In Week of Carnage, Times Looks Askance at Broadway Traffic-Calming

bwayblvd.jpg
Projects like Broadway Boulevard are intended, in part, to reduce auto-pedestrian conflicts.

Yesterday traffic agent Donnette Sanz was buried with her infant son. Two weeks ago, she was crossing a Bronx street on her lunch break when she was hit by a van and thrown under a school bus. Her unborn child was delivered prematurely when Sanz was taken to the hospital. He survived only eight days.

The day before Mayor Michael Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly honored Sanz at her funeral in Baychester, a police cruiser was observed "doing doughnuts" in a park in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. According to a witness, the spinning patrol car barely missed two kids on tricycles. When informed of this, precinct higher-ups and an NYPD spokesman were unmoved.

Also yesterday, a 10-year-old cyclist was trapped on a median as motorists whizzed by. As he tried to get across the street he was hit by a Mercedes. The scene of the collision is either "not an accident-prone location" (NYPD) or the "worst corner in Queens" (neighborhood resident). The child suffered massive head injuries and remained unconscious at last report. Media accounts took pains to point out that the Mercedes "had the light."

And finally, in Park Slope, an 86-year-old grandfather was hit and killed on Fourth Avenue. Relatives say Antonio Torres was rendered unrecognizable by the collision. The motorist was cited for speeding.

Amid all this carnage and near-carnage, the New York Times dispatched metro reporter William Neuman to the new Broadway Boulevard pedestrian esplanade, apparently to ask lunchtime diners if they thought it was too dangerous to sit there.

Though it looks like it took some doing, Neuman eventually found his money quote:

"It’s a death trap," Mr. Sachinis, a network administrator for a
garment company, said with a laugh. "It’ll be up for a month and then
somebody’ll get hit and they’ll take it down."

So instead of running a story that asks, say, why a public plaza at the crossroads of the world should ever be considered a "death trap," or putting Broadway Boulevard in the context of other pedestrian- and cyclist-minded improvements across the city, the Times paints the project as a novel intrusion into the rightful domain of speeding cars and trucks.

For our money quote, we turn to commenter Marty Barfowitz:

He’s not going to walk down Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn the day after an
86-yo man is mowed down and ask pedestrians standing on the sidewalk if
they feel safe.
But if he’s forced to cover this apparently trivial
Broadway crap, he’s going to do it with a skeptical eye towards what
Bloomy, Janette, DOT and these Streetsbloggy advocacy types are saying.

Not that we haven’t seen it before.

Photo: zodak/Flickr

  • I’m very saddened to hear that Donette Sanz’s son passed away.

  • m-o

    I’m not thrilled with the NYTimes’ article, or their approach to Livable Streets improvements happening to the city.

    However, we should separate opponents of Livable Streets improvements from people looking critically at this design. “Streetsbloggy types” like us applaud these, because they’re a sign of the way the wind’s blowing. People who don’t share our views might be looking at this as, well, a less-than-ideal design, rather than seeing the value to our public space. Both are important.

    Critical questions we should ask ourselves (and the DOT!) include:
    *is Broadway the right place for this?
    *is it a good design to put a bike lane between two pedestrian spaces?
    *do the glue-and-gravel ground and the plastic planters make for a pleasant environment?

    I’ve got my answers to those questions.

  • Those of us who get around the City on two or more wheels are well aware that some pedestrians have a developed real knack for becoming oblivious to their surroundings. And many of us have already witnessed what indignities some New Yorkers are willing to tolerate for a seat on the subway. So if you put an empty seat in the middle of Broadway, high traffic area or not, someone is bound to fill it. It just goes to show an overwhelming desire for open spaces and the need to rest one’s weary feet.

  • I would argue that Broadway is the best place for it. It’s a major artery that travels from the top of Manhattan to the bottom, with extensive retail and other attractions. And that area around Herald Square was a pedestrian nightmare. I would go far out of my way to avoid it, till recently. Some kind of traffic calming was desperately needed. Whether every aspect of the current scheme works is debatable, as you imply, but it’s a brave and much needed start. I hope it spreads to the remainder of Broadway, especially on the Upper West Side — I’d love to see my local stretch of B’way restricted to buses and delivery vehicles.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Broadway is an IDEAL street for pedestrianization in the CBD. When you look at the numbers, Broadway between Times and Union Square really doesn’t move all that many vehicles compared to the avenues. And having vehicles on Broadway makes big traffic interesctions in Lower Manhattan much more complicated than they really have to be. DOT can and should transform Broadway into a pedestrian/bike/bus-only street with special accommodations for delivery trucks. It’s very doable and would be beneficial to numerous constituencies.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    ddartley’s concerns from the last post on this topic were spot on!
    See: http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/08/19/eyes-on-the-street-a-walk-down-broadway-boulevard/#comment-55300

    I was again passing though this area this past Saturday evening and there were some major conflicts between the pedestrians and bicyclists going on due to the position of the bike lane. With the installation of the planters and very nice benches, pedestrians got the hint that the pebblely area was a place for people to walk and enjoy. This in itself is great!

    However these pedestrians (most of them gawking tourists) had no clue that the green lane was for bicycles only and they freely wandered into it. It also didn’t help that all of the bicyclists and pedicab drivers that I observed using the lane were very rude.

    Again major points for DoT having the fortitude to try a road diet on Broadway. Crossing the Broadway as a pedestrian was very easy in this area since it is only two lanes wide at the intersections. However the number of bike/ped conflicts I observed in the ten minutes I was resting on one of those new benches was intolerable. I guess this is where the wisdom of doing these projects in the beginning with temporary materials comes into play.

  • Geck

    The bike lane is in the right place-away from traffic. People just need to learn to respect it, and cyclists need to educate pedestrians without being rude.

  • Dave

    Once again all you bike-lovers fail to recognize the real problem that the anarchist-bikers in this city represent. I just took a cab down Second Ave below 14th and there was a constant stream of bikes in the right-hand traffic lane oblivious to the bike lane for which the city sacrificed a lane of traffic.

    When will the NYPD stop and ticket these guys? They ticket and harass delivery and double-parked cars in the bike lane; the law forces bikers to use the bike lane so harass and ticket them too.

    Register bikes so they can be held accountable for the pedestrians they injure; ticket them for speeding, running red lights and creating havoc; and step up the confiscation of bikers who ride on the sidewalk.

    A lot of valuable city real estate is being given over to bikers, some of whom lack any respect or sense of responsibility. A bike has the ability to injure, main or kill a pedestrian. Why are there no enforced laws over their behavior?

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    The law does not require bikes to use the bike lane. Nice try, though.

  • SL

    I actually thought the article ended on a good note, with the quote about how the whole street should be pedestrianized. Any impartial reader of that article will have that as their last thought.

  • I think it would be better to have the bike lane next to the traffic lane.

    With the bike lane between the sidewalk and seating area, pedestrians are bound to walk back and forth across the bike lane, making it less useful for bikes.

    With the bike lane between the car lanes and the seating area, there would be more space between cars and the seating area, making it a bit more pleasant for people seated there.

    I don’t think there is much difference for bike safety. Bikes are endangered by cars making turns across the bike lane, and that would happen with the bike lane in either location.

    In fact, the problem with pedestrians crossing is probably one reason that many bikes are still riding in the car lane. It would be safer for them if the bike lane were where they want to ride.

  • Dave, once again all you car-lovers fail to recognize the real problem that the anarchist-drivers in this city represent. I just took a bicycle down Second Ave below 14th and there was a constant stream of cars in the left-hand bike lane oblivious to the bike lane for which the city sacrificed a lane of traffic.

    A lot of valuable city real estate is being given over to cars, some of whom lack any respect or sense of responsibility. A car has the ability to injure, main or kill a pedestrian (and frequently does, unlike a bicycle). Why is there so little enforcement of laws over their behavior?

    (Sorry for feeding the troll.)

  • Andy B from Jersey

    While I did not like the tone of Dave’s comments, he astutely points out that on 2nd Ave “there was a constant stream of bikes in the right-hand traffic lane oblivious to the bike lane for which the city sacrificed a lane of traffic.”

    To which I say of course they were oblivious! If you put the bike lane on the left side of the road, where no one would expect it to be, people are going to ride in the right lane. Don’t forget that large numbers of people who are now riding bikes in NYC are tourists on rentals. While many may be experienced cyclists, all of these tourist riders will be expecting a bike lane (if one does exists) to be on the right side simply because that is where bike lanes are placed everyplace else in the world where traffic travels on the right hand side of the road.

    Now that DoT is looking to go to protected bike lanes, maybe now is the time for them to think over their policy of placing bike lanes on the left since protected lanes negate nearly all the reasons for putting them on the left on the first place.

  • Andy B, thanks for the link to my previous comment.

    But now I’m going back and forth on the issue:

    Ever been to the UK? What if DOT added a bunch more clear markings on the ground to the bike lane?
    These are all over the place in the UK:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/designios/270247046/

    They say, nice and clear, “Look left” or “look right.”

    I’m sure if the DOT put such clear markings in the green bike lane, “don’t walk here” or “look up” or look left/right or just a whole bunch more pictures of bikes, rather than one or two per block, pedestrians would get the picture much more effectively.

  • gecko

    The week of carnage and Times’ article ambivalence gives new meaning to term “structural violence” and the pervasive passive ambivalence allowing these easily preventable horrors to continue.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    I hear ya’ ddartly but this is bright lights, big city NYC! People, mostly tourists, are looking up around there. They are not looking down at the road. Your idea is worth a try but I personally doubt it will work.

  • re Charles Siegel #11, you’ve got some valid points there.

    i was way into the b’way bike lane for a week or so, but i had so many close calls that i’ve stopped riding it and gone back to 9th ave for my trip from 57th street down to the williamsburg bridge.

    my experience was that pedestrians are not at all aware of the bike lane and treat it like an expanded sidewalk. ped traffic waiting to cross broadway always always spills over into the bike lane and median.

    the placement of seating in the median area between the bike lane and the roadway only compounds the problem by encouraging people to cut over the bike lane and take a seat.

    i definitely feel safer (and it’s faster) riding in between cars than negotiating the people walking across the bike lane.

    wish the ped median was placed next to the sidewalk, and then the bike lane placed in between that median and the car lane, with a narrow physical barrier, a la 9th ave.

  • Andy B, actually I tried the lane again last night and people be looking DOWN. Like, at their feet. That’s why I think British-style markings on the ground would work. Also, the lane is downtown from the bright light section of Times Square, and there’s actually not tons there to look up at.

  • God, how I wish we could get rid of all the unnecessary cars. I’ll bet most of these people involved in the collisions (they’re not ‘accidents’, folks!) really didn’t need to be driving at all. They made a conscious choice to drive in spite of all the compelling reasons not to.

    Needless to say, I’m all for higher gas prices. Maybe congress should double the gasoline tax and halve the diesel tax (to help keep the cost of transporting goods down).

  • The left hand bike lanes are way safer and smarter than any on the right. No “right hooks” from drivers looking across their car, no buses, drivers doors and on and on. I ride on the left side of every one way street. And to weigh in on the Broadway lane, I agree with Charles, sidewalk, sitting area, bike lane and then car lanes, would work for everyone much better.
    I also agree with Sean, no unnecessary cars would work even better than that.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

In Deadly Week for Pedestrians, No Consequences for Drivers

|
This has been a deadly week for New York City pedestrians, with three New Yorkers losing their lives in traffic collisions in three days, and another in critical condition. On Monday, an SUV driver hit and killed two-year-old Shamira Zaman in Queens Village as she crossed the street to greet an uncle. The NYPD told […]