Make Queens Safer strongly supports Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. After two years of the program, we believe that the city needs to begin putting more focus on initiatives to improve safety for vulnerable populations, including children, teens, and the elderly.
In particular, schools have not been sufficiently integrated into the city’s Vision Zero efforts. There have been a number of good early steps. We were pleased by the recent announcements DOT and DOE would collaborate on a new Vision Zero curriculum for 4th-6th graders. We applaud the use of speed cameras in school zones and the Mayor’s commitment to broadening their deployment and hours of operation. We appreciate the efforts of some schools to put in place safer arrival and dismissal procedures. And we’re fans of the DOT Safety Education and Outreach office’s excellent programs.
But there is much more that needs to be done to sharpen the focus on safe access to schools. The Department of Education only recently joined the interagency coordination process established to implement Vision Zero (which initially included only NYPD, DOT, TLC and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene), and their role is limited to the new 4th-6th grade VZ curriculum. DOE’s role in Vision Zero needs to be much more central, befitting its tremendous impact and reliance on the city’s streets. DOE educates more than 1 million children in over 1,800 public schools whose parents, teachers and school administrators travel during set hours daily. DOE employs over 135,000 people.
Key Issues at NYC Schools
- School safety plans don’t mention street safety
- Lack of coordination and follow-up for safety complaints
- Extremely small reach of DOT school safety education
- Limited resources of NYPD crossing guards and traffic agents
Better interagency cooperation and more DOE involvement is needed to help schools with policies and procedures for safe student arrival and dismissal. At elementary schools, afternoon dismissal is particularly challenging, because of the need to monitor that children are being delivered to the correct adults, and the large number of parents who drive to the schools to collect their children. The number of crossing guards is inadequate, their deployment appears to be uneven and arbitrary, and they lack the training and authority to perform traffic management on busy corridors. The city lacks effective channels for raising these concerns, so they tend to be addressed only when they capture the attention of a sympathetic elected official. The overall program needs to be addressed in a more comprehensive manner, and would benefit tremendously from the proactive, data-driven, interagency approaches that characterize the city’s other Vision Zero efforts.
We would like to propose the following to integrate schools more completely into the Vision Zero program.
- Refresh the Safe Routes to Schools program. The city’s “Safe Routes to Schools” plans are outdated. NYCDOT needs resources to update and overhaul this program.
- The report on “General Mitigation Measures” used for these plans was developed 12 years ago. It needs to be updated to incorporate NYCDOT’s current street design toolkit.
- The Safe Routes to Schools program should be broadened to incorporate curb management, traffic management and other operational strategies. These could include temporary street closures and the establishment of additional no-parking zones during school arrival and dismissal hours.
- The program should continue to look beyond the immediate school perimeter to address safe crossings for students at major arterials nearby.
- NYCDOT should work with schools and precincts to reassess conditions in the field, update school traffic safety maps, and develop new data-driven priorities for capital and operational investments.
- Safe arrival and dismissal policies manual. Elementary schools are unique- as afternoon dismissal poses the challenge of delivering the child to the correct adults, especially in schools where parents drive to pick up. NYCDOT should lead development of a “best practices” manual to provide guidance to schools on techniques for managing sidewalk crowds and vehicular pick-ups and drop-offs in congested neighborhoods.
- Recognition for best practices. NYCDOT should publicly recognize a handful of schools each year that have taken innovative and comprehensive approaches to school access safety.
- Increase reach of traffic safety education programs. Unfortunately the school reached by these programs has been steadily declining. In 2013, DOT visited over 700 schools. In 2015, they visited 580 schools. The current safety education goals in the Vision Zero Year Two report are to reach 500 schools each year. More resources are needed.
- A Vision Zero champion in every school. Every school should designate a person to lead its Vision Zero efforts. This person would:
- Act as a site coordinator and liaison for the city’s Vision Zero efforts.
- Review and update policies and procedures for student arrival and dismissal.
- Work to integrate school access safety into School Safety Plans.
- Participate in Parent-Teacher Association meetings to report news about school safety plans and receive feedback on issues and concerns.
- Be empowered to elevate issues and concerns about school access safety and request an official review by the local NYPD precinct and DOT borough commissioner.
- Reassess and coordinate the school’s participation in DOT safety education programs.
- A Vision Zero Coordinator at DOE. This person would oversee the overall program within DOE, including:
- Providing guidance, training, and support to the school VZ champions.
- With NYPD and NYCDOT, prepare an annual report on access safety issues raised by school coordinators, and how these concerns are being addressed.
- Solicit feedback from school VZ champions on safety educational programs that reach each school, and publish annual statistics on the numbers of students reached by each program, and teachers’ assessments of the programs’ quality and effectiveness. Establish an online feedback and rating system, so that teachers and administrators can weigh in on which programs they found to be effective and productive for their students.
- Expand and rationalize the use of school crossing guards. The number of crossing guards is inadequate, and their deployment appears to be uneven and arbitrary. The city lacks effective channels for addressing concerns raised about crossing guard placement, and is often in a position where it is forced to react to the communities that complain the loudest. The placement of crossing guards would benefit tremendously from the comprehensive, data-driven, interagency approaches that characterize the city’s other Vision Zero efforts.
- Mobilization of other NYPD resources. Crossing guards are not trained or empowered to manage traffic. On major dangerous arterials near schools, NYPD should be assigning Traffic Enforcement Agents to manage traffic and perform targeted enforcement during school arrival and dismissal hours. Strategies should be developed to discourage discharging passengers in traffic, and citations should be issued for U-turns, cell phone use by drivers, and other dangerous behaviors in school zones.
Department of Health and Mental Hygiene:
- Integrate pedestrian safety into school wellness programs.
- Part of Vision Zero year two goals (section 2.38) was to “Create new partnerships with schools and priority neighborhoods that will promote Vision Zero and active living.” Department of Health should be involved in safety education
- As a health risk topic
- As a school based active design project, Safe Routes to Schools should be incorporated.
- DOH already produces a child fatality report which shows that motor vehicle injury is a leading cause of death in school aged children. They have studied this further in Understanding Child Injury Report which further investigates motor vehicle related deaths. They should continue to expand their analysis and publications on this topic.
- Pass legislation permanently authorizing NYC’s use of traffic safety cameras in school zones; authorize their use at every school in the city; and extend their operation around the clock.
1/24/2016, Updated 5/17/2016