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CB 4 Still Pushing DOT for Time to Cross Deadly Hell’s Kitchen Intersections

Shu Ying Liu was killed by a driver turning right at Ninth Avenue and 41st Street. CB 4 asked DOT for exclusive pedestrian crossing time here in 2008. Image: Google Maps

Manhattan Community Board 4 has renewed its call for safety improvements at the Hell's Kitchen crossing where an elderly woman was killed by a driver last week. The request comes five years after a resolution that asked for exclusive crossing time for pedestrians at the deadly intersection, and is the latest episode in a years-long, and largely futile, campaign by neighborhood residents for split phase signals.

Shu Ying Liu, 69, was struck by a dump truck driver on the morning of February 5 as the driver made a right turn from Ninth Avenue to 41st Street, according to reports. Jack Montelbano, of Bayonne, was later arrested for leaving the scene.

"Ms. Shu Ying Liu lived on 54th Street in Hell's Kitchen," wrote Christine Berthet, of CB 4 and CHEKPEDS, in an email to Streetsblog. "She used to be the managing editor of a large magazine in China. According to both her attorney and her son, she was an optimist, cheerful with an outgoing personality."

"She was doing research in healthy food, healthy living and was coaching and teaching her children to live a healthy life. Her son would talk to her once or twice weekly and relied on her for advice on health."

In early 2008, a resolution adopted by CB 4 said that a recent reconfiguration of the intersection of Ninth and 41st, which sees heavy traffic from New Jersey-bound cars, trucks, and buses, posed a danger to pedestrians. The board asked for "emergency interim measures," including a neckdown on 41st Street, to reduce crossing distance, and a shift in location for the crosswalk on the south side of the intersection, to increase pedestrian visibility.

Finally, the resolution stated: "On the west side, install a turn arrow red signal to give pedestrians a dedicated phase to cross safely." If the crash that killed Liu occurred as described by the media, with adequate exclusive crossing time it's less likely she would have been in the driver's path.

"This issue is not new -- there have already been 46 injuries and two fatalities in recent years at this corner," reads a letter from CB 4, sent to DOT yesterday [PDF]. "The time has come to tackle this issue with urgency."

With the recent relocation of The Big Apple supermarket from the W. 42nd/41st Streets block to further south and a thriving and growing commercial strip south of W. 41st Street, a large population of residents and senior shoppers regularly crosses W. 41st Street. Manhattan Plaza, home to 3,500 residents, mostly seniors, is located just one block north of the intersection.

As part of the Hell's Kitchen traffic study, there were discussions of barring the right turn at non-peak hours. We had also requested a split phase since there is already a dedicated turn lane.

We look to your help in making this crossing safe. The status quo is simply not acceptable. We cannot continue to lose our neighbors as they get killed and maimed as they cross the street with the walk signal.

In October 2011, when DOT released the findings of the five-year Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Traffic Study, and announced that resulting safety upgrades would include leading pedestrian intervals, CB 4 passed a resolution asking for split phase signals at W. 37th Street and Eighth Avenue; W. 43rd and Eighth; W. 49th and Eighth; W. 38th and Ninth; and W. 58th and Ninth -- none of which have been implemented. At that time, a DOT staffer said split phase signals are "not as good as they’re cracked up to be," because pedestrians don't always obey the lights.

Half of all pedestrians killed by city drivers in crosswalks in 2011 were crossing with the signal. In recent years, other victims of fatal crashes on Ninth Avenue include Timothy WhiteSabina Paradi, Fabiola Grande Coyotl, and Susanne Schnitzer.

The Post reported that, according to a Manhattan prosecutor, Jack Montelbano himself had years ago been involved in another fatal crash at 41st and Ninth. Cy Vance's office did not respond to our request for corroboration.

Berthet says the board has also asked for split phase signals on Eighth Avenue at 25th and 29th Streets, a request that was backed by a petition with 1,000 signatures. A DOT study was to be completed a year ago, but has not materialized, according to Berthet.

Installation of split phase signals for left-turning vehicles is pending on Ninth Avenue at 57th, 42nd, and 34th, Berthet says, as well as for left-turning drivers at 43rd Street and Ninth. After years of petitioning DOT, she says area residents are "desperate" for a "systematic" policy that gives pedestrians exclusive crossing time at dangerous crossings.

"DOT refuses to give us split phases fearing that it will take time away from cars," says Berthet. "Never mind that during the phase that should be red cars rush into platoons of pedestrians, sometimes aided by zealous traffic agents. This woman [Liu] was killed by a turning truck while she crossed with the walk sign."

A query to DOT regarding CB 4's requests for split phase signals has not been returned.

Update: A spokesperson says DOT "will re-evaluate the intersection" of Ninth Avenue and 41st Street.

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