Eyes on the Street: Super-Sized Ped Space at Deadly Sixth and Houston

Most of the intersection of Houston Street and Sixth Avenue used to be wide-open asphalt. DOT is now putting the finishing touches on expanded pedestrian space at this deadly crossing. Photo: Stephen Miller
Most of the intersection of Houston Street and Sixth Avenue used to be wide-open asphalt. DOT is now putting the finishing touches on expanded pedestrian space at this deadly crossing. Photo: Stephen Miller

Jessica Dworkin, 58, was on a push scooter at Sixth Avenue at Houston Street when a tractor-trailer truck driver turned into her path and crushed her in August 2012. After Dworkin’s death, local residents clamored for safety fixes. Now more than two years later, and 18 months after proposing the changes to Manhattan Community Board 2, DOT is putting finishing touches on expansions to pedestrian space and changes to traffic signals in a bid to prevent future tragedies [PDF].

The plan adds high-visibility crosswalks, tweaks traffic signals to give more time to pedestrians, creates a new pedestrian island, and enlarges existing pedestrian refuges. Images: DOT
The plan upgrades crosswalk markings, tweaks traffic signals to give more time to pedestrians, creates a new pedestrian island, and enlarges existing pedestrian refuges. Images: DOT [PDF]

Most of the concrete has already been cast, expanding the Houston Street median as it approaches the intersection from the east and enlarging pedestrian space between Houston and Bedford Streets on the west side of the intersection. A new pedestrian island has also been added to divide four lanes of westbound Houston. The changes not only break up Houston Street into shorter, more manageable distances for pedestrians, but also narrow the distance across Sixth Avenue on the south side of the intersection by 25 feet.

The plan, as presented to CB 2 last year, also includes changes to traffic signals, which are in the process of being installed now. When the light turns green for northbound traffic on Sixth Avenue, drivers turning right from Sixth Avenue to eastbound Houston will face not a green light but instead a flashing yellow arrow to indicate that they must yield to pedestrians.

Not everything is fixed at the intersection. Fire Department employees continue to abuse pedestrian space for personal parking. Photo: Stephen Miller
FDNY employees continue to use pedestrian space for parking. Photo: Stephen Miller

Signal changes are also in store for drivers turning right from Houston onto Sixth, which is where Dworkin was killed. There, drivers turning right will be held back with a red arrow while pedestrians crossing Sixth have dedicated crossing time before drivers are allowed to proceed. The plan also stripes a turn lane along the northern curb of Houston. Previously, drivers had used the no-standing zone as an informal turn lane.

So far, it seems DOT’s changes haven’t affected the behavior of firefighters at the station on the intersection’s southwest corner, who use the curb and pedestrian island near the station’s front door for parking.

The plan was developed before DOT committed to studying the potential for a “complete street” treatment on the length of Fifth and Sixth Avenues, possibly including pedestrian islands and a protected bike lane. The request, made by local community boards, is supported by Council Member Corey Johnson, who represents the area.

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