An MTA bus and other vehicles honked their horns as they ducked into the outside lane to pass an elderly man driving his motorized wheelchair down Brighton Beach Avenue on a Monday afternoon.
The man gestured with his right hand, hurling Russian invective at the cars zipping by him. He waved off the questions from a reporter with the same gesture, stopped at a red light at the Brighton 4th Street intersection. When the light changed, he turned left off of Brighton Beach Avenue, traveling against one-way traffic headed in the opposite direction.
This man escaped unscathed, but Brooklyn’s south shore and the areas surrounding Marine Park have proven treacherous for senior pedestrians. Numbers gathered from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and preliminary 2012 data from the Department of Transportation show that nearly 40 percent of the pedestrians killed in Brooklyn are older than 60. In the combined neighborhoods of Brighton Beach, Sheepshead Bay, Madison and Marine Park, seniors make up 76 percent of the pedestrian deaths. The 60-and-older demographic is higher for these areas than other parts of Brooklyn, but still only amounts to 25 percent of the population.
In 2008, the Department of Transportation launched the Safe Streets for Senior Program. The project involved adding street signs and pedestrian islands in the middle of wide streets, repairing pedestrian ramps and recalibrating crossing lights to allow more time to get across. Brighton Beach Avenue was the first Brooklyn leg of the project in 2008, and the program expanded to Sheepshead Bay and other neighborhoods in 2010.
Still, following the improvements to Brighton Beach Avenue in 2008, four drivers have killed senior citizens walking within a six-block stretch of the road. Between 2006 and 2008, cars only killed two senior citizens on that street. Sheepshead Bay experienced the same number of senior fatalities after the improvements made in 2010. The number of deaths isn’t staggering, but the disproportionate rate at which seniors fall victim is indicative of a trend.
The Department of Transportation did not return multiple calls for comment.
Nadine Lemmon, a legislative advocate for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, listed a slew of reasons why seniors fall victims to vehicles more often than younger pedestrians. Limited mobility makes reaction time slower, aging bodies are frail and more susceptible to traumatic injuries, and sometimes the elderly don’t pay enough attention when walking. She did not know why the Southeast corner of Brooklyn generated higher rates of fatal accidents than other parts of the borough, however.
Part of the explanation may lie in the elevated subway that runs overhead. Large support pillars along the road create visual obstacles, and may make crossing more difficult for seniors. Ksevia Semyonov, 68, of Brighton Beach, acknowledged the pillars, but suggested the best way to stay alive is to mind safety precautions.
“There are many who ignore lights and signs, young and old,” she said. “You will never be faster than a car, so you must be smarter than a car.”
Senior Pedestrians killed in Brooklyn, by Neighborhood
More intense regions indicate a higher percentage of senior citizens making up the total number of pedestrians killed. Click any neighborhood for specific numbers. (Neighborhood parameters based on New York City Census Tracts)
View Larger Map
Just a few minutes later, a woman ignored a no-walk light and crossed Brighton 3rd Street, drawing the horn of an incensed driver waiting to turn. The woman refused to give her name, but expressed scorn for pedestrian etiquette.
“You won’t get anywhere in New York, paying attention to lights,” she said, pushing her shopping cart down the sidewalk.
Even if Safe Streets haven’t made a statistical impact, frequent walkers appreciate the effort. Anthony Esposito lives in Sheepshead Bay, a neighborhood that the program expanded to in 2010. He’s a fan of the improved crossing time.
“Giving me more time to cross the street helps,” said Esposito, 70, who walks with a cane. “Before, I’d have to rush to get across in time. I’d be out of breath!”
Lemmon lists speed as a primary concern for the Transportation Campaign. She cited statistics that indicate pedestrians hit at 30 mph have a 75 percent rate of survival. Those hit at 40 mph have a 75 percent chance of death. The Transportation Campaign is a proponent of speed cameras to scare drivers into easing off the accelerator.
“Many people speed, even if it’s only by a few miles per hour, and they can get away with it,” she said. “The installation of speed cameras has been proven to pressure drivers into slowing down.”
Semyonov is sticking to her manifesto that a car won’t hit you if you don’t let it. As she waited at a Brighton Beach Avenue crosswalk, she played coy about her age, but may have off-handedly provided the best reason to obey traffic signals.
“I’m old enough to know better,” she said.