2008-02-06 / Seniors

Senior Spotlight By John Toscano

'Safe Streets For Seniors' Launched To Reduce Traffic Deaths

Continuing to address improvements for senior citizens, Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a "Safe Streets for Seniors" project last week, an effort to reduce traffic fatalities among the city's elderly.

The new project, which the mayor revealed in his recent State of the City address, will focus on 25 neighborhoods in the city where the safety initiative will be implemented.

The Safe Streets initiative will be put in place with another Bloomberg initiative, the "All Ages Project", which was also unveiled by him in the State of the City address and is concerned with the problems involved in growing older in the city and offer some solutions.

In announcing the start of the Safe Streets effort, the mayor stated: "Making our streets safe is a priority on all fronts, whether we're continuing to provide the NYPD the resources they need to fight crime, or using the latest technology and innovative programs to reduce traffic fatalities.

"We consider safer streets for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers a matter of public health- like smoking or obesity- that deserves our full attention. And while the final 2007 traffic fatality statistics were nothing short of incredible, we will continue to find new ways to bring them down even more."

The 2007 statistics, announced on Tuesday, revealed a record low number of fatalities was recorded. Fatality recordkeeping first started in 1910.

Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who will administer the new senior safety program, stated "We work every day to make our city's streets as safe as they can be, and with the number of fatalities in New York at its lowest level in a century, we are moving in the right direction. Our 'Safe Streets for Seniors' program is the largest program of its kind ever undertaken in the nation, and it's appropriate that it targets the most vulnerable New Yorkers throughout neighborhoods in all five boroughs."

Department for the Aging Commissioner Edwin Mendez- Santiago added: "We know that by 2030 the population of older New Yorkers will be larger than the number of school-aged children so it is critical that we begin to prepare for these changes by looking at our infrastructure needs across the spectrum."

In Queens, the Flushing/Murray Hill neighborhood will be targeted under the new initiative. That area, like the other five pilot locations throughout the city that will be initially studied, was chosen because it has both a high population of senior citizens and a high number of pedestrian accidents or injuries.

As part of the program, traffic engineers will evaluate pedestrian conditions in this neighborhood from a senior's perspective and make engineering changes such as extending pedestrian crossing times at crosswalks and shortening crossing distances, altering curbs and sidewalks, restricting vehicle turns and narrowing roadways.

The Department of Transportation also plans to refurbish signage in the area and to add "No U-Turn" and "Yield to Pedestrian" signs at the busiest intersections. Other changes might include improvements to pedestrian islands, curbs and sidewalks, and reducing the number of travel lanes, moving painted stop bars further away from crosswalks and additional senior outreach.

Once the five pilot locations are completed, the 20 other locations will undergo similar safety surveys and upgrades.

Driving the new program is the fact that since 1990, although pedestrian fatalities in New York City decreased by 62 percent, senior citizens remain a particularly vulnerable group. Studies show that although seniors- those 65 and over- made up about 12 percent of the city's population between 2002 and 2006, they were involved in nearly 39 percent of fatal pedestrian accidents.

Over the next 25 years, the over-65 population is expected to double so that by 2030 seniors will comprise 20 percent of the city's inhabitants. In the face of these population changes, the Bloomberg administration formulated the All Ages Project in conjunction with the City Council and the New York Academy of Medicine to determine how best to ready the city for its growing population of seniors.

WHAT ABOUT SENIOR CENTERS TODAY? While applauding efforts to address services to be provided at senior centers in the near future, Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D- Ridgewood) wants assurances that senior centers will receive the funding they need now to provide proper levels of services.

In a letter to Mendez- Santiago, she said she was excited about the healthy Aging Centers of tomorrow, but, also asked, "How will DFTA increase the scope of senior services with a budget that is $35 million less than the existing budget?"

Nolan asked Mendez- Santiago to meet with her to discuss present services at senior centers as well as the Healthy Aging Centers of tomorrow.

CONFERENCE ON SECURITY FOR SENIORS: The Queens Interagency Council on Aging and the Queensboro Council for Social Welfare is alerting seniors to the "Safety and Security In The Home" forum that will be held by the Queens Hospital Center next Wednesday, February 13, at the hospital at 82-68 164th St., Jamaica, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Advance registration is required. Call QICA at 718-268-5954 or register by faxing to 718-268-5952.

Experts in the field will speak on topics including: predatory lending, identity theft, financial scams, traffic safety, community awareness and safety, crime prevention and fall prevention.

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