Setting the Agenda on Pedestrian Safety

taxi_crash.jpg

On the evening of Saturday, January 10, 2004, Peter Hornbeck, 26, stepped off the curb at Park Avenue and 96th Street and was struck by a Chevy Suburban traveling 74 miles per hour. The SUV, being driven by a 26-year-old man from Queens who had had his license revoked years earlier, dragged Hornbeck for a block as Hornbeck’s friends cried out in horror. The driver, Gurpreet Oberoi, sped off, ditched his SUV and continued by bus to Atlantic City, where he spent the night gambling. Oberoi’s friends stayed in the city, went to the police and called Oberoi on his cell phone to urge him to turn himself in. Oberoi was arrested (NYT Select, 2nd item) days later and sentenced (NYT Select) to up to nine years in prison for second degree manslaughter.

In what is something of a success, there has not been a single pedestrian death on Park Avenue between 59th and 96th Streets since that one. But there was a recent near miss in Morningside Heights, where a cab crashed into the three-foot-tall concrete wall on the median at Broadway and 114th Street:

"That wall is the only thing that kept the taxi driver from killing any pedestrians," Detective Bob Winton said. "He was traveling at 40 or 50 miles per hour-anyone crossing the street would have been killed."

Today, the New York Times has a report about Streetsblog’s own Glenn McAnanama, an Upper East Side resident, who is asking his community board to approve similar concrete walls or metal bollards for the Park Avenue malls:

A spokesman for the Parks Department, which has jurisdiction over the malls, said the department had little information about the idea. A Transportation Department spokeswoman, Kay Sarlin, said that the malls themselves "provide a safe refuge" and that the agency considered bollards unnecessary.

Margaret Ternes, the executive director of the Fund for Park Avenue, said that she is not necessarily opposed to the idea but is baffled by the emergence of the issue, since she could remember few accidents involving pedestrians crossing Park Avenue. According to the Department of Transportation, one pedestrian died on Park Avenue between 59th and 96th Streets in 2003, one in 2004, and none since.

The bollard issue emerged right here on Streetsblog, where Aaron Naparstek showed in October 2005 that bollards protect pay phones and fire hydrants throughout the city, but rarely are used where people are likely to stand. It isn’t just Park Avenue where opportunities to improve pedestrian safety exist. Here’s a photo of Park Row next to City Hall.

park_row_bollards.jpg

Notice the bollards protecting the hydrant from errant motorists while people waiting on the refuge island are vulnerable. It is great to see Glenn taking the lead and setting the agenda on pedestrian safety, even if others find this baffling.

(Photo credits: Top: Daniella Zalcman/Columbia Spectator and Flickr; Bottom: Aaron Donovan/Streetsblog)

  • ddartley

    Why the @#$%& is anyone allowed to get up to 40 or 50 mph on a non-highway city street?

    Are not speed limits the real No. 1 problem? I know, the speed limits tend not to be higher than 30 mph, but even 30 mph encourages jackasses’ deadly, sociopathic acceleration–either to flex stupid-ass (and loud) car muscle, or to beat traffic lights.

    If the speed limits were significantly lower (and enforced-ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha cardiac arrest), there might not be such a compulsion to slam on the gas around traffic lights.

  • It was gratifying to see such a good write up about this by Mr. Mooney. One thing that I do want to make clear though is that I too care about the aesthetics of Park Avenue and I think we can easily balance the needs to protect pedestrians and preserve the aesthetic beauty of Park Avenue.

    Just so folks don’t get their hopes up too much, I sincerely doubt the community board will approve the idea. The idea was greeted fairly coolly all around when I suggested it for the agenda. I urge everyone to show up for the meeting to support this on Tuesday January 2nd at 7pm at the NY Blood Center, 310 East 67th Street, (First-Second), Conference Room #1
    http://cb8m.com/calendar/event_detail.cfm?EventID=150&Month=1&Year=2007

    What we really need is a unified DOT policy on which pedestrian islands need protection, how to do it and provide justification for their decisions. Right now it’s very hit and miss (no pun intended), which some areas heavily protected and other areas completely defenseless. Do we have to wait for someone to die in a specific location to justify installing these?

    And Aaron Naparstek is definitely the one who put this on the agenda for me, I just found a situation that it applied to in my area.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Ddartley, I agree with you about speed limits, but from everything I’ve read it seems clear that traffic calming works better than ticketing at keeping cars within the speed limit. I think this cartoon from Charles Addams captures the idea of design vs. enforcement:

    http://www.charlesaddams.com/gallery09.html

    Does anyone know the current leading proposals for traffic calming Park Avenue?

  • Steve

    Peter Hornbeck was killed near my home and I bike on Park Avenue regularly. People who say they do not feel threatened on the Park Avenue malls, even active community residents, may not be aware of the transformation that often comes over motorists North of 86th street, particularly on the northbound lanes of Park Avenue. When cars hit the peak of Carnegie Hill (~92 St.) and can see down into Harlem, they gun it.

    Also, for cars headed for the FDR, it is not uncommon for them to hop the curb at the southeast corner of Park and 96th as the make the turn eastward (there is a similar problem with the southesast corner of Madison and 96th). Traffic does tend to be as bit more calm on Park south of 72nd. Maybe even if the bollard measure is rejected the CB will agree that a speeding survey should be conducted at selected locations.

  • (I would like to point out that — since taxi drivers are largely stereotyped for bad driving/speeding/etc. — in this case the driver was not at all at fault, and crashed because he was trying to swerve away from an elderly woman who had just sideswiped him.)

    🙂

    d.

  • ddartley

    d., good to be precise, and I detest stereotyping, but if the quoted Detective’s statement is accurate, then the driver is at least somewhat at fault: almost no one should ever drive at 40 to 50 mph on a city street, elderly woman nearby or not.

    And Angus, I’ll clarify my too-glib comment: never mind enforcing the current speed limit. Speed limits on city streets should be reduced.

  • gecko

    Imagine a vast portfolio of retrofit urban designs for New York City where death by car (to pedestrians, cyclists, skaters, etc.) is virtually impossible and the city held accountable for not implementing such designs each time a man, woman, or child is killed or gravely injured much as if factories or warehouses are held accountable for injuries caused by heavy equipment resulting from noncompliance with proper safety precautions.

  • P

    It’s not surprising that Park Avenue residents- justifiably proud of their neighborhood- are reluctant to see utilitarian bollards or other street facilities added to the malls. It will be necessary to design these features to a level appropriate to their surroundings.

    A similar conversation is occuring with regard to anti-terrorism street design. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/28/nyregion/28blocks.html
    When the desire to protect buildngs and public spaces first arose Jersey Barriers and parked SUVs were used to cordon off these areas. Slowly these have been replaced by designs that often provide true enhancements to the quality of the public space.

    As it happens, many of these anti-terrorism devices double as anti-automobile hardware.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Good point, P. The funny thing is that these anti-car-bomb measures may wind up preventing many more deaths due to negligent or reckless driving than due to terrorism.

    Now if we could only convince the security people that the terrorists’ plan involves driving while talking on cell phones, or speeding, or making sharp turns…

  • Dan

    You know that these could be wonderful additions to the streetscape. Really, you could craft elegant wrought iron barriers that would protect pededestrians and add a sense of place to the islands, but because the city is generally so bad at desigining and implementing street design changes, you’d have a hard time convincing anyone that the city wasn’t going to make some ugly concrete barriers. It’s a terrible cylcle. The city fails to think about it’s streetscapes creatively and as a result the people who use those streets have a hard time visualizing ways in which streets could be better. And let me tell you arguing about what people see in their mind’s eye when they picture these types of things will get you nowhere.

  • Still, the Park Avenue Malls, whose landscaping is managed by a group called the Fund for Park Avenue with private donations, are a cherished piece of greenery, and there is little outcry for change. Residents say the malls provide a touch of Paris; it is unclear where concrete or metal barriers would fit in.

    The community board’s chairman, David Liston, called the matter a delicate balance. “People love Park Avenue, and they love the way it looks,” he said. “On the other hand, safety is important.”

    Yeah. People loved the way Park Avenue looked before 1922. That didn’t seem to stop New York City’s transportation and public space planners from disturbing the “delicate balance” back then. Check it out…

    http://www.naparstek.com/2005/12/history-of-new-york-city-public-space.php

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Ooh, yeah, Aaron, I forgot about that! I’ve got a few copies of a great postcard that Jeff made where he matched the angle from the 1922 postcard very closely. Glenn, have you brought that picture to the community board meetings?

  • Angus – That’s going a bit too far for now. I’m not asking for them to re-pedestrianize Park Avenue. But it’s definitely something that when I bring up to people, they are shocked to see. Consider making Park Aveune a ribbon park again a long term goal. For now, people really like their free parking on it.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I didn’t mean to suggest that you demand it now, just that it’s a good counterargument to the idea that “our pedestrian malls are fine the way they’ve always been.” As Aaron pointed out, they haven’t always been that way, and they were a damn sight nicer looking before 1922.

  • rachael

    The Times Up Memorial Ride for Cyclists killed in 2006 will take place on Sunday, January 7. This year we have included a stop for Pete and for all pedestrians killed on the streets of New York. The ride will stop at 96th and Park at 1:30 on that day. I was very close with Pete and was with him the night he was killed. Thank you for bringing awareness this tragedy. Better street design is one simple action the city can take to keep its citizens safe and avoid unnecessary pedestrian fatalities.

  • Rachel, if you could testify tonight at the meeting it might really help. Or if you send me a letter that I can read at the meeting I would be willing.

    glenn [at] uppergreenside [dot] org

    Angus – I will bring that photo and if there is a good moment I will use it. But yes people tend to think that if it hasn’t changed in their lifetime, that that’s the way it’s always been…

  • P

    I hope whoever goes to CB8’s hearing on the installation of bollards brings some images of non-DOT installations. If Board can’t see the alternatives they will imagine the worst.

  • P – If there is something you really like, please send it on. It would be good to have several different options available. I think it would be great to have MAS sponsor a design competition for them.

  • Steve

    A note on another of the items on the very interesting CB 8 Transportation Committee agenda–the #6 entrance located in the “Vornado Building” developed at the old Alexander’s site (the block between 58th and 59th Streets, between Lexington and Third Avenues). This building, though managed by Vornado, is better know as the “Bloomberg Building,” and rightly so since it has letters as tall as I am spelling “Bloomberg” on the grand columns at the Lexington Avenue entrance. In connection with the construction of this building, the southernmost entrance to the uptown #6 platform at the 59th Street Station (located at 58th Street) was closed, leaving only an entrance at 60th Street, and the 59th Street entrance to the downtown platform (which includes access to a rather unpleasant underpass to the uptown platform).

    For years, this closure has forced people who work between 57th-56th Streets on the East Side and live north of there along the #6 line (many thousands of people, I am sure) to walk an additional two blocks north to get the uptown train (or brave the often flooded, noxious-smelling and hyper-congested underpass). The added congestion could not have been created in a worse spot–at the perimeter of Bloomingdales, where tourists unaccustomed to navigating NYC streets block the narrow middle strip of sidewalk that lies between window-shoppers and the unbroken ring of vendors of counterfeit luxury goods on the outer margin of the sidewalk. In addition to creating this unpleasant two-block gauntlet, the closure of the southernmost station rendered all of the other entrances to the #6 59th Street Station (which were already heavily used before the closure) noticeably more congested, with lines backing up to street level routinely between 5 pm and 7 pm.

    When the Bloomberg building was finally completed last year, it contained a spanking new, extra-wide entrance to the uptown #6 train at 59th Street, with a lovely metal-louvered gate lowered to the “closed” position. In that position it has remained for more than a year. Along with the transit strike last winter, this situation was a factor leading me to become a ~100% bike commuter. The situation was made all the more frustrating by the policy of the security guards in the “horeshoe pit” of the Bloomberg building of not allowing pedestrians to take the shortcut through the courtyard of the building (which courtyard I suspect was marketed to city planners as a basis for justifying the excess height of the Bloomberg Building).

    The only rationale I have heard as to why this entrance has never opened is that due to a design flaw, the entrance tends to form large icicles in winter which could fall and injure someone. I have never seen such icicles in my daily journeys past the entrance and obviously this is no excuse to leaving the entrance closed for more than a year. One would think that if the developers of the Alexander’s site were permitted to close a subway station in redeveloping the site, that there would be some political pressure on them to re-open the site when their building was done. Especially if one of the developers seems to be an entity named “Bloomberg.” Yet this issue did not surface during the ’05 mayoral campaign and has gotten almost no press.

    I’m glad the CB is looking at this, and my thanks to whoever got this “livable streets” issue on the CB #8 agenda.

  • What about the big array of bollards in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza near the ped crossings between Prospect Park and the Library? Certainly NYC DOT installed those. If there, why not elsewhere?

  • David Chesler

    Why are hydrants protected by bollards but not pedestrians?
    (1) Hydrants are city property, pedestrians aren’t.
    (2) The DOT is in cahoots with the homicidal motorists in an effort to kill off pedestrians.
    (3) Pedestrians are lots of places, and the places where they are most in danger of getting hit by cars are places where cars have to go.
    (4) Most motorists tend to give pedestrians are fair margin of safety, but when doing maneuvers like parking they tend to come as close as physically possible to inanimate objects like hydrants and bumpers of other cars. Since hydrants never bend, it is better to protect them with bollards — note the scratches on the bollards shown. In addition, motorists may not realize the exact extent of their own bumpers and may overlook objects that are only 2 feet tall.

    I go for (3) and (4), not (1) and (2); I suspect many readers of this blog go the other way.

    Then again I’ve driven over a lot of curves, and I was driving a 7-ton (curb weight – 14 ton MGW) vehicle at the time — so much for the notion of buses as “green” — for this driver it was more fun to operate a school bus than to drive a convertible, a sports car or a motorcycle 🙂

    As for Park Avenue (formerly Fourth Avenue) I can’t tell from the 1922 photo how the buildings were accessed — maybe by hovercraft? It seems like for the second half of the 1800s it was mostly a culvert carrying coal-fired steam railroad cars.

  • AD

    David, I’d go with (4). But the need for bollards is apparent by the need to use those qualifiers: "Most" and "tend."

    My sense from the pre-’22 photo was that there was a one-lane service road on either side of the park for your horse.

  • A short summary of the meeting:

    Several streetsbloggers were in attendence including Adam and Steve. We made our case. Special thanks to Rachael (see comment #15), who gave emotional testimony about the death of her then boyfriend Peter Hornbeck. I’m sad I never met Peter, he sounds like a great guy.

    Then there was a chorus of people who objected on several grounds:

    1. There’s no need (Many people said “I feel safe”)
    2. This would absolutely ruin the aesthetics of Park Avenue
    3. This would impact driver sightlines thus causing more accidents
    4. Other “proven” ways of calming traffic – speed bumps, red light cameras, more signage and enforcement are the answers

    No logic would convince them. No vote was taken. They will be drafting a letter to the DOT to get more data. The DOT is against the idea on the face of it so we will have to wait for some horrible headline to spur action on this. So much for a public health approach to safety of stopping things before they happen…

  • But they did pass a resolution calling the police parade rules “unnecessary” and overly broad. Go first amendement!

  • steve

    Chris’ comments are insightful. Infrastructure does not change peoples’ attitudes and behavior as concrete experience does. Bike lanes, separate or not, are just an opportunity to expose people to bicycling in NYC. Every bicyclist reading this should make a New Years resolution to convert 2 people they know to semi-regular commuting or shopping by bike (you proabaly need to lobby 5 people repeatedly to achieve this). More bicylists, fewer motorists, the change in attitudes and behavior will follow.

  • steve

    Ironically, a motion to join with other community boards in support of Intro 199 (which would require DOT to set goals and measure performance by more enlightened criteria than motor vehicle throughput and fille potholes) was defeated, ostensibly because the bill calls for study of the adequacy of curbside parking, drawing the ire of CB members opposed to promoting curbside parking. While some of the anti-parking sentiment was disingenuous, there may be fertile ground for parking reform.

  • As far as bollards in front of fire hydrants, etc. – these are generally not protected by rows of parked cars lining the sidewalks, as they are meant to be accessible to firemen, etc.

    Were on-street parking to be reduced, but car driving not reduced, then as a matter of public safety sidewalks would have to be lined with bollards as a basic pedestrian safety measure. As it is, the city relies on private parked cars to protect pedestrians in most places.

    The medians on Park Ave have no such protection. As for their aesthetics, I happen to think they are ghastly ugly. Nothing says “ugh” like a flat mesa of completely empty sidewalk in the middle of a busy street pavement. Even worse when these desert areas are endcaps to the luscious foliage filling the rest of the median. I don’t see why this is preferable to some sort of decorative statements which could double as a pedestrian safety measure.

    At the very least the society which maintains Park Ave should be clamoring for the right to do something with the median endcaps since, as they are, they’re a public eyesore.

  • Steve

    First apologies for the mistaken comment #25 above, which belonged to another thread. Second, kudos to Glenn for his role on CB #8. Community Boards are not necessarily the most important place for every transportation reform advocate to devote their time and energy, but there is no question that there should be at least one Glenn McAnanama on each CB. Although Glenn’s proposal to install bollards on the Park Avenue malls was tabled, the CB recognized that there are significant traffic problems that need to be addressed including speeding, charging green lights and running red lights, and diminution of the roadbed-curb differential by the DOT’s sloppy practice of “fixing” the roadbed by simply dumping more asphalt on top of old until the roadbed reaches curb level. The CB did resolve to have the DOT investigate these problems, and though its resolution to do so was somewhat vague, I am sure Glenn will follow up to ensure that progress on Park Ave. street calming issues–however slow–is made. I for one would welcome street humps, traffic light timing adjustments, and certain other of the measures advocated by some of the CB members at the meeting.

    Finally, there were several CB members who appeared to be hostile to bicyclists (including one who proposed that all bicyclists be licensed). While the CB’s have very little decision making power, they are listened to by the City Council and others. Yet another reason to be active in CBs.

  • AD

    Hey Steve,

    Re your comment No. 19 above, NY1 is reporting that that entrance is being reopened after a dispute between the building owner and the MTA has been resolved.

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