Pedestrian deaths are heartbreaking — and avoidable. Last week, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer made safer streets a priority issue, asking community boards to identify the worst locations for pedestrians in each district. With Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero task force reporting back in three weeks, there’s momentum building to make NYC’s streets safer for everyone.
We want to see residents given a greater voice in this process, through their community board. Residents are essential participants in advocating for safer streets. Local knowledge will help communities build up comprehensive, actionable information about dangerous locations. The act of participating is powerful, giving pedestrians an opportunity to shape policy and inform decision makers, rather than being powerless victims.
Online crowdsourcing maps with Shareabouts are the best tool to engage residents in identifying problematic locations. Each board can have its own map, open for anyone to identify intersections where they feel unsafe or see others at risk. Residents can explore locations added by their neighbors, and use the site to leave comments and additional information.
There’s good precedent here in NYC already: DOT’s bike share map engaged thousands in collecting detailed, local wisdom in the form of 10,000 station suggestions. By setting up a map and inviting input, DOT showed that the creation of the bike share program was open and inclusive. Everyone who got involved by suggesting a station or supporting a location was part of the process.
Using online maps to gather input about dangerous streets will bring the same double benefit: community boards will be able to provide neighbors, the Borough President, Council Members, DOT, and media with detailed information; and everyone who participates is engaged in creating a safer city. Boards won’t be dependent on a few clued-up transportation committee members to come up with a list of locations.
Resident contributions are one piece of information that’s necessary to make streets safer. As input comes in, board members can overlay reported troublespots with crash data, near-miss reports, and other useful context like schools, subway entrances, and DOT proposals. Boards can generate reports, showing a list or map view, and locations can be prioritized by urgency.
Giving each board its own Shareabouts safety map is a model for greater community involvement in other issues, like prioritizing capital spending and dealing with liquor license applications. Many community boards rely on paper district maps and are not equipped with the digital tools they need. Shareabouts maps for Vision Zero aren’t just going to be transformative for streets and pedestrian safety, they will move community boards and citizen engagement into the modern era.