After two people were killed by motorists along one stretch of West End Avenue this year, DOT promised to calm traffic on this dangerous Upper West Side street. Before a packed house of about 200 residents last night, the agency said changes will be made in two phases, finishing by next spring. The plan: A standard road diet, taking the avenue from two lanes in each direction to one, while adding a center turn lane and widening parking lanes [PDF]. The project is an improvement over the status quo, but many residents last night wanted more.
The plan covers the 35 blocks between 72nd and 107th Streets. West End Avenue is scheduled for repaving in two phases after utility work wraps up, and the road diet will be implemented then, said DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione. The segment north of 86th Street is expected to be complete by the end of this year; south of 86th will be done next spring.
Only two intersections will get pedestrian islands along these 35 blocks. There will be two islands each at the two intersections where people lost their lives this year: West 95th Street, where Jean Chambers was killed July 10, and West 97th Street, where Cooper Stock was killed six months earlier.
Left turns from West End Avenue will be banned at those two intersections, and drivers turning left from the side streets will have to navigate around the islands, slowing their turns. Both Chambers and Stock were killed by drivers making left turns from side streets.
“This portion of West End Avenue is really handling a portion of regional trips of people going to and from the Henry Hudson Parkway,” said DOT Director of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs Josh Benson. “We really think it’s going to influence the way people make those heavy left turns.”
Last night, residents were generally supportive of the proposals while asking the city to go further. While a few people opposed pedestrian-friendly parts of the plan, citing car congestion, they were outnumbered by residents who want more to be done. “Something needs to be at the centerline of every intersection, because if not, we’re going to have a death at 99th and a death at 100th,” said 99th Street resident Chris Henry.
“The proposal looks good, but could we have these islands at 72nd?” asked Candace Burnett, who lives near 72nd and Riverside Drive. Both 72nd and 79th Streets, like the area around 96th Street, mix pedestrians with heavy car traffic going to and from the Henry Hudson Parkway.
DOT senior project manager Jesse Mintz-Roth said the agency doesn’t currently have the resources for this project to study or include more pedestrian islands, though they could be added to the plan as it gets closer to implementation.
While the project adds pedestrian safety features to intersections at 95th and 97th Streets, it also creates more room for car traffic at 96th Street. John Chambers told Streetsblog two weeks ago that his wife Jean purposely avoided that intersection because it already felt too dangerous. Despite the concerns about safety there, DOT will be removing parking along southbound West End Avenue from 97th to 96th to add a right turn lane. The goal is to keep cars from backing up into the intersection at 97th Street, DOT said last night.
Parking is currently prohibited on the south side of 95th Street between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. DOT would allow parking during those hours in an attempt to narrow the roadway and slow drivers coming from the Henry Hudson Parkway.
The plan does not include any curb extensions, which shorten crossing distances and slow turning drivers. A 2011 plan led DOT to install painted curb extensions at West End Avenue and 70th Street [PDF]. They were also a critical component of two Upper West Side pedestrian safety plans developed by consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard: The 2008 Streets Renaissance Blueprint and a study commissioned by local council members in 2013. When a resident asked what the city would do to slow drivers making right turns, DOT’s Benson focused on the pedestrian islands, which would only affect left turns.
Like many of DOT’s other road diets, West End Avenue will forego bicycle lanes in favor of an extra-wide parking lane to accommodate double-parked vehicles. Double parking has long been a concern along West End. In 2012, DOT swapped on-street car parking for delivery zones at three locations in an attempt to cut down on double parking by FedEx and UPS trucks serving West End Avenue apartment buildings. That initiative was scrapped and free parking for personal cars was restored after residents and then-Council Member Gale Brewer claimed it would “only invite more commercial traffic onto West End Avenue.”
DOT said last night that the extra-wide parking lane could help accommodate the illegal parkers. A few residents questioned the wisdom of a street design that allows easier double parking. “I’m not sure why you’re condoning double parking with the extra wide parking lane,” Chris Henry said.
NYPD was invited to last night’s meeting, said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, but did not attend. Many residents said last night that they need local precincts to step it up on traffic safety. “The enforcement has been terrible from NYPD,” said Ronit Silverman, a member of PS 75 PTA’s street safety committee. “They come one time, they don’t know the area, and then they leave. It’s really bad.”
Community Board 7 transportation committee co-chair Andrew Albert said pedestrian islands should be considered at 72nd and 79th Streets, and that curb extensions could be worthwhile, particularly at busy crossings with lots of pedestrians. He was unconcerned about the extra-wide parking lanes. “If they’re wide enough to allow deliveries without impeding the flow of traffic,” he said, “Then that will be a good thing.”
Albert also wanted more information about how many drivers might choose other crosstown or north-south routes because of the road diet and turn restrictions. “Where are those cars going to go?” he asked. “That’s something I’d like to see.”
Board chair Elizabeth Caputo said the West End Avenue plan will go before the transportation committee on August 12 before receiving a vote at the next general board meeting on September 2.