Tonight: Support Pedestrian Safety Fixes for Lincoln Square Bowtie

Lincoln Square is a dangerous spot for pedestrians. Will opposition from a local BID stop safety fixes in their tracks? Photo: DOT
Lincoln Square, where Broadway crosses Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side, is a dangerous intersection for walking, but the local BID has a history of opposing safety improvements. Photo: DOT

The city is scheduled to unveil proposed safety improvements this evening for the busy, complex intersection where Columbus Avenue meets Broadway, known as the Lincoln Square bowtie. With the design changes going before the Community Board 7 transportation committee tonight, nearby residents and advocates have started a petition to support the proposal, countering expected opposition from the surrounding Lincoln Square Business Improvement District.

According to crash data collected by NYPD, there have been 13 traffic injuries at intersections on Broadway between 64th and 66th Streets so far this year, including seven pedestrian injuries and three cyclist injuries. A nearby intersection was the site of a fatal crash in 2012: 78-year-old Shirley Shea was crossing 67th Street and Columbus Avenue when a turning school bus driver struck her, inflicting mortal injuries.

Susan Shea-Klot, Shea’s daughter, wrote to Streetsblog last year and described the aftermath of the collision. The crash caused brain trauma and eventually left Shea unable to speak, kept alive by a ventilator and a feeding tube before she died. Shea-Klot expressed frustration that there were no meaningful consequences or changes after her mother’s death:

The police completed the investigation and issued a report which stated that the driver claimed not to have seen my mother in the crosswalk. No charges were filed against the driver by anyone… Buses should not be permitted to make right turns when pedestrians are crossing. Why can’t we put people first; when did the rights of the automotive vehicle and its drivers usurp those of the more plentiful pedestrians? We in this city should be ashamed of ourselves and our acceptance of this nonsensical status quo. Enough!

In June, DOT hosted a workshop with Community Board 7 to gather ideas for pedestrian safety improvements near the bowtie. Sources who have been briefed on DOT’s plan say it includes turn restrictions, expanded pedestrian islands, and striped bike lane markings on Columbus Avenue.

“The proposals that are being brought back to the community right now are a result of that workshop that happened in June,” said Transportation Alternatives Manhattan organizer Tom DeVito. “These are community-originated ideas, and it’s time that changes are made to that mess of an intersection.”

While advocates are pleased with many of the proposed changes, the Lincoln Square Business Improvement has a history of fighting against street safety projects. Its opposition to the Columbus Avenue protected bike lane delayed the project for years, according to the leader of the nearby Columbus Avenue BID. The Lincoln Square BID continued to oppose the bike lane as recently as last year, despite a vote in support from Community Board 7.

Upper West Side residents are worried that the BID will also oppose the latest plan. Jackie Kern has lived in the neighborhood for a decade and became involved in street safety issues after the death of 9-year-old Cooper Stock, who was a family friend. Kern, who runs an advertising company and is raising two teenagers, hadn’t paid detailed attention to street safety before Stock’s death. “I didn’t even know what a community board meeting was,” she said. “I have definitely always had street safety anxiety for my kids, and Cooper’s death really drove that home.”

To walk in the vicinity of the bowtie is to take your life in your hands. Just to the north at 69th and Broadway, a turning cab driver injured a pedestrian in a crosswalk on Saturday. Just last week, Wendy Ruther and her 4-year-old son were injured by a hit-and-run truck driver at 65th Street and Broadway. Kern says she heard about Ruther’s injuries because the two share a mutual friend. The pressing need to improve pedestrian safety inspired Kern to start an online petition in support of DOT’s plan. “I started the Change.org petition with the hope that the CB 7 meeting is successful,” she said. “I can’t imagine anybody voting against some safety measures. I just can’t imagine.”

When asked for comment, the Lincoln Square BID did not express an opinion of the project in advance of tonight’s meeting. “Pedestrian safety is of great concern to the Lincoln Square BID, and we look forward to working with the community board, DOT and other stakeholders to come up with workable plans to improve pedestrian safety in and around the 65th Street bowtie area,” Lincoln Square BID President Monica Blum said in a statement. “We haven’t had the opportunity to review the proposal in depth and are eager to hear greater detail on how this will impact our district, specifically our property owners, residents, businesses and visitors.”

Tonight’s meeting of the Community Board 7 transportation committee begins at 7 p.m. at the CB 7 office, 250 West 87th Street. Committee co-chair Andrew Albert is a board member of the Lincoln Square BID.

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