Eyes on the Street: Why Pedestrian Islands Belong at More NYC Intersections

Photo: Julie Margolies via West Side Rag
Last night, a driver hit a newly-installed pedestrian island at the same crossing where Cooper Stock was killed earlier this year. The driver told police she didn’t see it. Photo: Julie Margolies via West Side Rag

Here’s a reminder of why the city can’t roll out street design changes fast enough. Last night, a driver turning left through the crosswalk from West 97th Street to West End Avenue struck a bollard on a pedestrian island that had been installed just days before. According to West Side Rag, the woman told police that she did not see the bollard before driving into it.

Last night’s crash occurred at the same crossing where 9-year-old Cooper Stock was struck and killed in January, also by a driver making a left turn through the crosswalk.

The pedestrian island was installed this month as part of a road diet DOT proposed in the wake of Cooper’s death and a nearly-identical crash in which a turning driver killed Jean Chambers in the crosswalk at 95th Street this July. The city carved out space for the pedestrian refuge by reducing the number of car lanes on the street.

The concrete island is actually the exception, not the rule, along the revamped West End Avenue. The road diet consists mostly of paint, which channels but does not restrict drivers’ movement. The plan was initially criticized for including pedestrian islands at only 95th and 97th Streets, where fatalities had occurred. DOT later modified the plan and increased that number to four intersections along the 35-block avenue.

Photo: Julie Margolies via West Side Rag
Photo: Julie Margolies via West Side Rag

Streetsblog reached out this morning to Dana Lerner, Cooper’s mother. “I have been asked very often about what I feel about the medians that are being put in front of my building where the crash that killed my son occurred,” she said in an e-mail. “It’s very painful for me that it has taken my son’s death for the powers that be (Community Board 7, DOT, etc.) to begin to focus attention on this matter.”

The road diet only came about after two high-profile pedestrian deaths, even though traffic violence is a daily problem on all city streets. Lerner said the city needs to dramatically scale up its response if it is going to make a dent in reducing traffic violence. “Crashes happen in epidemic proportions, but I do not feel that the mayor’s Vision Zero plan is taking that into account,” she said. “This is a serious matter with devastating consequences.”

  • Kevin Love

    Thank God (and DOT!) that the car driver hit a concrete bollard and not another child. We need more of these protective bollards, and less child deaths.

  • Albert

    A good opportunity to remember that protected bicycle lanes—which have not made it into the current West End Ave redesign—automatically come with (the potential for) raised pedestrian refuge islands at *all* intersections.

    (At least on one corner of the intersection. If DOT would go back to their superior bike lane design on 8th & 9th aves, rather than the dangerous new “mixing zone” design on 1st & 2nd, there could be pedestrian refuges on two corners of every 4-corner intersection.)

  • Hilda

    This is one of the first times that I have seen the “I didn’t see it” excuse actually cause any kind of repercussion to the driver and to the car. She would not have seen a pedestrian either.
    Beyond this, the ‘cut-through’ turn is one of the most dangerous actions a driver can do. The pedestrian island requires a safer turning radius, and proves the importance of this infrastructure.
    The pedestrian island actually means damage to the car if they are going too fast or turn too tight. This, possibly even more than enforcement, is what will make the difference in changing the culture of what drivers can get away with.

  • Reader

    100%. Drivers need to feel as if they will scratch their car if they make even the slightest wrong move. That’s the only way things are going to change.

  • SheRidesABike

    If the driver is used to driving that route and making that turn, I wonder if she wasn’t looking because she just assumed that the street would never change . . . Years ago, I was riding in the backseat with a bf and his mom; she was driving to work (bf was using the car for some errand that day), taking her normal route but earlier in the morning than usual, and entered an onramp that had one of those signals used to control the flow on traffic onto the freeway. There was a car stopped at the red in front of us; when she showed no sign of slowing I shouted; she slammed on the brakes and missed rear-ending that car by inches. Her response, after a meaningless apology, was that the light “is never red” during her usual commute time. (!!! Because: no words. And no, I never got in a car with her again. And told the bf he needed to talk to her about her driving, because that was only the scariest of several near misses she’d had with us in the car.)

    I’ve read of many instances of crashes happening in which drivers were apparently so used to a route having certain features/lights having certain timing etc. that they simply couldn’t adapt.

    I’m not sure of the technical term for this phenomenon (I can think of some informal terms, for sure), but I suspect DOTs are more aware of this tendency now, and often see “new traffic pattern” or just “new” signs in orange after these sorts of changes. But . . . . given how strong I suspect this tendency is, I wonder if they would have helped at all in this situation.

  • BBnet3000

    Yeah it wasn’t until recently that I realized the mixing zones are a horror for people walking as well as for biking. In practice all 3 modes (not just 2) end up “negotiating” for the space. Guess which mode ends up dominating the space?

  • pay attention
  • Ian Dutton

    I can’t help but think that protected pedestrian islands at the intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic would have made a difference in the two per fatalities that we’ve had there in these last two years. “Standing safely at an island” sounds better than “killed while walking along the yellow line”.

  • jooltman

    Agree that a messed up car is good deterrent to reckless driving. Does anyone know whether this driver will be held financially responsible for infrastructure repair?

  • “the woman told police that she did not see the bollard before driving into it.”

    In other words she wasn’t paying attention. Thank goodness we have about ten of these islands just installed on Northern Boulevard. Hopefully lots of other drivers will hit them that are not paying attention, instead of striking children crossing the street.

  • IlIlIl

    I love riding down 2nd Ave and having to dodge, scream at, ring my bell at, stop for, pedestrians who see the little brown square and walk for it, against the light, across the bike lane, without looking. How do you not love that? I know I love doing it every couple of blocks from 26th to Houston–every night. I JUST LOVE IT.

  • Seth Rosenblum

    I don’t understand why DOT is so hesitant to use these pedestrian islands everywhere. On second avenue between 14th street & Houston, the painted pedestrian refuges are a total failure, because pedestrians are (reasonably) afraid to stand in them. This leads everyone to “lead-off” from the curb into the bike lane, which causes bikes to ride through the refuges to avoid pedestrians. It’s a vicious cycle that’s easily broken.

    Aren’t the concrete islands more cost-effective than re-paving the same space every few years?

  • BBnet3000

    At night in the EV the 2nd Ave “mixing zones” are really “step out in the road and hail a cab to stop and block the bike lane” zones. Still beats the rest of the ride down from the Upper East Side, much of which resembles a highway more than a city street.

  • BBnet3000

    For the record they aren’t hesitant. Its just that the refuges with plastic sticks can be done very fast and cheaply by the DOT alone, while building the islands is a capital project that needs specific funding and takes a lot of time and coordination with other agencies.

    My biggest issue with the painted refuges is that they don’t continue the green bike lane across them, and in some cases paint tan across the bike lane. This makes it look like you’re riding your bike across the sidewalk and encourages pedestrians to stand in the bike lane.

  • BBnet3000

    This is what happens when bollards are doing the job that our driver licensing tests should be doing.

    If you can’t see and are ramming street furniture, you should consider getting a free yellow swipe card that will allow you to take any bus or subway in the city for only $2.50.

  • Albert

    Took me a while too. It’s hard to “A/B” the 1st & 2nd lanes with the 8th & 9th lanes across town.

    Mixing zones and their “missing” pedestrian refuge islands enable drivers turning onto cross streets to cut the corner and speed through a turn, while the bollards and islands on 8th & 9th encourage or force turning drivers to enter the intersection before starting their turn, keeping them from cutting the corner and slowing the turn.

    I wonder if DOT has stats that compare the number of failure-to-yields on 1st & 2nd to the number on 8th & 9th.

  • mistermarkdavis

    If she couldn’t see a bollard, she couldn’t see a person.

  • G

    “I swear, the pedestrian [island] came out of nowhere!”

    Now how about changing the pedestrian “LOOK” campaign to one for drivers on their car windshields?

  • Cold Shoaler

    Has the NYPD leaked anything about why the bollard was at fault? I bet that thing was looking at its phone and wearing dark clothing when it darted into the middle of the street against the light. I mean, in the rain, too. Get a flashlight already! Dummy.

    We really need a well thought out, aggressive street furniture safety/awareness campaign to make sure all bollards understand their responsibility to not get run over in this city. I just hope the driver’s okay. She must be so upset, to the point of not deserving any kind of punishment whatsoever.

    Damn bike lanes… oh wait, for once they don’t seem to be a factor as none were installed here due to an obvious lack of space.

  • Cold Shoaler

    I end up abandoning the bike lane after the second or third such encounter. I’ve found that the bus lane on the other side of the street actually makes a decent alternative.

  • Joe R.

    Actually, if we had only infrastructure which damages cars driven unsafely in lieu of enforcement the streets would be far safer. Enforcement is at best sporadic but infrastructure is always there. Personally, I would have used much larger bollards.

    We should also seriously consider putting sturdy metal posts between traffic lanes at intersections. The purpose would be twofold. One, it would prevent the idiotic jockeying around for position to gain one car length which seems to be in vogue these days. Two, it would force drivers down to a reasonable speed as they would be forced to thread their way between the posts. Drivers would have to change lanes in between intersections. This might actually force some of them to do a little advance planning instead of dangerous, last second maneuvers.

  • Andres Dee

    She’ll probably sue the city over the bollard. Bet we’ll soon hear “the community wasn’t consulted and people will die because emergency vehicles can’t negotiate the bollards”, the way we did along Fort Hamilton Parkway in Brooklyn.

  • AnoNYC

    Oh man, I hope the DOT doesn’t remove the bollard because it harmed someones car!

  • sammy davis jr jr

    Auto insurance can negate that deterrent.

  • bob88

    From the picture, it appears the driver was taking the turn way too fast. Traveling at a reasonable speed for that area should have resulted in a tapping the bollard, not climbing on top of it.

    Very glad to see bad driving result in a rammed bollard rather than a maimed pedestrian.