This is the Pedestrian Refuge Area That CB8 Refused to Protect

This scene was photographed by Flickr photographer BicyclesOnly on Saturday. Read his note below. Hopefully someone will ask members of Manhattan Community Board 8’s transportation committee if this sort of car crash meets their rigorous aesthetic standards. Last January, CB8 rejected a proposal to physically protect Park Avenue’s pedestrian refuge areas because they didn’t think bollards, barriers or planters could be made to look pretty enough. Streetsblog readers will also remember CB8’s transportation committee as the group that tried to kill DOT’s crosstown bike route plan for the Upper East Side last summer. It looks like CB8 is still trying to kill it. The 91st Street bike lane is on the agenda of their December 10 meeting

This guy was driving too fast in the snow and apparently drove right up
onto the Park Avenue Mall at 78th St. I didn’t see the collision, but
there were two ambulances there and the driver was fine, so he may have
hit one or more pedestrians standing on the mall.

Ironically, on
January 3, 2007 the Transportation Committee of Community Board 8
rejected a proposal to erect bollards on the Park Avenue Malls to
protect pedestrians against this threat. The Community Board was
concerned that the bollards might detract aesthetically from Park
Avenue
.

The driver (pictured) tried to prevent me from taking these photos, but
he found that I’m not easily intimidated. I checked out his plates and
found that this isn’t the only illegal thing he’s done with his limo
lately:

  • 10 VG43 7323821939 08/24/2007 NO STANDING-EXEC. TRUCK LOADING 105.00
  • 11 VG43 7839654850 Hearing Pending 10/26/2007 NO STANDING-DAY/TIME LIMITS 115.00
  • 12 VG46 7326909738 Hearing Pending 10/23/2007 NO STANDING-EXEC. TRUCK LOADING 95.00
  • ben

    practically every street in Paris is lined with bollards and boy is it an ugly city (sarcasm drips…)

  • mfs

    Really shows the state of traffic enforcement in the city when someone gets three tickets in three months for parking violations, but none for moving violations. If the city gave out as many moving violations as they did parking violations, we’d have a much safer city.

  • Ted

    If bollards and planters are too ugly for Community Board 8, what do they think about dead bodies, blood stains and brains?

    I hope nobody was hurt in this crash, but if Community Board 8 continues to prioritize aesthetics over human safety, I think they\’ll only have blood on their hands.

  • Yeah ben, you’re totally right. The problem is that in NYC, when people think bollards, they think the white plastic kind that surround Times Square, not the nice ones you see throughout Europe. Here’s a photo gallery of bollards from PPS’s image collection: http://tinyurl.com/26pumw

  • I really did my best to get this passed by the community board last winter, but the opposition was very strong. For those who were not in the room when CB8 voted this down, it was not pretty – people weren’t just mildly against the idea of putting in barriers – there were many “long time residents” angry that the idea was even on the table. And pure aethetics was the reason.

    Maybe we can have a fresh start on this with the new DOT and this photo to prevent future incidents.

  • Matt Joyce

    I personally don’t see the need for them. I work in the area and I cross Park Ave all the time. I never had any problems, and I’ve never felt unsafe doing so… except around black livery car drivers. Those guys are a menace. If you want to make it safe there… you shouldn’t be putting up bumpers… you should be taking the black livery car drivers off the road.

  • Sproule Love

    Glenn-

    Can you address the great irony here that Park Ave. used to be a park, totally car free, just a bit more aesthetically pleasing than what it is today? I have to repost the link above to that 1922 photograph of Park Ave., it is so compelling:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2007/01/04/streetscape-aesthetics-vs-pedestrian-safety/

    I’m just stunned at how beautiful that area was back then. I know “long time residents” is code for status-quo worship, but maybe some of those long timers remember Park Ave. was like back then? Imagine how those people would benefit (along with everyone else) if Park Ave. reverted back to a park – what a rise in property value and a fall in noise and pollution! Lets get Sadik-Kahn and Bloomberg on it.

    Nice reporting from Aaron and Bicycles only.

  • Steve

    mfs,

    Excellent point. I know law enforcement resources are scarce but its absolutedly true that you face a greater risk of getting ticeked for a parking violation than for a moving violation. Says a lot about the relative priority of safety.

    Matt,

    I agree that the problem could be dealt with in other ways, although I’m not sure that getting black cars off the road is the answer. The real problem on Park Ave. is the speeding, which is encouraged by the two three-lane excess-capacity roadways and the “block” timing of the lights. All of the lights turn green at the same time for a single cycle, then they all turn red at the same time. If you speed, you progress farther than if you keep within the 30 MPH limit. DoT should try timing the lights in sequence, but at ~ 20 MPH.

    Oh, did I mention that Park Ave. has excess capacity? That means it’s a candidate for a cycle track, right? A cycle track and sequence-timed lights at ~20 MPH might eliminate the need for bollards (or, more likely, if such measures were seriously proposed, the Park Ave. nay-sayers might accept the bollards as the lesser of perceived evils).

  • The problem is all the high speed left hand turns and cars trying to stack up 2-3 abreast at the intersections.

    But really, any time a pedestrian island is exposed like this, it’s a dangerzone to people passing through it or caught between the lights.

    The Broadway barriers on the Upper West Side are not the most aesthetically pleasing, but they are effective. I still go back to the quote from the police officer at the scene of the taxi plowing into the ped barrier:

    “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.”

    BTW – Link to the NY Times (select now) about this from last year too

  • Gwin

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: car service drivers are the biggest menace to both pedestrians and cyclists in this city.

  • brent

    He had to have been going REALLY fast to get into that predicament.

  • Sproule Love

    The Park Avenue residents at the community board were not really even thinking in those terms. They just accept that there needs to be 3 lanes of active traffic and *free* parking. We need to open some eyes to how much we’ve given up for the automobile.

    Glenn

  • Ian D

    You guys are all missing the bigger picture. DOT has explained it before:

    If there had been bollards at this intersection, they’d have been damaged by this spinning, speeding limo. Then DOT would have to come out and fix up the bollard, which costs money. Drain on budget.

    On the other hand, any people mashed up by this Town Car would have a net effect of 0 on the DOT budget. Much more cost effective!

    The Park Ave. residents clearly have the best interests of the DOT budget process in mind.

  • Park Avenue Resident

    Any intersection in NYC is perilous. It would be terrific to have traffic-calming devices along Park Avenue (where cars and taxis speed much too fast) and to restore the original width of the malls. But bollards, unless they’re unsightly “jersey barriers,” aren’t going to do much for pedestrians — and who wants jerseys on Park Avenue? An additional historical note: the avenue’s east and west sidewalks were also wider in the 1920’s-30’s, more like Park Avenue’s in Murray Hill, where it’s more pleasant to walk. (And why not bring back the iron fences around the malls, like the ones down there?)
    Park Avenue Resident

  • Delbert M

    Ian D. You forget to mention those concrete median walls on upper Broadway look really tacky and scuffed up after getting rammed by speeding cabs and limos. The blood washes right off the pavement, but those damn walls are such a nuisance to paint and clean.

  • JK

    Someone should kick in a couple thousand for a Park Ave bollard/median design contest. There are a multitude of attractive designs to choose from. Streetsblog could co-host a virtual award event with Upper Green Side and Streets Renaissance.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Really this is an inspiring story for the rest of NY. I thought it was just Brooklyn “long time residents” who were idiots. It is nice to see that idiocy cuts across all socio-economic strata and all neighborhoods.

    Not for nothing, the upper east side has done nothing to drive congestion pricing. Apparently congestion and the associated automobile violence is not a big issue up there until one of their own gets killed.

  • Pat

    residents in park avenue aren’t pedestrians, they have drivers to cart them around town.

    the value of the median for them is that it’s something pretty to look at from their million dollar coop.

    having said that, i feel there are bigger pedestrian battles to fight.. do these intersections even register on TA’s crash stat map? i can’t imagine they’re as bad as intersections in midtown or near the FDR in the UES.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Ian D – The driver’s liability insurance should cover the cost of damaged public property so DOT shouldn’t have to pay for a thing. Now that assumes that the driver is caught and that he/she has insurance, etc.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Oh yeah! One other thought.

    Just wait till one of the locals gets mowed down, maimed or killed. I bet you’d see bollard put up with in days.

  • Steve

    Pat,

    No doubt the UES has a high proportion of private car ownership and also high rates of taxicab use, but it is also extremely densely populated and there are large numbers of people–certainly the majority–who rely exclusively on walking and buses to get around.

  • armchair_warrior

    just run over those who are against the barriers. that would teach those snobs.

  • mcgg

    A reckless black livery car driver, who also violates parking regulations?? Where oh where did you manage to find one of those?!?!?!

  • Hilary

    Jersey barriers are not the solution. Not only because aesthetics matter, but because they would speed up traffic instead of calming it. The last thing you want to do is turn Park Avenue into more of an arterial highway than it already is. But that doesn’t mean that pedestrians need to be left unprotected in an island in the midst of rushing traffic. Bollards can be one attractive solution. I also venture the anathema that we rethink the synchronized signals. They do more than anything to make this urban boulevard behave like a freeway.

  • a.v.

    Um, how do you time lights in sequence in both directions? That only works on one-way streets. Anything other than the current block signaling would cause cars to back up into the intersections creating gridlock. That, in turn, causes drivers to do stupid things, further endangering pedestrians.

  • According to the 2000 US Census, 71% of the households in zip code 10021 have zero cars available. (All of Manhattan has 77%.)

    I’m pretty sure that this is the old 10021, before it was split into smaller zip codes, but I didn’t do any research to back that up.

    http://10021-cars.notlong.com is the source (redirects to census site).

    (You can check other zip codes — follow the notlong link above, then look for a string like “geo_id=86000US10021” in the URL. You can see the zipcode 10021 there. Change it to whatever you want.)

  • Steve

    a.v., if you take as your traffic engineering premise that cars can and will violate the law, then the traffic engineering options become extremely limited. Your view that anything other than the current signalling sequence would “cause cars to back up into the intersections” assumes that motorists will violate the box-blocking rule.

    Still, you’ve got a good point on the two-way street. I’m not a traffic engineer, but it seems to me that you could let a block of lights (say, ten intersections’ worth) turn green simultaneously, but limit the size of the block so that a motorist would not be “rewarded” by being able to proceed further by speeding through the ten intersections faster than 20 MPH. Some motorists would nonetheless race through the block of lights thus timed, even though they gained no advantage, but taxis generally wouldn’t (they would anticipate the timing) and they would tend to control the overall flow. In any event you can’t stop motorists from doing stupid things without a cop on every corner. But by adjusting the timing of lights you would eliminate the reward for speeding.

  • crc

    Just to add, this is not the first time a cab/limo has jumped the curb: http://flickr.com/photos/mulia/239076432/

  • a.v.

    Steve, you’re right that there may be variations on the block signaling that could be helpful.

    In my experience, however, the box-blocking rule is only enforced when there is a traffic cop — sometimes two — actively directing traffic in the intersection, and even then it’s hit-or-miss. There is something to be said for designing streets that disperse traffic evenly.

  • Actually the best way is to set the lights at random, maybe with slightly different intervals. Then you can never depend on speeding up to make a few more lights.

  • Dave Rosenstein

    Park Ave. was never Traffic-Free (after 1776 anyway).

    Just a correction to the post by “Sproule Love” of 12/3, who posted a link to a 1922 photo of the Park Ave esplanade, and said, “great irony here that Park Ave. used to be a park, totally car free…” Wrong.

    After the railroad yards north of Grand Central Sta. were platformed over, Park Ave. and the cross streets were constructed, elevated above the yards. New construction, e.g., the Waldorf, St. Bart’s et al. were built, all on “stilts” above the yards. (FDR’s private train could pull up under the Waldorf, giving him elevator access directly to the hotel.)

    Back to Park Ave: Traffic was much lighter in 1922 and the central green mall was two lanes wider, hence the appearance, when photographed from ground level, that there was no north and southbound traffic lanes to either side. There were lanes, of course, just not as many as today.

    As traffic increased, the park in the middle of Park Ave. was cut down to add more lanes and it became the median green strip we have today, covering access to and ventilation for, the railroad underneath.

    As for the Community Board’s recommendation to the DOT regarding bollards, the city has traffic engineers who can evaluate the dangers. The Board simply offered it’s judgment as a recommendation. No statistics were offered justifying the proposed barriers. The only “witness” spoke of a fatality to someone hit stepping onto Park Ave. from a median strip, not on the median.

    Broadway’s median, in contrast, is wider, and actually functions as a string of mini-parks, with benches at each intersection that entice the public to sit there, unlike Park Ave.

    Note that today’s news (12/4) reported Park Ave. South at 33rd Street is the most dangerous intersection in the city. Those tiny, 3-foot wide strips separating north and southbound traffic lanes are truly a danger, supported by hard data.

    Finally, the “detective” who unearthed the “horrible” motor vehicle record of that limo driver demonstrated only that limo drivers get parking tickets… Gee, who woulda thought?

    Dave Rosenstein
    Yorkville

  • Steve

    Dave,

    As on Broadway, the timing of the lights on Park Ave. often prevents slower pedestrians (disabled, elderly, little kids) from making it across in one go. Slower pedestrians are stranded on the malls, waiting for the light to change so the can make it across, and they are vulnerable to the traffic while waiting there (benches or no).

    I agree that Park Ave. South appears to be a greater priority. I suspect the higher collision rates there reflect the fact that commercial traffic is allowed.

    You are correct that the CB8 Transportation Committee’s vote last January against exploring bollards for the Park Avenue malls was a recommendation that is not binding on DoT. however, as a practical matter, under the Weinshall administration that recommendation virutally ensured that the the DoT would not examine the issue and develop the statistics that would help make an informed decision. Possibly, the current DoT administration would take a different approach.

  • Ian Turner

    There is another nuance here, which is the art commission. I have it on good authority from DOT that the art commission (which would have veto power on any bollars) hates them with a passion; the installation at 12th St. only made it because they matched bollards that were already in place in the area. Even if DOT/Parks make a joint official proposal to install bollards on the Park Ave, Broadway, or Houston pedestrian refuges, you can depend on the Art Commission to laugh them out of town.

    Why the art commission feels that decorative bollards to protect pedestrians are a sign of blight, while ugly bollards to protect fire hydrants and telephone booths are OK, is beyond me, but there you go.

  • Hilary

    Interesting about the Art Commission, because it contradicts my experience. When it reviewed DOT’s proposal to install jersey barriers in front of the lovely stone parapets of the parkway overpasses – major features in Riverdale – they pleaded with DOT to use bollards instead. They asked Perhaia to explain why they were routinely asked to approve bollards for safety reasons elsewhere but were now being told they weren’t safe enough for small overpasses with lights where cars travel about 7mph! The Art Commission was enthusiastic about a NYS DOT design that reinforced the parapet inside, but DOT dug in, and together with Councilman Oliver Koppel hatched a fetching alternative — galvanized steel W-guard rails along the sidewalks bookended with tremendous crash barriers. The community swooned, so Oliver found funds and convinced DOT to upgrade the guard rails to wood. This they did — but only for the short center segment. The Riverdale Press pronounced them the ugliest guardrails ever made.
    Incidentally, in this case the barriers were not supposed to protect pedestrians, but the parapet and cars below!

  • Ian Turner

    Hilary – Interesting idea, maybe the trick to getting art commission approval for something is to first present something truly ugly, and then afterwards “compromise” to something nice.

  • Hilary

    No, it gets worser and worser. Wait till the next phase is unveiled – more guard rails along the service road designed by Koppell & Design & Construction. I shudder at the prospect..

    Good design happens at the outset. So does good government. The rest is Rube Goldberg.

  • Mark

    Just back from Madrid. It’s full of bollards. I must have seen more than a dozen distinct designs, including the retractable kind. They all looked good to me and made me feel safe. Some of them go through large plazas and reduce car traffic to a single lane, which gives most of the space to peds. Sometimes the bollarded car path through a plaza is a winding lane, which further slows drivers and makes peds safer. Most of the bollards I saw were not shiny and new but old and weathered, suggesting that they had not been repeatedly hit and replaced. People who don’t like bollards should actually visit places where they’ve been used.

  • hmph

    maybe people who don’t like bollards should consider being one (an ineffective one of course) and then seeing how that feels!

    OK, that is harsh, and i don’t *really* mean that. you get my drift, though, yes?!

  • Ian D

    Ian (in #33) – you’re right about that.

    CB2 is working with Parks on a redesign of Petrosino Sq., where Centre and Lafayette split just below Spring. Because of the geometry of the streets and pedestrian ramps, it’s very inviting for cars from eastbound Kenmare to drive right up into the park (esp. when the park reconstruction is complete).

    Parks’ design included bollards (nice ones, I might add), but the Arts Commission vetoed them. The CB2 reso strongly calls for them to be restored to the design. We’ll see where it goes from here. I think the Arts Commission prefers those movable bollards – you know, people.

  • Ian D

    Correction to above: westbound Kenmare.

  • Yet another serious crash on a Park Avenue Mall, the day after Summer Streets. If they won’t install bollards, then how about just closing the street to motor vehicles permanently?

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