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Busing and better housing are found to have an impact on pedestrian safety

Photo by John Curtis
Although reducing accidents was not the project’s primary goal, the construction of new housing along New Haven’s Dixwell Avenue in the mid-1990s led to a lower incidence of accidents involving cars and pedestrians.

Analyzing New Haven accident statistics during a seven-year period, a Yale team has found that interventions by city officials helped keep children safe, even though some of those measures never had pedestrian safety in mind.

The researchers found that between 1992 and 1999 the number of children hit by vehicles plummeted from 223 to 87. They attributed the decline to five policy moves instituted in those years, two of which weren’t intended to prevent accidents.

Research began when Thomas S. Renshaw, M.D., chief of pediatric orthopaedics, noticed that the city had an alarmingly high rate of pedestrian accidents involving children. With Jon C. Driscoll, M.D. ’95, Gregory A. Merrell, M.D., and Linda C. Degutis, Dr.P.H. ’94, an associate professor of surgery (emergency medicine) and public health, Renshaw approached city agencies. “They clearly were interested in doing something about the problem, and did have some things in the planning stages,” Degutis said.

After comparing the statistics of children involved in pedestrian accidents in 1992-93 to those for 1998-99, the team found that several factors that could have figured into the decline—population, the number of parks, and traffic speed and volume—hadn’t changed much between 1992 and 1999.

So what did change?

The city launched two separate campaigns in the 1990s to make the streets safer. One was a public service message that included mass mailings and billboards to promote safe driving. The second encouraged police officers to write more tickets to people driving recklessly. In 1999, police wrote 22 percent more tickets than they had the year before.

Also during this time, traffic safety became a regular part of the curriculum in the New Haven public schools. The schools also undertook a massive increase in busing—not for safety, but for integration. Bus ridership rose from 35 percent in 1992 to 73 percent in 1999, the study said. Moreover, more pupils were picked up at home instead of at a bus stop. The Yale team estimated that this lowered the number of accidents in two ways: children were crossing fewer streets and getting home later. “They’re on the bus instead of playing in the streets,” Renshaw said.

The city also started decentralizing its public housing in 1990. The largest high-rise development, Elm Haven on Dixwell Avenue, was torn down in 1999 “because of the crime and [because we’re] trying to provide decent, sanitary housing,” said Diane Jackson of the New Haven Housing Authority. “I don’t think we sat down and said, ‘We need to do this to take care of the statistics from accidents happening in the area.’”

Yet that’s exactly what happened. Five children were struck at an intersection adjacent to Elm Haven in 1992, more than on any other street in the city. In 1999 there were none.

“The decrease in injuries is an unintended positive consequence of these actions,” Degutis said. “We certainly can’t take credit for making the change, but are pleased that it has appeared to have an effect.”

The research was published in the May 2002 issue of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.