DOT Proposes Road Diet But Only 4 Ped Islands for 35 Blocks of West End Ave

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.

35 blocks of West End Avenue are slated for a road diet. Intersections that had pedestrian fatalities this year, like 95th Street, will receive refuge islands and turn bans. Other intersections will not. Image: DOT
DOT will install a road diet on 35 blocks of West End Avenue. Intersections where pedestrians were killed this year, like 95th Street, will get pedestrian islands and turn bans. Others will not. Image: DOT

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.

  • R

    “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.”

    Bikes have become the black sheep of Vision Zero.

  • Hah, THAT is the proposal? OK so there is still enough space to land two planes on the road approaching from opposite directions, and that was the number one factor of causation to the road being unsafe, so I don’t know what this is other than a silly attempt to make the road look like it is more safe. Because it definitely won’t be safe when drivers barrel down the road at high speed like they do now.

  • Jeff

    Once the thermoplast inevitably fades, this “road diet” will fade with it.

  • BBnet3000

    ‘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.”’

    Loading zones would attract commercial vehicles? I thought it was having deliveries to make that attracted them. Thanks for clearing that up Ms. Brewer.

  • Daphna

    There are likely to be more islands between 72nd and 86th Street once the DOT has a more specific proposal for that section:
    Margaret Forgione said that the section from 86th to 101st Street would be installed in the fall of 2014 when the resurfacing of West End Avenue is done (if Community Board 7 approves this plan in September).
    The section from 101st to 106th would be installed in the spring of 2015.
    The section from 72nd to 86th Street would not be installed until later in 2015 and Forgione said that the NYC DOT would probably add pedestrian islands for that section and come back to CB7 to discuss it prior to implementation.

    It is unfortunate the NYPD did not attend. Residents repeatedly complained about speeding, red light running and failing to yield by motorists and about how they would like more enforcement by the NYPD.

  • BBnet3000

    #ZeroVision

  • Daphna

    It will be more safe. There will be just one thru travel lane in each direction. The lead driver will set the speed. Speedy drivers will not be able to pass a more prudent, speed-limit-obeying driver.
    Even when the paint fades, drivers will adhere to the single lane. They do not start driving in the extra wide parking as if it is another lane even with worn off thermoplast. These 4 to 3 lane conversions do work! They are successful on other streets!

  • Joe Enoch

    Is it me or is there plenty of room in this proposal to put parking protected bike lanes — both north and south-bound in this proposal? Look at that photo! That will be the widest single lane road in the city!

  • BBnet3000

    Bratton gave lip service to Vision Zero when he was still a private citizen to get De Blasio to appoint him.

    He’s got no real interest in public safety for modern livable cities and will spend the remainder of his time as Commissioner wrestling with Tickle-me Elmo in Times Square and arresting people for minor victimless crimes the DA wont prosecute.

  • lop

    Does she mean trucks will park on west end avenue to make deliveries a block away?

    Sounds not entirely illegitimate, but it has an easy fix. Put loading zones sufficient for business on every avenue, on side streets too when necessary.

  • BBnet3000

    I dont actually think thats true. See much of 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. Say what you want about the design (without a comprehensive comfortable bike network, no more than 3% of people will cycle, ever.), drivers adhere to the lanes as intended and respect the painted “islands”, even with double parkers on the right.

  • lop

    People not making noise, damaging property, making a mess, or injuring anyone in a park after dark is a more important priority for Bratton. Have to give those people criminal records.

  • They better hope so, because there’s nothing here to indicate that the right-side parking alley is not a lane that can be used as a traffic lane. I agree that most drivers will abide by it, but once some people see one or two others doing it, they’ll start cutting over to get the jump on other drivers at red lights, and then it’ll become a mess. And cops won’t do a thing about it, because they never want to and because the law is probably vague enough to give the cops a semi-valid excuse for not writing tickets.

  • Has NYC completely abandoned bicycle infrastructure under this new administration? What a disaster.

  • AlexB

    Those medians look pretty sad to me, like what’s currently on 4th ave in bk

  • Reader

    Yep. And as time drags on it will only get worse. You don’t think de Blasio is going to want to risk pissing off drivers as his re-election campaign ramps up, do you?

    Courage!

  • J

    Seriously. In NYC complete streets has come to mean designing for walking driving, parking, and double parking.

  • UWSider

    Don’t be fooled. The loading zone pilot project was scuttled because of huge blowback from car owners who wanted their free parking restored.

  • sammy davis jr jr

    Every road redesign is a monument to an unnecessary pedestrian death.

  • Mark Walker

    With center islands at only two intersections and no curb extensions anywhere, the street still has the full, unobstructed width necessary for dangerous mid-block U-turns, which are just as much a threat to my own safety as running red lights and speeding. Center islands everywhere would restrict U-turns to intersections. Curb extensions everywhere would reduce the street’s overall width and eliminate U-turns completely. This new design is at best a work in progress.

  • JK

    Does Vision Zero = Zero Vision for better bicycling. In the last six months, how many big streets have been redesigned with wide medians and curb lanes and no bike lanes? BTW, does this plan include metering the curb and commercial parking zones, because this street is plagued with double parking. Where are the plumbers and UPS guys supposed to park? Or are they supposed to double park in the wider parking lanes? Is this what Andrew Albert means by “wide enough to allow for deliveries” without impeding traffic? People are getting killed here and it appears NYC still cannot muster the political will to actually make this street safe. Because safer is not safe. Arterial streets with double parked trucks that force pedestrians to cross in the blind spot of turning cars, and cyclists to merge into through traffic are not safe.

  • Daniel

    It is not working on Flatbush Ave in Flatbush. The paint wore away this winter and the street has reverted back to Hyderabad levels of chaos. Even the traffic police drive on the wrong side of the yellow line.

  • Cold Shoaler

    Too bad the city hasn’t figured out they can just go ahead and build the ‘monuments’ without the prerequisite of a fatality.

  • Bolwerk

    He probably didn’t need to. BdB appointed him to show that he wasn’t a spineless librul impotent to deal with crime. That, in turn, proved that he was a spineless conservative impotent to stand up to authoritarian law and order types. I’m betting the only reason his dislike for stop ‘n frisk is sincere is because his son has dark enough skin and is just the right age to be netted by a meathead cop with a vendetta against young brown men.

    I was urging everyone to support Sal Albanese. Not so much because I agree with Albanese’s politics, but at least he would have controlled the police and his transit/streets policies were better than de Blasio’s anyway.

  • cmu

    I agree. 4th Ave is a good example of a street wthout an official bike lane that is plenty safe for cycling, certainly more so than 5th or 7th w/o lanes. I’m a regular cyclist, and I think cyclists sometimes cannot see the forest for the trees. The West End proposal should make it safer for cycling.

  • BBnet3000

    You took what I said the wrong way. Neither this nor 4th Ave (nor 5th Ave, which I ride on every day) constitute part of a comprehensive comfortable cycling network.

    This is why the city is at 1% cycling share.

  • ralph

    I love that they put islands where people have been killed in 2014 – and ONLY where people have been killed in 2014. Want more safety features? You need to sacrifice more pedestrians!

    I’m curious – do they remove the islands at the end of the year if nobody else dies? One dead person a year – that’s what New Yorkers gotta pay for a little safety island.

  • walks bikes drives

    Those two intersections are major major safety issues, more than most other intersections on West End because of the complexities of the Westside Highway in combination with 97th street being the defacto through street from the East Side. Those would have been the first two intersections I would have thought of with or without anyone’s deaths. But 96, 79, & 72 definitely should also be included.

  • walks bikes drives

    I’ll believe it when I see it. The paint thermo markings are already very faded on West End in this area, and at 97 and 96 especially, people already treat it like it is three lanes instead of two.

  • Andrew

    Agreed – and, on the flip side, I wonder whether buses will be able to make that left turn. I suppose the parking ban on that block of West End will help.

  • 1soReal

    You can just use the extra wide parking lane as an unofficial bike lane. There are many former 2 way/4 lane streets being redesigned this way. I am for bike lanes but every single street can’t have one. The fact is there will always be some level of double parking in NYC, and large delivery vehicles will always have a hard time in this city. Pretending that’s not the case isn’t going to make it go away. I’d rather leave some extra space for such vehicles to pull over than blocking actual traffic lanes which then leads to lots of dangerous merging traffic, heavy backups (idling cars is much worse pollution wise) and unpredictable driving behavior. Sometimes you can’t let perfect get in the way of good.

  • Sean Kelliher

    I’ve heard this idea mentioned several times that the extra wide parking lane can be used as an unofficial bike lane while also accommodating motorists who want to double-park. It sounds good until you actually think about it.

    Problem one is that putting bicyclists in that “extra space” sandwiched between parked vehicles on one side and fast-moving vehicles flying by on the other is scary for bicyclists. The “strong and fearless” may enjoy the rush. Most others will be frightened away.

    The other problem is that the space will be largely used by motorists double parking. In reality, you would ride 30 seconds to a minute, encounter a vehicle blocking the way, wait/merge into an opening in the stream of fast-moving vehicles, get around the double-parker(s), and repeat this pattern every 30 seconds to one minute. It’s just not functional, nor is it very safe or appealing either.

  • BBnet3000

    Also having cars double parked encourages cyclists to go through red lights to get around them before the cars stopped at the light catch up.

  • BBnet3000

    Every single large street can have one, and every small street can be calmed so that it is comfortable to cycle.

    This has been done elsewhere.

    Double parking isnt inevitable, and doesnt happen everywhere either. Its our obsession with ubiquitous curbside parking that forces delivery vehicles to do it.

  • 1soReal

    That may be true depending on the traffic volume on the street. I have rode a bike using those wide pking lanes as a bike lane and have had little problems. There were some double parked cars but it was infrequent and not much of a hindrance. The single through traffic lane trends to slow traffic anyway. Cars double park in bike lanes anyway so its basically the same thing. I don’t spend much time on West End Ave but I suspect portions of it are not feasible for a protected bike lane cuz of parking garages, gas stations, things of that nature that require curb access. The river edges of Manhattan is mainly where you find things like that.

  • walks bikes drives

    I don’t think it has much to do with that. If a cyclist goes through reds, they/we will go through with or without double parked vehicles. Honestly, I go through most red lights when it is safe – but I emphasis safe. No one with the right of way should even have to slow down for me going through a red light.

    If a cyclist who would obey the lights anyway has an issue with the double parked cars, you just take the lane at the light and when it turns green, you have the space anyway. Some jerks might honk, but it is 100% legal and even what DOT says to do.

  • BBnet3000

    Most people arent comfortable taking the lane on a bike. This is why only 1% of people in New York cycle for transportation.

  • WoodyinNYC

    West End Avenue is zoned residential. It has about the same number of gas stations and parking garages as Central Park West, Fifth Ave, or Park Ave., essentially zero.

    It does have apartment buildings whose residents want to step from beneath the awning to the waiting cab. A protected bike lane would interfere with that seamless transfer by about 4 feet of “Look both ways before crossing”.

  • WoodyinNYC

    Most drivers who have seen the many street signs advising, “Bicycles have a right to use a lane”, will honk, or even gun their engines. I’m not easily intimidated, so with me these encounters often end in shouted profanities. But I think most folks will just avoid the possibility and not ride in the streets at all.

  • WoodyinNYC

    It looks like City Hall and DOT said, “Big commotion about dead people on West End Ave. What”s the least we can do?”

    And they proposed to do that. The very least they could do.

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