there are banned. Or suddenly the sidewalk you walk on every day got wider. Or you spot a new median with flowers on that avenue you go down a lot. These are the kinds of things the city does to make streets safer for walkers.

Look for these kinds of changes–they mean the street is getting safer for you!

Staying safe on the street as a walker means remembering that you are sharing the street with cars, trucks, buses, bikes and emergency vehicles. There’s a lot going on out on the streets of New York!