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DOT to Daylight All Left Turns on Lexington Avenue in Midtown

11:12 AM EST on March 8, 2011

Daylighting intersections by removing a parking space increases visibility, making it safer to cross the street. Image: Streetfilms.

In last year's landmark pedestrian safety study, the Department of Transportation found that three times as many crashes that kill or seriously injure pedestrians involve left turns as right turns. To respond to the heightened danger of left-turning vehicles, DOT promised in its action plan to "daylight" all left turns on a major Manhattan avenue, removing parking spaces near the intersection to improve visibility.

At a meeting of Manhattan CB 6's transportation committee last night, DOT announced that it is ready to move forward with that plan, in a somewhat curtailed fashion, along a Midtown stretch of Lexington Avenue. Of all the one-way avenues in Manhattan, Lexington has the highest number of pedestrians hit by cars while crossing the street with the right-of-way, according to DOT. Two-thirds of those pedestrians were hit by drivers making a left turn.

The proposal would remove one or two parking spots near intersections on the east side of Lexington between 59th Street and 21st Street, a total of around 15 parking spaces.

DOT's Matthew Roe explained why left turns are so much more dangerous and why daylighting is a particularly effective tool for this problem. "It has to do with the position of the driver," he said. Because of the "A-pillar," the part of the car frame between the windshield and the driver's window, "the size of the blind spot is way larger on the left side of the vehicle than on the right side." Daylighting the left turns lets the driver see any pedestrians in the crosswalk from farther away, before the left-side blind spot is an issue.

The plan raised some hackles among committee members. "This whole concept is a prelude for a further encroachment on parking spaces for cars," argued committee chair Fred Arcaro. "Sooner or later you're going to see a plaza here."

When the committee voted on the project, however, it approved it 10-1. Most, apparently, agreed with committee member and left-turn crash victim Charles Buchwald, who called it "a simple and elegant solution to a real problem."

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