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West Side Story: Highway Will Become Safer, Thanks to Advocates, Hoylman

2:07 PM EDT on August 26, 2019

State DOT contractors placed jersey barriers on the Hudson River Greenway in 2017 to prevent cars from mowing down cyclists — but only now the state is going to improve the unprotected intersections. Photo copyright Shmuli Evers, used with permission.

Drivers will be forced to slow down — and yield more to cyclists and pedestrians — as part of a long-overdue state plan to make the West Side Highway safer, Streetsblog has learned.

The speed limit on the roadway will be reduced from 35 miles per hour to 30, and additional safety features will also be added to the roadway itself — though mostly on the short stretch below Chambers Street, where southbound drivers can turn right off of the highway into Battery Park City, according to people who have been briefed by the state Department of Transportation — which oversees Route 9A, as the West Side Highway is known.

At five intersections — Chambers, Murray, Vesey, Liberty and Albany streets — pedestrians will get longer crossing times, split-phase light timing and curb extensions. Drivers will be reminded to yield with new signage and pavement markings. North of Chambers Street, the pedestrian improvements are far less extensive (see chart below).

This chart shows some changes that are coming to the West Side Highway. Source: NYS DOT
This chart shows some changes that are coming to the West Side Highway. Source: NYS DOT

"More time to cross the highway for pedestrians and split phase signals [will help] insure no conflicts between vehicles and pedestrians/bicyclists on the greenway," said Christine Berthet of CHEKPEDS, the Chelsea and Hells Kitchen street safety group that first revealed the changes. "The speed on the highway will be limited to 30 mph — down from 35 — and traffic lights will be adjusted accordingly. This is progress. Better yet, the implementation starts immediately."

The changes follow a push by activists as well as a push by State Senator Brad Hoylman following several deaths on the roadway in 2016, including a cyclist killed by a cement truck driver. Hoylman was the point person on a letter sent by several elected officials to the state DOT in 2017.

State Senator Brad Hoylman — deserves credit.
State Senator Brad Hoylman — deserves credit.

"The West Side Highway lacks many of the basic and innovative traffic calming devices and programs that are used across the city, such as narrower lanes, bulb-outs, speed cameras, red light cameras, greater use of Leading Pedestrian Intervals, appropriate pedestrian crossings, and Improved Driver Visibility," the pols' letter said.

The changes are vital for a highway whose lower portions are extremely dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists drawn to the popular Hudson River Park. In 2018 on the stretch between W. 23rd Street and Battery Place, 16 cyclists, 26 pedestrians and 92 motorists were injured, and one motorist killed, in 713 crashes — or roughly two crashes per day on just three miles of roadway.

"The speed limit alone is so crucial because the city shouldn't have a highway running through the neighborhood," Berthet said. "Senator Hoylman worked his ass off on this and he deserves a lot of credit."

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