#StreetSmarts: See and Be Seen

Vision Hero Kids with Skateboard in NYC

We all know New York is the greatest city in the world, but did you ever stop to think about why?

Growing up in NYC gives you more real-world interactions and more independence than living in the suburbs.

Think about it: While your suburban friends are getting shuttled around in cars for school and activities, you’re walking, scooting, biking, or taking the bus or subway.

Fun fact: Having many ways to get around is called multimodal transportation

Fun fact: Having many ways to get around is called multimodal transportation. Here’s more info about multimodal transportation.

NYC subway map GIF

Getting around NYC = love. (Giphy)

They’re stuck getting driven while you get to move and groove with the most interesting and diverse collection of people on the planet. It’s a pretty powerful thing.

But remember Spider-Man’s motto:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

NYC has this crazy awesome idea that if we’re all a bit smarter and more careful on the streets, we can get to the point where no one dies in a crash. It’s called Vision Zero. Now nearly 40 US cities have followed NYC’s lead and are rolling out Vision Zero programs too.

Here’s how to be a VisionHero for Vision Zero, and how to see and be seen out there on the streets.

City life is fascinating–and distracting

NYC cars GIF

Life moves pretty fast in the city. If you don’t stop and look around, you could regret it. (Giphy)

It may only take you a few minutes to get from point A to point B, but a lot can happen if you’re not paying attention. Help avoid a crash by looking around (“seeing”), and if you can, take some steps to help others see you, too. Things you do all day without even thinking are not exactly safe when crossing walking, boarding, or biking the street.

Part of being savvy in the city is being smart about the world around you. The city is distracting, and some distractions can be dangerous. And not just dangerous–deadly. You don’t need to be scared, but don’t be stupid either.

Walking and texting

texting and walking

Just because so many people do it, that doesn’t make it a good idea. (Matthew Kenwrick / Flickr)

You’ve probably heard that texting and driving is bad. Well, as a young New Yorker texting and walking is not such a great idea either.

In 2014, a Safe Kids study showed that teens are significantly more vulnerable in the traffic environment.

What’s more…in a survey of over 1,000 teens, they said they were often distracted while walking.

That’s not being a good New Yorker…

Don't be a phone zombie!

So many things can happen when you’re crossing the street. A random car may be blocking the crosswalk. A driver could turn without using their turn signal. A bike could run through the red light.

Check out YouTube superstar Casey Neistat, a real-life Vision Hero…

It’s impossible to predict what other cars will do, so look up from your phone and focus on what’s in front of you. Even better: step off to the side to message and keep going after you’re done. If you’re looking at your screen, how do you know an approaching driver isn’t looking at theirs? Don’t assume that drivers see you. Make sure. Make eye contact with them.

Walking with earphones

nyc street earphones

Hope she at least turned down the volume when she was crossing. (Ed Yourdon / Flickr)

Texting while walking gets a lot of attention, but listening to music is also dangerous.

If you’re wearing earphones, flipping through Musical.ly, walking down the street, be extra careful. And not just because you might embarrass yourself. Not paying attention can actually be kind of like going temporarily blind.

You could really put yourself at risk.

Wearing earphones while walking causes what’s called “inattentional blindness” as illustrated in The Monkey Business Illusion.

The Monkey Business Illusion

Inattentional Blindness is Not Seeing Because You're Not Paying Attention

Of 116 people injured while wearing headphones, 81 died. Scary.

If you really really really want to keep listening to your tunes, here are 4 things you can do:

  • Use earbuds or earpods instead of noise-cancelling headphones.
  • Pop off one earbud or headphone.
  • Turn down the volume.
  • Look around more carefully.


Rushing across the street while the light is turning

Hey, we’ve all done this at some point, right? Please think twice before you do it again.

traffic signal don't walk GIF

Watch those signals when you’re crossing the street. (Giphy)

It’s tempting to cross the street once a signal starts flashing. But it’s not the safest idea. What if you drop something important, like your phone or MetroCard? Will you have time to pick it up before the signal turns?

That flashing hand sign actually isn’t saying “Hurry up!” It’s saying “You might not have time to cross safely.”

While pedestrian signals are used as a guide to help you cross the street safely, you make the final decision. Make sure you have enough time to get safely across when the red hand starts flashing. Make a smart choice!

walker car crash GIF

Hey, watch where you’re going. (Giphy)

We shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t cross the street when there’s oncoming traffic!

crosswalk near accident GIF

That was close. TOO close. (Giphy)

Turning vehicles

We know that NYC kids 14 and under are most likely to get hit while they’re in the crosswalk with the walk signal in their favor. One of the biggest threats to pedestrian safety is turning vehicles. So protect yourself, and look for them, again, and then again after that!

Walking at night, mist, fog, etc.

walking at night

Walking at night in the city brings up a whole other set of issues. (Greyframe / Flickr)

During the evening and night, visibility is low. That means it’s harder for drivers–and walkers–to see clearly. Wearing something light colored makes you more visible–but no matter what you’re wearing, it’s important to be extra careful and aware of your surroundings.

You (and others!) see half as well, so you need to be twice as careful.

own the night gif

To own the night, be aware. (Giphy)

So, especially when it’s harder for cars to see you: Keep your eyes and ears on the street, not your phone or your music.

Be smart and be safe

It’s awesome to have and use multimodal means to get around NYC.

Everybody on the streets deserves respect. Before you use the streets you got to check, check.”

Knowing how to get around the city means you’re street smart. Use those smarts to show respect, be green, and survive.