New Traffic Plan for West End Avenue

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:14

Community comes together after yet another pedestrian fatality

Upper West Side Following another pedestrian fatality in the neighborhood, Upper West Siders were eager to hear the Department of Transportation's plan to improve safety on a stretch of West End Avenue last week. The DOT has been working to change several intersections in the area, and the most recent presentation to the community, in the wake of the latest traffic death, focused on West End Avenue from 72nd Street to 106th Street.

In February, a similar town hall-style meeting was held to discuss changes at Broadway and 96th Street, where two pedestrians were killed in January after being struck by vehicles.

In this most recent case, 61-year-old Jean Chambers was crossing West End Avenue on July 10 when she was struck, dragged and killed by an SUV turning left onto the avenue from 95th Street. In January, Cooper Stock, age 9, was struck and killed on West End Avenue two blocks up at 97th Street.

Last Thursday, three weeks after Chambers' death, the DOT unveiled their plan to residents at the Mickey Mantle School to improve pedestrian safety on West End Avenue between 72nd Street and 106th Street.

The plan calls for narrowing the 35 blocks in question from four lanes to three, removing one lane in each direction. Of the three remaining lanes in each direction, the one closest to the curb would be an extra-wide parking/loading lane that the DOT said would accommodate those who double-park on West End, causing drivers behind them to swerve dangerously into the next lane to keep moving.

The center lane in each direction would be a moving lane, and the last remaining lane in each direction would have turn bays incorporated into them at every intersection.

In addition to those changes, the DOT is proposing to install four pedestrian islands in the north and south crosswalks of 95th Street and 97th Street. The plan would also ban two left turns at West End Avenue: northbound going left at 97th Street and southbound going left at 95th Street.

Lastly, the proposal would add a curbside right turn lane at 96th Street and remove parking from the west curb of West End Avenue between 96th Street and 97th Street.

The DOT predicts the proposal would reduce pedestrian crashes with injuries by 31 percent.

Josh Benson, DOT Director of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs, said current conditions cause drivers turning left from West End Avenue onto side streets to be concerned about four different things: vehicles approaching from behind, identifying a gap in traffic in the left and right lanes in order to turn left, and identifying pedestrians crossing the side street they're looking to travel down.

With the proposal, he said, those concerns get reduced by half, with drivers only having to look for one gap in traffic in order to turn left, after which they can focus on any pedestrians in the crosswalk.

The one dedicated moving lane, said Benson, would also force drivers to slow down. "If people want to speed, tough luck. You have to wait for the person in front of you," he said. "It's a good system and it works; we use it all over the city."

Residents reacted well to the proposal but said more must be done, asking the DOT to consider installing additional pedestrian islands at 72nd Street and 79th Street. Those two streets, like the area around 95th Street and 97th Street, handle a heavy amount of traffic coming off and entering the Henry Hudson Parkway. Some also questioned the wisdom of enabling people to double-park in the extra-large parking lane.

Benson said West End Avenue is already scheduled to be repaved later this year, but due to logistical concerns with the utility provider Con Edison, the DOT doesn't know when exactly the paving will start. The traffic safety changes would occur in conjunction with paving though, and 86th Street to 106th Street would be the first segment of West End Avenue to receive both treatments.

Chambers' death marks the 70th pedestrian fatality in the city so far this year and the 13th to have occurred in Manhattan, according to statistics compiled by WNYC. Both Stock and Chambers were killed by drivers making a left-hand turn onto West End Avenue from side streets. According to Mayor Bill de Blasio's Vision Zero initiative to reduce such deaths, being struck by a vehicle is the leading cause of injury-related death for children under 14, and the second leading cause for seniors. De Blasio said on average, vehicles seriously injure or kill a New Yorker every two hours.

The DOT said they've already taken steps to reduce pedestrian fatalities on West End Avenue, installing eight and nine second pedestrian signal intervals at 95th Street and 96th Street, respectively, and increasing the pedestrian interval at 97th Street from five seconds to 12 seconds. In addition, they've banned westbound left turns around P.S. 75 Emily Dickinson on 95th Street and 96th Street.

The NYPD also recently announced they'd be enforcing a 25 mph zone on Broadway from Columbus Circle to 220th Street.

Community Board 7 Chair Elizabeth Caputo said the board would like to vote on this most recent proposal at their Sept. 2 full board meeting. The proposal will also be discussed at the Aug. 12 Transportation Committee meeting. A full copy of the proposal can be found on the DOT's website.

The DOT said the next steps are to collect community feedback, finalize the paving schedule, and establish the project implementation schedule.