Safety Fixes Slated for One of Manhattan’s Most Dangerous Intersections

Extended pedestrian areas and shorter, more direct crosswalks will make walking safer at the intersection of Broadway, Amsterdam, and 71st Street. Image: NYCDOT

The long history of violent traffic crashes where Broadway, Amsterdam and 71st Street converge is about to take a turn for the better. This intersection was the site of 19 pedestrian and cyclist injuries between 2004 and 2008. Earlier this summer, in the course of a few hours, two people were injured in separate crashes while walking in this area.

Last night, NYCDOT’s Hillary Poole presented a safety plan to Manhattan Community Board 7 that will expand space for walking, shorten crosswalks, and give pedestrians more direct routes. We weren’t able to attend the meeting, but you can check out the presentation online [PDF].

Sidewalks will be expanded at seven locations. Crosswalks will be added and in some cases shifted to make pedestrian crossings shorter. To clear room for sidewalk space, one moving lane will be removed on Broadway between 72nd and 71st, and on Amsterdam between 71st and 70th. DOT plans to finish the design work this fall and build out the improvements by late next year.

Committee member Ken Coughlin tells us the plan was generally well-received by CB 7 members and the 30 or so people in attendance. “I think the committee sees the need for it and approves of it,” he said.

Coughlin also shared some good news about the Columbus Avenue protected bike lane. DOT originally planned to install only a handful of pedestrian refuges for the project but now intends to add 28 refuges along the 20-block bikeway between 96th and 77th Street. Some of them will be big enough to accommodate tree pits. The first refuges are going in north of 86th Street right now, Coughlin reports, and the rest of the bikeway construction will get going after a paving project on Columbus south of 86th wraps up.

After the jump, see what a big difference the Broadway/Amsterdam/71st Street intersection re-design is going to make…

Heres the intersection now, looking north from Broadway.
Here's the intersection now, looking north from Broadway.
Image: NYC DOT
And here's the plan that DOT's Hillary Poole presented last night. Image: NYC DOT
  • ChrisCr

    This is good stuff.

    I really want to see 10th Avenue go on a road diet – for it’s entire length. Sitting on the High Line in the viewing area you can really see that it has too many lanes for the amount of traffic it carries most of the time. Remove one lane of traffic and make another northbound protected bike path. Better yet, a two-way protected bike path. All those car lanes aren’t needed, and just encourage more driving.

  • This is beautiful. I know the area well and this would be a great improvement.

  • ChrisCr

    Also, if you are going to remove the left-most lane on Broadway beside the subway island from moving traffic anyways, why not allow parked cars there? That would create a safety barrier between the moving traffic and the pedestrians.

  • Are these curb extensions just painted asphalt or concrete?

  • ChrisCr

    What I said about the parked cars could apply to the rightmost lane of Amsterdam beside the “Greenstreet” in the diagram as well. There would probably be room to allow 2-3 parked cars there to the south of the curb extension.

    Didn’t some driver lose control of his car and smash it into the subway entrance a while ago? It’s incidences like that, that show that we need parked cars between moving traffic and pedestrians wherever we can. Plus parked cars would slow down drivers in the adjacent lane.

  • Dave M

    This is really nice, and I agree with everything except the removal of the one southbound lane. It creates a weird offset in the southbound traffic, and according to the City’s own PowerPoint, increases the average delay by 19 seconds per vehicle. That’s a lot more than it sounds.

    If you just extended the southernmost bulb-outs a little bit less (still extended them, just not as much), in order to keep 3 southbound lanes to match the 3 northbound, the crosswalks would still be no longer than several others at the intersection, and you wouldn’t constrict the bus traffic so much.

  • ChrisCr

    How is 19 seconds “a lot more than it sounds”.

    And even if it delayed traffic say 60 seconds, how is that a bad thing? It (not just that 60 seconds, but the cumulative effect of all delays) would discourage driving and encourage more people to take the subway. Which is what we want anyways – to get people out of their cars. I see no reason why we should care about 19 seconds of some motorist’s day.

  • J

    A number of comments,

    1) It appears that the plans call for painted asphalt with potted plants as barriers in the short term, and a full curb extension by the end of next year.

    2) Broadway northbound already has a weird disruption there. Headed northbound, you must detour onto Amsterdam, then turn left on 73rd st, and right back onto Broadway northbound. That surely causes much more additional vehicle delays than if it weren’t there, but as a result, we get a sizable park and a top-notch subway entrance. The traffic will adjust just fine.

    3) I believe 10th Ave is being examined for some bus lanes and other improvements as part of the Clinton/Hells Kitchen study. Here is the most recent presentation:

  • choking traffic

    Taxis can’t take the subway, and pedestrians take taxis. Also keep in mind that not all motorists are cars. Buses, delivery vans, and trucks also need to get around. By choking off this traffic and making deliveries even less efficient than they are, it increases truck idling and increases delivery costs.

  • Ah yes, god forbid we should ever make anything safer, because there’s the chance that it would increase truck idling and delivery costs. I’m happy to sacrifice my son’s life to keep delivery costs down!

  • choking traffic

    More congested is not necessarily safer.

  • J, thank you. I hope NYCDOT doesn’t lay concrete until they figure out how a protected bike lane can be installed on Amsterdam.

  • Arn

    The more they “fix” our streets the worse they get. Our traffic “engineers” are managing to make NYC a nightmare for cars without making it any friendlier for bicycles or even predestrians. The new bike lanes (Bway, 9th Ave, etc) are unsafe for riders. iding the MTA is like playing Russian roulette. I don’t know. I think I’d rather battle it out with the cars and trucks and leave it all as it used to be. No cattle fences, useless bike lanes, blocked-off streets etc. And at least you could (marginally) move, on the few times you may have to drive into Manhattan.

  • ChrisCr

    >>More congested is not necessarily safer.<<

    Nonsense. More congested = slower vehicular speeds = safer.

  • choking traffic

    Safer would be pedestrians using common sense. Pedestrians not crossing whenever and wherever they feel would also be safer. Look at the before picture in the post; there is a pedestrian in the middle of the intersection, nowhere near a crosswalk, while the uptown and downtown traffic has the green light. And the cars are the problem? Everyday I see pedestrians who don’t bother to pay attention to their surroundings. They insist on running to inch out oncoming traffic when the traffic has the green light, stand out in the street while waiting to cross or hail a cab without paying attention, and basically not using any common sense. Slower traffic will just increase these tendencies. I find it amusing how the bike riders complain about the mindless pedestrians in the bike lanes who dawdle mindlessly or look at them and walk right in front of them anyway. Pedestrians don’t just do this in bike lanes, they do this in the traffic lanes as well. I see it everyday. People don’t exercise good judgment or common sense, and they expect the rest of the world to protect them from their foolishness.

  • Einztine

    It’s funny,after reading about the ribbon-cutting of the new Union Square, I thought of Amsterdam and 71st St intersection as the last remaining major intersection of the diagonally moving Broadway that has been remade. After this change, the diagonal part Broadway would truly be the “green ribbon” of New York.

  • Frank

    ChrisCr, adding vehicular delay to an intersection is NEVER good. That is why the City of New York has CEQR and stringent guidelines for traffic impacts. 19 seconds of delay in an urban area like this is very significant and would typically require some form of mitigation. However, when pedestrian safety is at stake, vehicular delay can be re-prioritized.

    The features I like most about this plan are the shortened crossings. When you have a super wide intersection such as this, you need to provide enough crossing time to get someone from one side to the other safely. As a result, the minor street approaches get more green time that they actually need sometimes, thus starving the mainlines. Shorter crossings could allow for a green time reallocation — not sure if the city is looking at this.

    You should back off the extremes, esp. regarding cars. While you seem so concerned with being ¨green,¨ you fail to acknowledge how 19 additional seconds of idling could affect your air quality.

  • Frank

    What about a roundabout instead?

    ChrisCr, any thoughts buddy? Green enough for you?

  • Ken Coughlin

    To answer Zmapper’s question: Yes, J is right: concrete — eventually. The “operational” phase of the project should be in the ground by spring of 2011. The actual concrete will not be poured until fall of 2011 or spring of 2012. Also, countdown signals will be installed at all intersections — I assume during the operational phase.

  • Nonsense. More congested = slower vehicular speeds = safer.

    By this standard, the subway kills many New Yorkers, by taking cars off the road and reducing congestion.

  • Crossing this intersection to the subway was part of my daily commute until two months ago; my main worry was never about safety, but about signal timing. As I recall, the Amsterdam side was easy, and the Broadway side was annoying and involved more waiting. Fortunately, on the Broadway side there often was not much traffic, and the cars were visible from a reasonable distance, so I could run across on red. In contrast, during the day Amsterdam always had ample traffic, though it was never jammed.

    From the perspective of a pedestrian, my reaction to this plan is neutral. Narrowing lanes would make it easier to make a run for it on red. But the intersection itself is safe; all the parts of Amsterdam that I’m familiar with (this intersection, plus the 106-125 stretch) are quite safe. The one exception, around 118th, comes from its location at the top of a hill and from the visual impact of Columbia’s overpass to East Campus. I’m still worried about the possibility of the left turn bays introducing more complex signaling, leaving pedestrians with less time to cross.

  • Ian Turner

    Choking Traffic,

    We tried to reduce the number of vehicles without increasing congestion, by introducing congestion pricing. This would have allowed your precious trucks and delivery vans to go about their business with improved efficiency, by reducing the number of cars on the road.

    Unfortunately, your New York State legislature turned that down. So what else can we do? This.

    It’s a second-choice option in a second-choice world.


  • Ian Turner

    Choking Traffic,

    I should also note that it’s cars that create a dangerous situation, not pedestrians. If you take out the cars the streets are perfectly safe, while if you take out the pedestrians danger still strikes. Am I wrong?


  • choking traffic

    Every year people are killed by trains in the city. Obviously it’s the trains that are dangerous, not the people. So if we eliminated the trains from the tracks, the subway would be perfectly safe (except for the muggers and sociopaths).

    These are not MY precious trucks and delivery vans. They are simply the vehicles that enable the commerce in this city so YOU can have your precious cultural institutions, universities, hospitals, restaurants, bicycle stores, grocery stores, etc.

    “If you take out the cars the streets are perfectly safe”
    What about the delivery maintenance and construction trucks/vans, emergency vehicles, bicycles and motorcycles? I guess the pedestrians can continue to walk around oblivious to their surroundings and they will now be perfectly safe without cars around. Why do you expect the rest of the city to change to protect those that are unwilling to protect themselves by paying attention and using good sense? There will always be dangers in the city, enabling people to be even more oblivious than they already are does not help anybody.

    The congestion pricing thing was a joke. It was nothing more than a new tax that the majority of drivers would simply pay for lack of a better alternative. There are similar tolls between Queens and the Bronx, Brooklyn and Staten Island, and New York and New Jersey. It doesn’t keep people from driving to where they need to go, it just taxes them when they do so. Most of the people driving into Manhattan would probably not even blink at the tax the congestion pricing would have imposed. Many others would have winced and paid it for lack of a better alternative, and yes, a few at the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder would find it unaffordable to enter the city during peak hours. I highly doubt this segment would be enough to reduce the heavy traffic that currently exists.

  • LN

    I ride through this intersection all the time going N. on Amsterdam – Usually taking the left bus lane, which is free of cars. Looks like bikes would be forced to merge into traffic lanes to pass through, because there are no provisions for safe bike passage in any direction through this intersection.

  • Suzanne

    Look! It’s a troll! And one who apparently doesn’t bother reading anything on the site before spouting the same tired nonsense that would keep our city a choking, toxic pollution filled danger zone, where old people and children get run over so he can race around in his death-mobile at 40+ miles an hour.

    You’re absolutely right. We need to keep promoting car use. We don’t have enough oil spills, or pollution, or wars for oil. 37,000 people people a year killed by cars is no where near enough! Jack those numbers up, baby! Wait, *fewer* children die in cities than suburbs, thanks to the safety of public transportation? Well, we can’t have *that* now, can we?

    Global warming? Pshaw! It’s not hot *enough* I say! And bring on the rising sea levels! So what if there are more and more violent hurricanes and snow storms – my Brooklyn apartment will soon be waterfront property!

    Puh-leez. It’s people like you, who put your selfish, small minded desire for *convenience* over not only the health of your fellow citizens but their lives and even their childrens’ lives and their very future. Thank you so much for your ignorance and your blind, insane support of the insupportable status quo.

  • choking traffic

    Sorry, I forgot you only want to hear from people who share your point of view. You remind me of the people who watch fox news. Reading your reply, I have to wonder whether you even bothered to read my post.
    I do check out the site, its posts and articles despite the fact that I do not share these views. Some points here are valid and noteworthy, and others are unrealistic.
    I am addressing real issues in this city, and responding to specific points raised by Ian Turner based on my life and experience living in this city. You can choose to ignore that and essentially label me one of those bad people and rant about global warming and oil consumption. This thread is about a local issue (traffic and pedestrian safety), not about saving the world. If you wish to address my points or have something constructive to add to the discussion, I look forward to reading it.

  • choking traffic

    You remind me of the people who watch fox news.

    I meant your dislike for opposing viewpoints, not your political ideology (obviously)

  • Choking, maybe you wouldn’t get such a dismissive reaction if you didn’t come on with such a know-it-all attitude (“reducing travel lanes will make trucks idle, you know!”). We’ve discussed every issue you’ve raised so far, in detail. If instead you asked, “How do you deal with concerns about trucks idling?” you would get a much more cooperative response.

  • Woody

    Well, it’s a good start. But do we need four-lane traffic on Broadway downtown between 71st and 70th St, one of them a turn lane? Two lanes is enough for me. I’d take that turn lane alongside the Broadway Mall and put in chairs, umbrellas, more plantings. Who will sit in the middle of the street, you ask? That question has been answered further down Broadway: Everybody will sit in the street if given the opportunity.

    Do we need three lanes of traffic on Broadway anywhere at all? Two lanes should be plenty; one for double-parked delivery vehicles, stopping taxis, etc, and one for thru traffic. If a driver wants to head uptown, take Amsterdam Ave, less than a block away, running parallel for two miles or so. Otherwise, the subway service is good, and under Central Park West, underused.

    Slim down Broadway? Why stop at 71st St. I don’t have any figures, but riding thru the intersection of 65th, Columbus, and Broadway is for me the second scariest place on the West Side. The pedestrian crossings to reach Lincoln Center are FAR too wide considering the age profile of the audiences who have to make this breath-taking dash. Take a lane of traffic out of B’way both uptown and downtown here. And provide a place for people to sit in the street and take the view.

  • choking traffic

    “Choking, maybe you wouldn’t get such a dismissive reaction if you didn’t come on with such a know-it-all attitude”

    “I should also note that it’s cars that create a dangerous situation, not pedestrians. If you take out the cars the streets are perfectly safe, while if you take out the pedestrians danger still strikes.”

    “Puh-leez. It’s people like you, who put your selfish, small minded desire for *convenience* over not only the health of your fellow citizens but their lives and even their childrens’ lives and their very future.”

    “Nonsense. More congested = slower vehicular speeds = safer.”

    “Which is what we want anyways – to get people out of their cars. I see no reason why we should care about 19 seconds of some motorist’s day.”

    When in Rome…

  • Choking, the problem is not disagreement. It’s utter lack of proportion. Trains are between 1 and 3 orders of magnitude safer than cars per passenger-km, depending on how well they’re run – and the New York-area trains are on the safer side.

  • Mike

    Alon – how do you square your point that this intersection is “safe” with the fact that it’s in the 94th percentile of intersections for crashes in Manhattan? Are we talking “safe” in your personal perception or “safe” in terms of reality?

  • Alon – how do you square your point that this intersection is “safe” with the fact that it’s in the 94th percentile of intersections for crashes in Manhattan?

    It has more pedestrians than those other, supposedly safer intersections. You can’t measure safety by the number of incidents. By that standard, the Henry Hudson Parkway median is a pedestrian haven.

    As John Adams has pointed out, Britain’s pedestrian car accident death rate is lower than in 1920. The roads aren’t safer; what’s changed is that the proliferation of cars made people adjust to living in a car-dominated world, including walking less.

    The same issue crops up for accidents involving cyclists, by the way. A few months ago, a commenter on Streetsblog opposing the PPW bike lane argued that PPW was safe because it had far fewer car-bicycle accidents than 9th Avenue. Obviously, PPW isn’t actually safer than 9th Avenue; it just has fewer people cycling on it, hence fewer accidents. That commenter made the same mistake that you’re making.

    Absent exact pedestrian volume count, personal perception is the best thing to go on. Some intersections look uninviting or scary to anyone on foot, some look pedestrian-friendly. It’s the scary intersections that need a road diet, not the ones where traffic already is slow and has to defer to pedestrians.


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