Another UWS Pedestrian Killed as Safety Recommendations Sit on the Shelf

Existing conditions at W. 95th Street and West End Avenue, where a driver fatally struck Jean Chambers Thursday. Chamber was hit in the north crosswalk as the driver turned left from W. 95th onto northbound West End Ave. Image: Nelson\Nygaard
Existing conditions at W. 95th Street and West End Avenue, where a driver fatally struck Jean Chambers Thursday. Chambers was hit in the north crosswalk as the driver turned left from W. 95th onto northbound West End Ave. Image: Nelson\Nygaard

A proposal for safety improvements on the Upper West Side might have prevented the crash that killed a pedestrian Thursday, but the plan was not acted upon by Community Board 7 or DOT.

At approximately 11 a.m. yesterday a 50-year-old motorist turning left from W. 95th Street onto West End Avenue struck Jean Chambers in the crosswalk, knocking her underneath the Ford SUV he was driving, according to reports.

Jean Chambers. Photo via DNAinfo
Jean Chambers. Photo via DNAinfo

From DNAinfo:

“She had the walk sign and the light was green for the car too,” said doorman Bilbil Loka, 32, who witnessed the accident from his post at 710 West End Ave. “But the driver made a very short left turn, going uptown.”

“He dragged her for almost 30 feet, everybody heard her scream.”

Chambers, an artist who lived nearby, was pronounced dead at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. She was 61.

The intersection where Chambers was killed was one of a number of Upper West Side crossings included in a 2013 pedestrian safety study by consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard [PDF]. The study was commissioned by local City Council members, but Community Board 7 sat on the report’s recommendations until a series of pedestrian deaths this year spurred residents to demand action from the city.

Following the deaths of  Cooper StockAlexander Shear, and Samantha Lee — all killed by drivers within the study area last January — DOT added pedestrian space and turn restrictions at Broadway and W. 96th Street, where Lee was struck.

Plans for other intersections remain on the shelf, despite known hazards to pedestrians. The study, for example, describes conditions that led to the crash that killed Jean Chambers: “vehicles turn left northbound from W 95 St onto West End Ave at wide angles and high speeds, creating pedestrian conflicts.”

In the wake of the fourth pedestrian fatality in the same immediate area this year, DOT says it may give pedestrians more crossing time at the intersection where yesterday’s crash occurred, will institute a left turn ban there for 10 hours a week, and is considering a new speed bump.

To slow drivers down, Nelson\Nygaard recommends more substantial changes, including curb extensions, pedestrian islands, and banning left turns.

Changes to the intersection recommended by Nelson\Nygaard include curb extensions, pedestrian islands, and banning left turns. The study commissioned by CB 7, but the board did not formally endorse it.
Changes to the intersection recommended in a Nelson\Nygaard pedestrian safety study include curb extensions, pedestrian islands, and banning left turns. The study was reviewed by CB 7, but the board did not formally endorse it.

We asked DOT via email if the agency has reviewed the Nelson\Nygaard proposals, and if pedestrian improvements are planned for W. 95th Street and West End Avenue or other area intersections. A DOT spokesperson replied:

Safety is our first priority and we currently have a study underway on the feasibility of installing a leading pedestrian interval to give pedestrians dedicated time to cross the street. As you may know, there is one speed bump on that block of W. 95th Street, and we will look into the possibility of installing a second. (The speed limit on that that portion of the roadway is 15 miles per hour.) We will also be installing a turn restriction from eastbound 95th to northbound West End between 7-9 am Monday to Friday, and will also look into other possibilities in consultation with the community and local stakeholders.

Motorists have killed at least five pedestrians in the study area in the last 13 months. All five crashes occurred in the 24th Precinct. As of May, precinct officers have ticketed 325 drivers this year for failing to yield to pedestrians, and 117 drivers for speeding.

The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is investigating Thursday’s crash, sources said. The Daily News reported today that, though Chambers presumably had the right of way, according to anonymous police sources the driver “is not expected to be charged with a crime.”

A city law that makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists who have the right of way will take effect in August.

  • JK

    I’d like to see TA and the Families organize demonstrations in this crosswalk in which pedestrians walk back and forth in a large group during the entire walk phase for fifteen minutes of the AM rush hour, once a week for the next month. This is what Downtown Brooklyn residents did when faced with intolerable traffic danger back in 1996 — and it worked. (see pic at link.) The Brooklynites won dozens of curb extensions and traffic safety engineering as part of the Downtown Bklyn Traffic Calming study. West End Ave at 95th, 96th and 97th is a traffic hellhole. More pedestrians will be struck here because moving cars is ultimately still more important to Community Board 7, the NYC DOT and the mayor than creating safe streets.

  • dave “paco” abraham

    Similar to a TA event held on Altantic Avenue recently too…
    Thanks for the link to the BJ heights throwback.

  • dave “paco” abraham

    If 5 people were killed by bullets in the same span, would CB7 be allowed to advise NYPD how to handle the situation? DOT needs to make all life saving improvements necessary, not cower to the advisory powers of NIMBYs.

  • I have great respect for Borough President Gale Brewer, but her strategy of waiting until community board members “come around” on street safety, rather than removing them in favor of more progressive people, is wrong.

    Jean Chambers shouldn’t have had to wait for safe streets.

  • Joe R.

    This just illustrates the kind of dichotomy which exists in the ruling class in NYC. On the one hand, they’re pathologically afraid of guns to the point that NYC’s gun laws clearly violate the 2nd Amendment which allows individuals to keep and bear arms. On the other, they see nothing wrong with not taking measures to curb the motor vehicle violence which kills far more innocent people than guns in this city. In 2013 134 innocent pedestrians and cyclists were killed by motor vehicles in NYC. The number killed by guns in 2013 was 194 but of those 194 over 10% were suicides, and probably more than half were gang-related violence. That means well under 100 innocent people in NYC died in 2013 due to guns. It’s clear we’re not going after the largest source of problems here. Moreover, motor vehicles consistently lower the quality of life for most city residents whereas guns generally don’t. Any measures taken to curb motor vehicle violence would pay dividends in terms of a more pleasant city.

  • Kevin Love

    Except, if you had bothered to read the 2nd amendment, you would see that it refers nowhere to individual rights, but to a “well-regulated militia.” In other words, New York State has a right to maintain a National Guard.

    Things are quite different across the NY/Ontario border,
    where Canadian provinces are forbidden to maintain military forces.

    As an Army veteran, I can attest that there are all kinds of
    nasty weapons out there. Weapons based upon projectiles, chemicals, radioactive or biological material. The 100th anniversary of the beginning of WWI is next month, which is a reminder that effective chemical weapon technology is
    over a century old. And one does not have to be a chemistry genius to make nerve gas… link NOT provided.

    Needless to say, I support New York’s laws.

  • Morris Zapp

    I hope the Chambers family sues the hell out of NYC, with the NN report as Exhibit A.

  • Joe R.

    The Supreme Court interpreted the 2nd Amendment as an individual right (with some restrictions) and I tend to agree. You don’t need a specific amendment authorizing a militia to have arms which is why I disagree with that interpretation of it. It’s common sense as militias must be armed to be effective, hence no need for an amendment allowing it. On the other hand, a distinct amendment allowing individual rights to keep and bear arms would make sense as it’s not always a given that individuals have the right to bear arms, whereas militias always do.

    For the record, I also disagree with the NRA’s stance which is basically to allow anyone who wants guns to have them. I think people should be allowed to own any weapon they wish within reason (i.e. no need for individuals to have things like AA missiles or anything beyond what reasonably might be required for self-defense). However, they should be required to receive training for whatever weapon they own. Own a small handgun, go through a certain amount of training. Want to own a rifle or a machine gun, you go through a lot more training. Most people would be unwilling to go through these hoops, and gun ownership would remain relatively low.

    The reason I feel adamant about individuals deciding whether to own weapons, as opposed to governments, is because the government can’t guarantee my safety. There may be only one time in my life where carrying a gun might mean the difference between life and death, but that’s really all it takes. For what it’s worth, we’re probably going to reach a point in the next 5-10 years where gun laws are moot as individuals will be able to use 3D printing to make viable firearms. I think it’s better before that happens to have some fraction of the citizenry legally armed so the wackos will have some incentive not to make or carry around their (illegal) printed firearms. In the end it’s always going to be an arms race. Overly restrictive gun laws just mean the bad guys end up being better armed. We went through that in the late 1980s/early 1990s when NYC had over 2000 murders annually. The only reason it stopped was because of Guiliani turning NYC into a virtual police state, which it remains to this day.

    And in the meantime I think we should focus 100% of our efforts on dealing with what we can both agree is the biggest cause of death/injury in NYC-namely motor vehicle violence. Once you add in pollution deaths, deaths caused by motor vehicles are a few orders of magnitude greater than deaths by firearms.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Waiting on a community board for help, we might as well just help ourselves.

  • Keith Williams

    “As you may know, there is one speed bump on that block of W. 95th Street, and we will look into the possibility of installing a second.”

    Oh, great – that’ll do it. Thanks, DOT!

  • Kevin Love

    As an Army veteran, my personal take is that no sane person supports an unlimited individual right to bear arms. Things like chemical or radioactive weapons are clearly beyond the pale.

    A line needs to be drawn somewhere. The only question is “where do we draw the line.” In my opinion, weapons that are easily used to commit crimes, such as pistols, cross the line. Not too many muggers carry a deer rifle!

    Which is why I support the present NY law.

  • Joe R.

    I totally agree there’s no need for individuals to have chemical or radioactive weapons (neither of which should frankly exist, even for use by nations), or things like tanks.

    As for drawing the line, sure pistols can be used to commit crimes but they can also be used to stop crimes. A trained citizen carrying a handgun has the element of surprise on a criminal. That could be the key to winning a confrontation.

    There are better ways to deal with small arms which could be used both to commit crimes and for self-defense. One way is to enact a mandatory death penalty if you use firearms to commit a crime, even if you don’t actually fire them. Pull out a gun to mug someone, and if you get caught you’re executed. Criminals operate on a risk-reward scenario, particularly those in it for financial gain. We need to up the risk if you use a firearm when committing a crime. Also, more legally armed citizens mean a much greater chance of ending up dead if you actually try to mug someone with a handgun.

    As far as I know, aren’t deer rifles and any other type of firearm also illegal in NYC? It’s my understanding that it’s pretty much impossible to get any type of weapon for home defense, even a shotgun, or at least that’s what the local precinct told me when I asked.

  • qjk

    Ah, yes. If you’re depressed, or in a gang, you deserve to die. Thanks for the insight.

  • Joe R.

    Um, did you bother to read my post in its entirety? I’m talking about innocent victims of either motor vehicle or gun violence here. Sure, I absolutely feel sorry for someone who is depressed enough to kill themselves by any means (and I’ve been there myself), but as far as statistics go they don’t count as an innocent victim here like those who went out, fully wanted to come home alive, but didn’t thanks to some driver not driving safely. As for gang members getting killed by guns, to me that falls into the same category as someone drag racing at 120 mph and dying in a crash. Both were engaged in an activity that made dying much more likely, and so both are hardly innocent victims. The only problem of course in both cases is if they take innocent bystanders with them before getting killed, which sadly happens quite often.

    The bottom line is I don’t feel ordinary citizens just going about their lives deserve to be random victims of motor vehicle violence, but those in charge seem to think these “accidents” are just the cost of business as usual.

  • Joe R.

    Just to be clear here, my point in mentioning firearms laws isn’t to have the discussion devolve into the usual pro/anti gun sentiments, but rather to point out the sheer insanity of our driver licensing system. A modern car I would say easily has the killing potential of a heavy machine gun. Would any sane society allow ordinary citizens to carry around heavy machine guns on crowded urban streets if they only had to pass a minimal set of qualifications to do so, perhaps something like hitting 50% of large targets at a distance of 30 yards? The answer is clearly no, even in the most gun-friendly societies, and yet we allow people to operate motor vehicles which can be just as deadly with a similarly minimal set of standards. That’s really the problem. I think there should be a very high set of standards for both firearm ownership and motor vehicle operation. However, it makes no sense to highly restrict one on the grounds of public safety but not the other.

  • A Levi

    This is an open unanswered ongoing safety concern at this street corner. 95th pitches downhill, West End Ave pitches downhill, so sightlines and forward momentum work against the distracted driver. Deadly; unnecessarily deadly. How many on foot need to be picked off by vehicles until this particular characteristic of this intersection is addressed by a traffic engineer with a brain, a heart, and the charisma to build a consensus to update the safety protocol of this intersection?

  • ralph

    Well I hope Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert are proud of themselves.

  • WoodyinNYC

    Militias were for chasing down escaping slaves, killing them or otherwise punishing them.

    I lost all sympathy for the rights of militia/slave patrols when I learned the historical background.

    “Thom Hartmann: The Second Amendment was Ratified to Preserve Slavery:

    ‘The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified…

    …and why it says ‘State’ instead of ‘Country… was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote…. Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that… and we all should be too. In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the ‘slave patrols,’ and they were regulated by the states.”

  • Joe R.

    Forgetting the historical context of the Second Amendment as it supposedly relates to militias, the modern interpretation is that it applies to individuals. And given how easily we hand out licenses to operate a deadly weapon (i.e. motor vehicle) in this country, I certainly can’t think of any rational reason properly trained citizens without criminal records or mental illness shouldn’t be allowed to keep and bear arms. Firearms typically become a problem when they fall into the hands of criminals, but by definition criminals don’t respect laws restricting firearms.

    I’ll be all for banning firearms altogether if that includes the police and any type of military force but we both know that will never happen. The only thing we can do instead is to ensure that a willing citizen can arm themselves at least as well as the police can. That helps put a bound on police abuse of power. I tend to think one of the reasons the NYPD resembles an occupation force is precisely because they know they have little to fear from the average disarmed NYC citizen if they abuse their power. And note here I’m not advocating shooting at the police when they do things like park on sidewalks. I would only support doing so in the rare instances where police abuse of power actually results in them killing or seriously injuring people. A good example might be when the police ran over someone they were chasing with their patrol car a year or two ago (I don’t remember the names or location but I recall the general details of the incident). The police should fear the citizens they work for, not the other way around.

    On another note, since we’re talking about motor vehicles here, if NYC wishes to restrict guns to the point that carry permits citiwide probably number in the three digits at most once you exclude police, I would have no problem with this if it also similarly restricted driver’s licenses so maybe only a few hundred people in the city besides emergency vehicle drivers or bus drivers could drive. Hey, driving is just as dangerous as carrying a gun, more so in fact because technically the vehicle is always loaded and primed and unsafed (i.e. ready to kill), so it follows that should be restricted just as much, perhaps more.

  • Mark Walker

    I hope a reporter asks them that on camera.

  • Mark Walker

    There is also a steep climb from 96th to 99th. The top of the hill at 99th makes cars and peds mutually invisible at 98th and WEA, which I cross multiple times per day. The design speed of WEA is just too high.

  • chekpeds

    Brad thank you for this detailed story. I wish we collectively ALWAYS emphasized when the pedestrian is crossing in the crosswalk, with the light… It is obvious for us but the general cultural bias is to think that pedestrians are careless and put themselves in harm’s way .
    As some of us have said many times a split phase signal with a red left turning arrow is all it’s needed to make pedestrian crossing safer and make a dent in the 44% of pedestrians injuries that occur under these conditions.
    Further it enrages me that like some sort of primitive society, we need human sacrifices to get the attention of the DOT. I think it’s time we move from reactive to pro active, from one off measures to a “vaccine”: we must demand that all intersection get equipped with split phase signals as a new standard for the city. And you know what ? No need for Albany’s approval, Mayor DiBlasio can do it all by himself, with a simple memo

  • chekpeds

    memo to DOT:
    From Mayor DiBlasio
    To: NYCDOT
    Effective immediately, all intersections in New York City will be upgraded to ensure maximum safe crossing by pedestrians while they have the walk sign:
    The DOT should provide the administration and City Council within two months from this memorandum, a plan for upgrades starting with the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians.
    The plan will be published immediately upon receipt and the progress will be reported monthly in the mayors management report and published as well.

  • Andrew

    I think you’re placing too much of the blame on DOT and not enough on the NYPD.

    Banning left turns here would simply shift them to Broadway and Amsterdam. That won’t solve the problem. At Broadway, that’s a particularly busy crosswalk due to the adjacent subway station. At Amsterdam, all traffic must turn left, so the incentive to fail to yield is especially strong.
    Nothing about the street design forces drivers to turn without yielding, and everything about the NYPD’s (lack of) enforcement encourages them to do so. The 24th Precinct issued 2-3 tickets per day for failure to yield to pedestrians over the first five months of 2014. Would it be too much to ask them to issue enough summonses to serve as a deterrent?

  • chekpeds

    I did not suggest banning left turns.

    Split phases give the pedestrian an exclusive crossing time when there is no conflict with cars who have a red turning arrow , then the cars get a green arrow to turn and the don’t walk sign is lit to tell pedestrians to stop crossing.
    This is being used on 9th avenue and often adopted after fatalities occur. I am simply suggesting DOT should not wait for fatalities to install this feature which is so effective.

    We cannot expect NYPD to stand at every corner. too expensive . DOT must to its part to design the street for safety. Today the engineers are still reluctant to rebalance the timing of traffic away from the cars and in favor of pedestrian safety.

  • Andrew

    My mistake, I assumed you were referring specifically to the NelsonNygaard proposal, which includes a left turn ban here.

    Barnes Dances sound great in theory, but they’d leave pedestrians with much less time to (legally) cross the street.

    Perhaps an LPI would make sense – there already is one one block up, I believe.

    More generally, I’d suggest that the city fight for the unlimited right to automate traffic enforcement, and then to automate the process as much as possible. Until then, because 2-3 summonses per day is pointless, give each NYPD precinct a reasonable target number of summonses per day for failure to yield – perhaps 100 is the appropriate number in an area like this.

  • chekpeds

    I did not suggest a Barnes dance.
    I suggested split phase signals.

    LPIs are a problem sice they stop all traffic instead of just the turning traffic. As a result DOT engineers usually give only 7 seconds LPI s which is insufficient to cross a two way avenue.
    This why DOT uses “split phase ” signals at the intersection of bike lanes with two way streets.

    What is needed is a generalized use of split phases so that there is no need to rely upon expensive and unreliable traffic officers.

  • Andrew

    With split phase signals, expect pedestrians to get the bare minimum crossing time.

    Split phase signals can only be installed where turning traffic has a dedicated queuing lane. They’re not a universal solution.

    In my experience, LPIs are pretty effective, because drivers are a lot more reluctant to turn into a pedestrian who’s standing directly in front of them than to turn into one who’s just started to cross. But I’ll admit to not having seen any safety statistics on the subject – perhaps you know more.

    I don’t think pedestrians should be penalized because some drivers refuse to follow the rules. Penalize the drivers who don’t follow the rules – preferably in as automated a fashion as possible, so we don’t have to rely on the generosity of the NYPD.

  • hellskitchencyclist

    When are we cyclists and pedestrians who live in NYC going to gather together for large-scale, frequent public protests at these dangerous intersections? We should be canvassing the neighborhood for people to join us. The numbers of dead pedestrians at just this one UWS intersection are nearly enough to constitute an epidemic, not to mention the rest of the city. This is near where my not super young therapist and her two special needs sons live. How many more people have to die?

  • hellskitchencyclist

    I am sort of disappointed that StreetsBlog and TransAlt don’t do more direct action in these instances. We should have bike patrols at intersections, protests, and people with phones photographing drivers and a website that shames people who hit bikes, yell at cyclists, and drive aggressively, speed, etc.

  • Andrew

    More coverage of the crash:

    I had to stop reading the comments midway through.


Eyes on the Street: West End Avenue Gets Its Road Diet

After Cooper Stock and Jean Chambers were killed in West End Avenue crosswalks by turning drivers earlier this year, DOT unveiled a 35-block road diet for the dangerous Upper West Side street. Now, the plan is on the ground, and pedestrian islands are set to be installed within a month. The redesign is a standard […]