New Traffic Island Makes News, Takes a Beating

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Here’s the scene at the corner of Grand Street and the F.D.R. Drive, where motorists exiting the expressway turn 90 degrees onto the local street. The DOT recently installed this modest pedestrian refuge island, which sparked an outcry from area residents, who complained that the island was hard to see.

This island is great. It slows the cars making that turn off the highway and forces them to get into a single file. Boy, is it taking a beating. A local resident quoted in the article asked that the island receive a sign. I am sure other drivers will ask that it be removed.

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  • P

    There is a similar condition at Metropolitan Ave as cars turn to get onto the BQE. There have been some improvements over the past several years but the intersections demands pedestrians to cross the street in double time as they look behind their right shoulders.

    Perhaps at Grand Street the DOT needed to design something a little larger that not only would provide a greater refuge (imagine sitting in a wheelchair there) but would also be more visible to cars, slowing them down further.

  • ddartley

    From the NY1 story: “A spokesperson says the city will consider installing a sign to help drivers see the island better.”

    How about on the exit, but before the sharp turn, a sign that says “SLOW?”

  • Clarence

    I will say that as of late – every once and a while there is actual evidence that the DOT is changing for the better. This would be one of them.

    Looking at those photos of how scuffed up it is – YIPES!! Years ago, I am sure this ped refuge would have been torn up immediately…the DOT response would have went something like this: “Sorry, failed experiment. Too much damage to cars.”

    This is precisely the message we need to be sending drivers, that our city is not built like a speedway and they need to slow down. And if we want to change the mindset of drivers, these kind of amenties and situations are going to become more common.

  • Steve

    How about a trap door that opens up and the car falls in when the island is hit at speed?

  • Still, DOT really needs to expand its tool kit. Clearly, the curb isn’t working very well by itself and I don’t imagine a street sign is going to help all that much either. There must be some other street design feature — maybe something like a taller, brightly painted bollard thingy — that would let drivers know there’s a pedestrian refuge right there.

  • Amy

    Bollard “thingys” are the best safety option for this current design configuration; good call Aaron. Steel, high k-factor, reflective bollards would create a safe pedestrian environment and a civilized motorists environment.
    Street signs would likely be flattened in a day.

  • Ken

    From the pictures, it *is* hard to see. It took me a moment to realize that the post was focusing on how hard it was for *motorists* to see. And, it’s pretty small. Kudos for effort, but the effort needs some work. A street sign is unlikely, and also ugly. Those cones – cheap fix, and also ugly. Bollards, better. Why not paint it orange? Yellow? Put a tree up there? Something blatantly obvious so motorist can say “hey there’s a _thing_ right there I don’t want to hit” and pedestrians can say “hey, there’s a space right there where I won’t get hit”.

  • Dan Icolari

    This solution, while better than nothing, points to the real need, which is a rethinking of the transition from arterial highway to public (neighborhood) street.

    These transitions need to be uniform, clearly and forcefully articulated and installed citywide, so that drivers come to EXPECT that when they leave the highway, they will be required–nay, FORCED by the design of these transitions–to reduce their speed and be alert not just for cars but for a whole variety of users that city streets routinely accommodate.

  • P

    Great point Dan, but I’m not sure if transportation infrastructure can provide the necessary change in driver attitudes and expectations at the expressway/ surface street junction.

    As an occasional driver I’m sympathetic to the difficulty in adapting to the fact that when you return to the surface streets you reluctantly have to acclimate to the slower speeds, stop lights, and pedestrians that were absent on the expressway. Looking at the TA crash maps it’s clear that these off-ramps are problem locations. http://www.transalt.org/crashmaps/brooklynped.html I’m not really sure how to help drivers make this transition- I guess as you said it comes back to infrastructure. Certainly keeping them from entering the streets at 40 or 50 mph is a start. Making our surface streets less like expressways would help too.

  • alex

    Dan and P,

    One unintended but successful traffic calming device at a highway-surface street interface can be found at the offramp from the Henry Hudson Parkway at W. 79th St. In this case, driver’s must navigate around a semi-circle upon exiting the HHP. The surface of the semi-cicle is in horrible condition. The combination of having to drive in a tight semi-circle, and poor road surface conditions forces most drivers to proceed cautiously until they exit the circle and begin to haul-ass uphill towards Broadway on W. 79th.

  • Moshe Yakov
  • galvoguy

    turn it into a pedestrian bunker, dress it up with a easy seen day and night sculpture like design, that looks pleasant but conveys to motorist to slow down or risk damaging their vehicles.
    maybe two halves of a sphere would work, if they hit it they are deflected back out into the roadway rather than into the refuge

  • Maria

    Moshe,

    Why in NYC is it always, “It doesn’t work! Take it away and make it like it used to be.”

    How about: “It doesn’t work! Let’s work together to come up with a solution that does.”

    And why is Shelly Silver becoming the most regressive force in NYC when it comes to traffic, transportation and public space?

  • AD

    Moshe, thanks for a great link. Much appreciated.

    I can’t believe Sheldon Silver wants to make the intersection more dangerous for pedestrians. Actually, yes I can.

  • C

    I agree bollards should be in place. Another option is rumble strips on the exit ramp to the local street. The final option is a traffic cop ticketing everyone who hits the curb for reckless driving. If you hit something in the middle of the road that is not in YOUR lane then you’re driving reckless.

  • AD

    C, yes, I agree. People hitting this island is an indication that they are driving where they don’t belong.

    Silver’s opposition to this is an example of why we should thank the DOT when it does the right thing, as here.

  • Asdf Jkl

    Lesson: Most average citizens, and the politicians who represent them, are fools. It’s not just DOT – DOT is between a rock and a hard place most of the time. Take a break from blaming DOT for a while and blame knuckleheaded motorists, community boards and windbag politicians. Good times!

  • Morty

    If Silver’s against it, it’s probably because some rabbi knocked a hubcap careening off the FDR to make it home by sundown.

  • What does Dan Burden call it when motorists hit these traffic calming devices? A “teaching point”? He’s for it, and the more damage done, the more likely the motorist won’t hit it in the future. It just proves these people are driving too fast for conditions. What if it wasn’t a pedestrian island, but a real pedestrian instead?

  • AD

    UPDATE: I e-mailed Speaker Silver’s office after reading Moshe’s link above, and a staff member from his office called to clarify his position on the traffic island. She said that while the Speaker feels it is important to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists, in this case he does indeed want to remove the traffic island because he feels it reduces overall safety. (A 4X4 could drive right over the island, for example, running into anyone standing on it.) She said her office had heard from many area residents who are opposed to the island.

    If experience is a guide at past streetscape changes, I believe that a big part of the problem is the island’s newness. Once local drivers are used to it being there, they will not hit it so much as when it was new, and the anti-island sentiment will fade away.

    The staff member pointed out that the Jersey barriers on the FDR off-ramp extend right up to the intersection, and that you really have to make a tight 90 right-hand turn to avoid the island. This is probably a tighter turn that most motorists are used to making, and certainly based on the turning cab in this bird’s eye image, it is a tighter turn that people were used to making before.

    I said I thought that the island and tight turn serves an important function by slowing cars and forcing them into single file at the beginning of the street instead of allowing for a situation where aggressive drivers could jocky for space for blocks inland.

    I still think the best solution here is not to remove the island, but to make it more visible to turning cars, or — if it is still that big a problem in a few months from now after everyone has gotten used to the island’s presence — consider reducing the length of the Jersey barrier. That would allow cars to make an easier turn while maintaining the important pedestrian refuge.

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