DOT Commissioner: City Must Do More to Keep Kids Safe from Cars Outside Schools

DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez at Thursday's pro-speed camera rally. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez at Thursday's pro-speed camera rally. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

New York City’s top transportation official on Thursday said his agency must do more to prevent drivers from injuring children outside schools — the first comments on the issue from a high-ranking city official following a Streetsblog investigation into school street safety.

Jesse Coburn's investigation on school streets.
Jesse Coburn’s investigation on school streets.

“There’s more work that we have to continue doing,” Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez said, following a rally in support of school-zone speed cameras. “I was a teacher for 15 years, I’ve been a co-founder to a school, I know how important it is to protect our students.”

Rodriguez’s comments came two days after Streetsblog reported that crash and injury rates are far higher on streets near schools  than other city streets when schools are open, and that rates are even higher around schools where most students are poor or children of color.

Asked about that racial disparity, Rodriguez acknowledged that the dangers posed by the city’s millions of vehicles are not spread evenly, and called addressing such disparities his “top priority.”

“There’s no doubt that crashes right now are happening in underserved communities,” he said. “Many of those underserved communities were left behind in the past.”

Analyzing city data on nearly one million collisions, Streetsblog found a broad disparity in crash and injury rates outside schools with mostly white students versus schools with mostly students of color. In the 2019 school year, for example, the rate of people injured by cars on school days was 43 percent higher outside school buildings where a majority of students were brown or Black than outside school buildings with majority-white students. Crashes are more common, too. These disparities have existed for years.

Rodriguez did not dismiss the idea of taking more aggressive measures to keep children safe outside schools — like restricting vehicular traffic on school streets during student and arrival and departure hours — when asked about the idea.

“Any tool that we have to put in place to improve safety, we’re going to be using it,” he said.

Cities throughout the world close school streets to traffic during drop-off and pick-up hours to keep children safe, but the practice is rarely used in New York.

Rodriguez also seemed to suggest the agency has new initiatives in the works to improve school street safety: “We have the whole plan to create safe routes to school, which is a whole new idea that we had that we’re going to be working on,” he said.

Rodriguez did not elaborate on the plan, and DOT spokesman Vin Barone could not immediately provide more information.

Rodriguez’s comments are the first from a top city official in the wake of Streetsblog’s investigation, which also found:

  • On school days, streets near schools are more dangerous on average than other city streets. During the 8 a.m. hour, when hundreds of thousands of children stream into 1,600 city-run public schools, there are 57 percent more crashes and 25 percent more injuries per mile on streets near schools than on the city’s other streets. This disparity largely disappears on days when schools are closed.
  • Drivers crash nearly 50 times and injure a dozen people near city public schools during the average day when schools are open. That’s a crash every 29 minutes and an injury every two hours. The chaos peaks during the hours when children arrive at school in the morning and leave in the afternoon. At those times, there is a crash every 17 minutes and an injury every 72 minutes.
  • Drivers have killed at least 24 children heading to or from school on foot or bike in New York City in the past decade, according to news reports. The latest was May 4.

Rodriguez said the issue of street safety around schools is personal to him.

“I have 9- and 15-year-old daughters, and they walk in the street, and they need to be safe,” he said.