New York City kids have a lot in common with their more mature counterparts: they know the feeling of just missing the train, the adrenaline of biking past gridlock and the unrivaled taste of a New York bagel or slice. Nearly 2 million New Yorkers are under the age of 18, more than the entire population of Philadelphia, the fifth most populous city in the nation. In an interactive feature this weekend, the New York Times shadowed a dozen young New Yorkers from the five boroughs to try to pin down what makes a New York City kid.
At least one thing is obvious: Unlike most American kids, who largely rely on their parents to shuttle them from place to place, New York kids depend on subways, buses, bikes and their own two feet to get where they need to go. Transit and safe streets are critical to the independence of young New Yorkers, allowing them to access schools, friends, sports and extracurriculars on their own.
When we talk about investments in transit and safer streets, we frame their benefits in economic terms – time and money – and rarely consider how they would impact children. And too often, objections over street improvements like pedestrian crossing islands or bus lanes invoke the fear of losing parking or slowing down traffic. And that’s when young New Yorkers, many of whom aren’t even old enough to drive, get left out of the conversation.
Take, for example, Cross Bay Boulevard, a Vision Zero priority corridor in southeastern Queens. Earlier this week, a driver struck two 13-year-old girls–killing one, injuring the other–while crossing Cross Bay Boulevard near 149th Avenue on their way to school in Ozone Park. In 2012, a driver killed a 59-year-old pedestrian at the same intersection. Just a half-mile south of the crash scene is a Vision Zero priority intersection at Cross Bay Boulevard and 156th Avenue. Local residents told reporters that drivers often speed, ignoring the corridor’s 30 mph speed limit.
The NYC Department of Transportation and MTA have been working for years to bring Select Bus Service to Cross Bay and Woodhaven Boulevards, but vocal opposition to adding pedestrian islands and bus-only lanes, which they say will worsen congestion for drivers, has stalled the plan. Instead, the thoroughfares have remained largely the same (and largely dangerous), with faded crosswalks and eight lanes of traffic that would be difficult for even an able-bodied adult to cross with the signal.
It shouldn’t take a tragedy like what we saw this week on Cross Bay Boulevard for NYC DOT to once again stand up to a vocal minority opposing street redesigns that benefit the greater population. New York City kids deserve better from their city.