A growing trend in urbanized areas has been the power of the pedestrian over the power of the vehicle. New York City is a prime example of how the pedestrian has begun to triumph over the motor vehicle. It was just a short time ago, in places like Times Square and Herald Square where pedestrians were forced to squeeze into narrow sidewalk space, often spilling into the streets to battle it out with oncoming cars and buses. This practice has thankfully been replaced with bike lanes and pedestrian plazas which have improved the quality of life and safety for residents and visitors to the area. Along with the increase in pedestrian space, a current trend has emerged in pedestrian safety; the Pedestrian/Traffic Manager—an individual trained and certified exclusively in the movement and safety of pedestrians in high density areas.
The concept of the Pedestrian/Traffic Manager (PTM) is an innovation which has taken hold in New York City. He or she is a cross between a traffic enforcement agent and a crossing guard. In New York City, they are certified to be working on the streets in construction zones and have been adopted into the New York City Rules and Regulations. The PTM is required to undergo a certified training course and many have some type of law enforcement background.
The PTM is a special breed; along with training in traffic management, they are required to be trained in customer service and dealing with the public—a monumental task when dealing with the busy crowds in a city whose population is consistently late for one reason or another and tempted to jaywalk at the smallest gap in oncoming traffic. The PTM is not authorized to write a summons and the only badge of visual authority is his/her yellow reflective vest (with a Pedestrian Safety logo on the back), a whistle and maybe, a plastic lighted baton.
The idea of the PTM took hold during the reconstruction of the World Trade Center area. During this time, it became increasingly clear that the growing number of pedestrians in this area were in need of a safety advocate; someone who could guide them at the crosswalks and keep the cars at bay while they crossed the street. The idea quickly spread and currently, they can been seen throughout the City at venues that include construction sites, shopping malls, entertainment arenas, Times Square, and Business Improvement Districts. The benefits to these areas have been significant. A recent study conducted in the area of Hudson Square (a direct conduit to a high volume vehicular tunnel which cuts through a residential area) shows remarkable results. Along with crossing thousands of pedestrians safely each day, the PTM’s have improved the quality of life in the area by keeping the intersections clear of vehicles; thus reducing vehicle emissions and horn-honking. Table 1 below shows the results.
Table 2 below shows the results of another study. In this case, pedestrian non-compliance at “walk,” “don’t walk” lights were observed at Times Square with and without PTM’s. As can be seen, without the Pedestrian Managers, the non-compliance to the crosswalk signal was 42.5%. With the Pedestrian Manager, the non-compliance rate dropped to 6.6%.
Another example of the success of the PTM can be seen in the Battery Park City area of New York City. The number of vehicles entering lower Manhattan has risen over recent years. According to the New York City Dept. of Transportation, there has been a 6.9 % increase in vehicles entering lower Manhattan through the Brooklyn Battery tunnel (2009 over 2010) . Along with this, due to the increase in tourism from the World Trade Center memorial and residential building boom, the number of pedestrians in this area has increase as well. PTM’s have been working this area at five separate intersections since 2010. Data was collected at these intersections and on the average, there has been an 11% growth in the number of pedestrians during the peak periods between 2010 and 2011. Since the implementation of the program, the PTM’s have crossed approximately 11 million pedestrians safely and securely.
The PTM has only the power of persuasion at his/her disposal to encourage safe behavior from the pedestrian. Not much else can get the pedestrian to comply at the red light. But, urban areas are becoming walking towns. For the most part, walking takes less time to get from from point A to point B than taking a cab or bus. Let’s not forget that old joke: “two business men are crossing town to get to a meeting—one says to the other ‘do you want to walk or do we have time to take a cab?’ “
Cities in the past have poured ever-more resources into the movement of traffic. The time has come to focus of the movement and safety of the pedestrian. The shrinking sidewalk has become a thing of the past. Iconic places like Herald Square are open, pedestrian plazas with comfortable seating for socializing and enjoying the scenery. It was only a short while ago that street furniture was the scourge of the shop-owner for fear of the “undesirable” taking residence upon a stray bench or fixture. The “Viewing Garden” was once a way to increase park space without allowing tactile interaction by the public. Those were green-spaces completely surrounded by tall fences. Thankfully, that mindset has past and our cities now see open plazas and pedestrian-ways as a positive, quality of life advancement for their neighborhoods. We have all come to realize that the happier and safer the public feels, the more they will visit, shop and work in an area.
The innovative Pedestrian/Traffic Manager complements the new pedestrian-friendly mindset of the growing urban area. A yellow vest, whistle and a friendly face can go a long way to encourage safe pedestrian behavior, but perhaps it is really the will of the public that is prevailing. They will adhere to the red light and the whistle, because they know they are winning the battle and little by little, they will control the streets. They can walk with impunity, no longer the underdog in a world of honking horns and exhaust pipes. They finally have their advocate—the friendly face with the whistle, and reflective yellow vest and that special logo which reads “Pedestrian Safety.”