Upper East Side Workshop Kicks Off New Street Safety Campaign

"You can’t control what you can’t measure," the saying goes. So to get a better grip on street safety on Manhattan’s East Side, Transportation Alternatives started by collecting better data about local traffic collisions and injuries. Last night, a group of Upper East Siders used that information to begin imagining what a safer neighborhood might look like.

The safety data and the workshop are part of a new campaign
organized by TA called the East Side Streets Coalition, which aims to dramatically improve safety from East
Harlem to Chinatown. The goal is to reduce traffic collisions that injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists by 50 percent over the next ten years.

safety_map_crop_1.jpgUpper East Side workshop participants discussed street safety using a new map of the most frequent sites of traffic collisions that injure pedestrians and cyclists. Click here for the full version of the map, showing the whole East Side. Image: Transportation Alternatives. 

"Other areas of Manhattan have seen significant street improvements in the last few years," said TA campaign coordinator Julia Day. "A lot of the East Side’s major corridors haven’t benefited from these improvements." As a result, she said, the East Side has some of the most dangerous streets in the city. The densely-populated Community Board 8 district on the Upper East Side, for example, suffers from the third most crashes of any community district in the city.

The campaign started by mapping out precisely where pedestrians and cyclists are most at risk of getting hurt by cars. Using advanced mapping techniques and new data from the state Department of Transportation, TA has identified and visualized the intersections where the most crashes occur along the entire East Side. These intersections will be the principal targets of the campaign. (The campaign will explicitly refrain from focusing on First and Second Avenues, which are already slated to receive major pedestrian and cyclist safety features.)

The coalition is beginning outreach to develop a vision for a redesigned East Side. The first workshop, for Upper East Side residents, was held last night, with about thirty participants meeting in the cafeteria of the Wagner Middle School to share their concerns about local streets and develop solutions.

Using tools like the city’s Street Design Manual and detailed maps of some of the most dangerous intersections in the district, they plotted out their safety ideas. Some of the most popular fixes, like leading pedestrian intervals or sidewalk extensions, would make sense throughout the city. Others were specific to the neighborhood or even the intersection.

One especially interesting proposal was to give 86th Street, where two deep red ovals are visible on the safety map, the same treatment that DOT is proposing for 34th Street: a physically separated bus lane and a full block closed to cars. As Upper East Side resident Steve Vaccaro noted while presenting this idea, 86th Street is choked with cars even though it doesn’t actually connect anything; the street doesn’t directly connect to either the FDR Drive or a Central Park transverse.

The solutions didn’t fall on deaf ears. City Council Member Dan Garodnick gave opening remarks, telling the group that he "will be very eager to look at the plans and then advocate for them." Representatives from Assembly Member Jonathan Bing and Council Member Jessica Lappin’s office also participated in the group exercises and presented ideas.

The workshop was a success in another respect as well. Two local organizations, the E. 86th Street Association and Upper Green Side, became the first members of the East Side Streets Coalition, in addition to a local committee composed of TA members. According to Day, more organizations have already committed to joining the coalition but haven’t officially signed on yet. Five more visioning workshops are scheduled for the rest of the East Side between now and mid-May. 

  • Great initiative and hopefully this will be a productive, constructive and cooperative movement on important issues to the community.

    East 86th Street’s strength as a Commercial corridor is because of the Express Stop on the Lexington Ave line…period. Every step should be taken to make that corridor as transit & pedestrian friendly as possible. Mid-block crossings between Third and Second should be considered similar to other major commercial areas like 42nd and 125th.

  • CB 8 may well be the third most populated community board in the city, or close to it. Add the relatively large proportion of pedestrians and cyclists, and the neighborhood may well have below average collision rates per pedestrian/cyclist.

    Mid-block crossings aren’t going to add much, not when the neighborhood already has short east-west blocks.

    But giving 86th dedicated bus lanes would do a world of good, especially if DOT also spent money on a bus-only connection from 86th to 86th Transverse. Unlike 34th, 86th is a busy bus corridor serving trips for which there’s no subway alternative.

  • Seems to me that residents of East 86th Street might object to having dedicated bus lanes in front of their buildings. How would they get deliveries? Could they put the bus lanes in the middle of the street?

  • JK

    This is a cool project. It’s great that Garodnick kicked it off. You have to start somewhere, but I hope TA is looking at doing this in CBs in places like Jamaica, Cyprus Hill, Flatbush. There are local partners to be found beyond Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn.

  • Glenn

    Alon – From Lex to Fifth the Avenues are close together, but from Lex East they are far apart

  • Glenn, the block between 2nd and 3rd is 610 feet, the shortest in the original Commissioners’ Plan. East of 2nd it’s 650, and west of 6th it’s 800.

    And JK, so far DOT and TA have not given a damn about anything beyond the gentrified and gentrifying parts of the city. Harlem gets some concern, though not enough to, say, reduce asthma rates or increase bus speeds.

  • m

    Alon — you’re quite wrong.

  • Alon — you’re quite wrong.

    Wow, you totally devastated him with that argument!

  • P

    Though terse, m was correct unless the Bronx, Flatbush, and Chinatown are all classified as gentrified.

    http://nyc.gov/html/dot/html/sidewalks/pedestrian_projects.shtml

  • Chinatown is part of the gentrified section of Manhattan, or at least is perceived as such by the city elite. The parts of Brooklyn that get increased public space are Grand Army Plaza and DUMBO. The Flatbush project rearranges lanes to provide room for double parking and separate turn lanes. It may be sold as a pedestrian street safety issue, but it’s automobile infrastructure.

  • Let me put it another way about the need for mid-block crossings – A few years ago I came upon the aftermath of a woman getting hit by an Express Bus mid-block (between Second & Third on 86th) as she tried to cross the street. Obviously it was not a smart move, but it shows pedestrians want to cross mid-block. Just stand there any day and you’ll see people crossing the wide two way cross street mid-block.

    It all happened very fast – Within ten minutes the body had been removed, a few minutes later the fire department had hosed down the street and within a half hour life returned to normal.

  • Glenn, I cross mid-block even on the short blocks when traffic is clear. I see other people do it all the time, too. Does this mean that the demand for mid-block crossings is so large they should be provided?

    Anyway, dedicated, physically separate bus lanes solve this problem by providing people with a mid-street refuge. Buses come once every few minutes, not once every few seconds like cars, so bus lanes are traffic-free most of the time.

  • glenn

    “I cross mid-block even on the short blocks when traffic is clear. I see other people do it all the time, too.”

    Good luck – you’re going to need it

  • Meh. People do it in the neighborhood all the time. CB 8 may have the third highest number of ped/cycle deaths, but it also has the third highest population, after Queens CBs 7 and 12, neither of which is known for its large number of pedestrians.

    Just because one person got run over doesn’t mean there’s a trend any more than if you’ve witnessed a murder in CB 8 it makes the Upper East Side dangerous.