Data Dive: NYC Traffic Trends, Street Safety and Public Health
Data Dives are conversations with Columbia Climate School researchers and affiliates to learn more about their work and explore trending topics through the lens of knowledge science and visualization.
Peter Muennig is a professor in Columbia University’s Department of Health Policy and Management. His research links social determinants of health with cost-effectiveness analyses to find out one of the best mixture of social policies for optimizing population health. He has been the principal investigator on multiple NIH grants, has received $16 million in funding, and has published over 200 articles in leading journals.
Muennig’s team has conducted research on increasing the number of motorbike lanes In Recent York City, expanding bike share programs to low-income communities, Vision Zero and speed reduction programs, congestion pricing, and constructing parks over the Cross Bronx Expressway.
Chart: Traffic Volume on MTA and Port Authority Bridges & Tunnels
Traffic volume on Recent York City bridges and tunnels returned to pre-pandemic levels in 2021, and has continued to trend higher. How does vehicle traffic affect the health and well-being of communities? What can cities do to manage traffic and ease congestion?
Traffic affects the health and well-being of communities in countless ways, but 4 of those are very essential contributors to suffering and the lack of life.
By far the largest think about determining the impact of traffic on community health is air pollution. A very powerful type of air pollution is small particulate matter called PM 2.5, which would be the biggest contributor to death and disability worldwide. PM 2.5 is produced in large quantities when diesel fuel is burned and is a component of the plumes of black smoke you sometimes see billowing out of truck exhaust pipes. PM 2.5 can also be produced in smaller quantities by gasoline-burning engines, tires against the pavement, and brake pads against disc rotors. These smaller sources matter lots because there isn’t any secure level of exposure to PM 2.5—even somewhat will still spread through the air, into and thru the lungs, after which into cells where it damages DNA. The biological damage brought on by PM 2.5 may cause cancer, heart disease, stroke, and premature cellular aging. At the least 4.5 million people are killed consequently of exposure to PM 2.5 every yr globally. Within the US, the annual variety of deaths is lower, roughly 50,000, due to air quality regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency. While 4.5 million deaths is lots, a much greater toll is exacted on those still alive—stroke and heart disease definitely hasten death, but within the meantime they exact years of suffering.
Traffic produces different kinds of deadly air pollution as well, and the closer you’re to running cars and trucks, the more intense the exposure. The Environmental Protection Agency has made great progress in regulating tailpipe emissions from non-commercial vehicles. But there may be quite a lot of room to rein in the largest polluters—industrial vehicles. Regulations on diesel emissions must be stricter, there may be a must become older vehicles off the road, and a must implement laws that prohibit industrial vehicles from idling.
Chart: Pedestrian Injuries
Traffic inside the community can also be a serious source of injuries, in fact, killing about 40,000 people nationwide annually and about 250 in Recent York City alone. This number doesn’t include individuals who find yourself in wheelchairs or that suffer chronic pain consequently of non-fatal injuries. There are about 10 serious injuries for each death that happens. As with PM 2.5, most of the deaths on account of vehicle injuries are never counted. People who find themselves in wheelchairs are inclined to die early, but these deaths are recorded as pneumonia or heart disease fairly than the crash that put the person within the wheelchair in the primary place.
Traffic also exacts an enormous toll on health via quality-of-life issues. The honking and engine noise from traffic is a serious contributor to insomnia and mental health issues inside the community. I find it amazing that horn loudness is just not regulated. Emergency vehicles stuck in traffic can blare their sirens at levels that will damage the hearing of nearby pedestrians. A truck horn can reach 130 decibels, easily enough to wreck the hearing of a cyclist next to the truck. One other big quality-of-life issue is the impact of traffic on exercise. If you happen to go to the places without cars, individuals are moving—jogging, biking, skating. You don’t see much of that in a car-filled city center for good reason. Without exercise, you may have heart problems, obesity, diabetes, and a shorter life. By some means, policymakers should not bothered by the large amount of urban real estate given as much as cars. Recent York City is rated as probably the most walkable areas of the USA, but that will look like news to a pedestrian attempting to cross a busy intersection. Possibly there should be separate automotive places and folks places. But there continues to be loads of room to create more equitable streets by reclaiming space reserved for personal vehicles (particularly street parking) for public use.
So, the apparent answer to air pollution, injuries, and quality-of-life issues (that also probably rack up tens of 1000’s of deaths annually) is to easily limit the variety of vehicles on the road. The intuition that many individuals have is that if you may have traffic congestion, you simply need to construct more roads. The other is true. The more roads you construct, the simpler it’s to drive, and you find yourself with more congestion and pollution.
If you happen to create pedestrian-only streets, people walk, bike, or jog to work or the shop. If you happen to remove street parking, people may have to park in expensive lots and will resolve to take the train as an alternative. The more those that take public transportation, the more the economics of running public transportation improves. So does the political economy—it is simpler to advocate for bus-only lanes when more individuals are using the bus than are using their personal vehicle. These trends may be accelerated by taxing cars that enter essentially the most congested areas of the town, or “congestion pricing.” Lawmakers are currently in search of to bring congestion pricing to Recent York City. Removing highways is possible when there are quite a lot of non-commercial vehicles on them. Business traffic presents a challenge, nevertheless, as goods still must be delivered. In cases where you may have quite a lot of industrial traffic, burying a highway under a park, converting to electric vehicles, and using progressive solutions to the “last mile” problem of getting goods to the patron can all help. Research from my team at Columbia University has shown that a groundbreaking plan to place a deck park over the Cross Bronx Expressway would get monetary savings and lives.
Chart: Crash Deaths
Crash deaths and pedestrian injuries have each trended higher in NYC and across the U.S. lately. Are you able to provide any insights into what could also be behind these trends? What could possibly be done to make streets safer?
City planners were somewhat perplexed by this query until recently. They were perplexed since the roads were getting safer, vehicles were getting safer (with self-driving features and guard rails to maintain cyclists from getting trapped under trucks), and the population of the town gave the impression to be on the decline. But this decline in population was only on account of bad projections of Census data. It seems that the reply to your query is simple. The population of the town is definitely increasing over time because the economy is growing. There are also more people driving and more trucks delivering goods. The more vehicles on the road, the more likelihood you may have for a collision.
We definitely don’t want to cut back housing or slow business activity. As a substitute, the reply is to proceed to make the cars safer and the roads safer. Often neglected is the role of distracted driving on this equation. Injuries really began to extend beyond what we might normally expect for a given traffic volume with increasing cellphone use. Those using cellphones could also be roughly 4 times as more likely to be in a crash as those that don’t use them. For this, there must be higher enforcement and higher regulation of technology in vehicles (e.g., increasing driver mode use on cellphones).
Chart: NYPD and Camera Issued Speeding Violations
In line with the information, the variety of violations issued by speeding cameras in NYC has steadily increased, while speeding tickets issued by the NYPD have declined. How and why is traffic enforcement—by police or automated cameras—essential to keeping streets secure?
Traffic enforcement is critical for 2 reasons. First, when traffic volumes are low, cars speed. The town has fastidiously chosen speed limits in order that collisions with pedestrians tend to not kill them. Even exceeding the Recent York City speed limit by a small amount greatly increases the chance of debilitating injury and death. Second, when traffic volumes are high, enforcement is required to forestall congestion. When frustrated drivers run red lights and block intersections, chaos ensues. This results in idling cars and more pollution.
My research team conducted a study to try and optimize the pattern of traffic cameras in the town. We found that optimizing a pattern of traffic camera installations would save lives and forestall significant disability. If we took the remaining lifespan of the common Recent Yorker alive today (about 40 years) and asked what traffic cameras would do in the course of the remainder of their lives, the reply is that a thousand fellow Recent Yorkers wouldn’t die from being struck by a automotive, and roughly a billion dollars can be put into city coffers. Right across the time that we published this paper, lawmakers decided to remove traffic cameras around schools. Outraged parents protested. Our study was helpful in getting the variety of cameras up, but they still should not optimized.
Recent York City has seen an explosion of several types of micromobility vehicles on its streets and bike lanes. What challenges and opportunities do vehicles like e-bikes, scooters or mopeds pose for cities? Will micromobility proceed to play a growing role within the urban transportation landscape?
E-bikes, scooters, and electric motorcycles each produce their very own challenges. All three types of transport are clearly superior to driving from a public health standpoint. But the advantages for public health all come from improvements in air quality. We also see potential increases in serious injuries, and definitely annoyance, that these recent types of transit may cause. When pedestrians and drivers are annoyed, they have a tendency to complain. These complaints can, in turn, result in a backlash against light electric transportation. That may be a shame because these vehicles are sometimes used as a bridge from the house to the subway. So, the massive research query is just not a lot whether these vehicles needs to be within the traffic mix, but how. How can we get the combo right so that they’re higher integrated into the transportation network? How can we higher protect each the users of sunshine electric transportation and the pedestrians that they buzz by?
Chart: Scooter and Moped Crashes
Vehicle-sharing programs introduce novice riders to powerful two-wheelers. Also they are disproportionately utilized by young riders who’re male. Add inexperience to the combo, and also you potentially have problems like reckless driving. The businesses that share these vehicles should do a greater job of tracking which of them are driving against traffic, on sidewalks, or other areas they shouldn’t be. Already strides are being made toward fixing these problems, and helmets are actually mandatory on faster vehicles, equivalent to electric motorbikes. Nonetheless, not enough users are banned from ride sharing consequently of irresponsible driving, and there may be loads of room to observe and implement violations.
Privately owned e-bikes have speed limiters on them, however the user can sometimes hack the limiter. Higher enforcement would help keep illegal vehicles out of motorbike lanes. When a motorbike is moving at high speeds, be it an e-bike or an electrical motorbike, it needs to be in the car traffic flow and the rider must have a bike helmet on.
Shared electric scooters (the sort that appear to be skateboards with a steering wheel) look like an intuitively bad idea because they’ve little wheels and users tend to not be aware of riding them. Despite this outward appearance of danger, they seem like an asset even in places like Lisbon, which has slippery cobblestone streets and steep hills. We’d like more data and we’d like to guage micromobility vehicles in keeping with it, not by their appearance.
One final comment is that traffic cameras have reduced the necessity for human-to-human police enforcement. In addition they remove police bias (equivalent to against people of color or against cyclists). But they can not be an alternative choice to it. Map applications warn drivers of cameras, and there are many reckless drivers who should not caught running red lights or speeding (or, for that matter, doing any variety of other crazy things). The police still must be a part of the equation.
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