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

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.
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.”

  • JL

    All good stuff for positive change in the right direction. Thank you. I’m surprised eastbound off Hudson greenway on Warren towards BB is not getting any treatment. If I remember correctly – It’s a little weird if you go from the NW corner on the pedestrian walk light, the markings are not very clear to the bike lane on the northside (left) of Warren street. There is a possible conflict (timing overlap) from the left turning (westbound) vehicles from the northbound side of West Street.

    The westbound exit from Houston to Greenway is worse now with the tunnel (roof) gone. It seems like the “daylight” creates a free-for-all with more vehicular jockeying around the tiny bike lane.

  • AMH

    Curious to see how this will be implemented. The light cycles are already very long because it takes so much time to cross such a massive highway on foot. A solution to allow cyclists to proceed when there is no cross traffic would help. Narrowing the highway (and widening the greenway) would be even better.

  • Joe R.

    The greenway gets a red light when the West Side Highway does? That makes no sense at all if there’s no cross motor traffic on the greenway. In fact, there shouldn’t be traffic lights on the greenway at all, even where vehicles turn across it. The rule should be turning vehicles must yield to cyclists at all times.

  • AMH

    There is motor cross traffic at every intersection in Battery Park City! It takes awhile for pedestrians to cross ELEVEN highway-width lanes, and there’s always a huge crowd because they’ve had to wait so long to cross. The parade of SUVs coming out of the WFC has to wait for the pedestrians, so they plug everything up. Then when the bike signal finally turns green, cyclists still can’t go because the path is full of the pedestrians who just crossed! It’s a mess.

    [googlemaps https://www.google.com/maps/embed?pb=!4v1566850573057!6m8!1m7!1sItAfeuWmRS918-fp-TOWyA!2m2!1d40.71109156525561!2d-74.01477392755167!3f342.632868832844!4f-3.1437757950509564!5f0.7820865974627469&w=600&h=450%5D

  • Joe R.

    OK, I just looked at a map. I didn’t realize the greenway isn’t near the shoreline when it passes through Battery Park City. Still, a better long term answer might be just to close off the street grid in Battery Park City to non-essential vehicles.

  • AMH

    Absolutely, have the SUVs drop their precious cargo along the highway where they can walk a few steps to their building.

  • AMH

    The connection to/from the Brooklyn Bridge is nearly as bad as the bridge promenade. Trying to access the Manhattan Bridge is even worse. Williamsburgh Bridge access has improved greatly with the Delancey St bikeway.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    What are these “curb extension pavement markings” going to look like? The intersections in BPC are a disaster at present for walking and cycling and put these modes into conflict with each other. The crosswalks aren’t even marked properly so people on foot tend to cross on the bike path.

  • Not Another Joe

    The asphalt patches where contractors installed bollards are already sinking into the ground along the edges. Creating bumps large enough to catch skateboard/scooter wheels, and be really unpleasant for anyone on smaller wheeled bikes. Mixed with the narrow bollard placement, it seems like the city and parks have been doing everything they can to make riding the greenway as dangerous and unpleasant as possible, while doing next to nothing to prevent conflicts between drivers and all other greenway users.

    I hope these changes help and pave the way for more serious improvements.

  • gmoney

    Cars routinely fly down the West Side Hwy at 40-60 mph. It is never enforced and reducing the speed from 35 to 30 mph won’t do anything if NYPD enforcement is non-existent. Once again, asking the NYPD to enforce the traffic laws isn’t going to come easy.

  • vnm

    “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,

    Actually the word we’re looking for here is ensure, with an e. “Insure” is for insurance, the financial instrument. (Sorry, had to. This one is my pet peeve.)

  • GuestBx

    Agreed about the speed but cameras should enforce the speed limit. NYC is getting a lot more mobile cameras so we will see. Fixed cameras at key locations is necessary though, like at the end of the limited access section near W 57th St.

  • jzisfein

    Let’s start calling it West Street, not West Side Highway. It’s a city street in Lower Manhattan and motorists should drive accordingly.

  • BronxEE2000

    Yet another change that isn’t needed.

  • AMH

    That is the correct name, so let’s design it like a street instead of like a highway!

  • AMH

    I’m still wishing for properly designed ramps or raised crossings. ADA ramps do not belong on a bike path.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    It’s true: the state can keep this road dangerous. It’s not “necessary” to make anything better.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    I often say “Route 9A” as a descriptor for the entire length because it has multiple names along the way (West St, 11th Ave, 12th Ave, and the Henry Hudson Parkway north of W 57th St).

  • Wilfried84

    They can’t walk half a block on 14th St. What makes you think they’ll walk here?

  • JarekFA

    I take the greenway daily for my commute, between Chambers and 34th street. I’ll take Chambers all the way to West St in the AM but in the PM, I do not take Chambers east because (i) the intersection is a clusterfuck, (ii) it’s a super long wait, (iii) I don’t feel safe with the no-right turn light at Chambers (which some cars blow through) and (iv) All sorts of turning (and jaywalking) that isn’t intuiative.

    So in the PM, I turn a few blocks north at Harrison St, where I ride the one block to Greenwich St on the sidewalk very slowly because of the cobblestones.

    The crossing at 34th street (especially east) is a huge clusterfuck. You’re not lined up with 34th street proper but rather the sidewalk and you’ll have many trucks and busses turning left at speed into your RoW which is particularly distressing.

    In the PM, to access the Greenway heading south, I’ll take 11th ave south until it hits the Westside Highway and since you always hit the red there, I wait until it turns green and ride on the Highway until I hit the red at 20th st and then I just enter the greenway there. I’ve never had issues riding on the highway for these short two blocks in part because the lights work in your favor. Now riding south on 11th ave I’ve had a few uncomfortable close passes.

  • JarekFA

    I turn left for the bridge at Harrison St in the PM instead of dealing with Chambers. It’s such a long light at Chambers and then you have the issue of, if you hit the red light (for the green light for right turning cars), it means you are also missing your light cycle to cross West St. And people also try to cross West on the North side of chambers too.

    And I’ve also seen many cars just blow through that no right turn red light. I’d rather just avoid these conflicts at Harrison St then just “trust” that the cars won’t blow the red.

  • Crooked Hillary

    I won’t follow the speed limit. And with apps like WAZE that show where red light cameras and speed traps are, and that let users input the locations of the police, I feel perfectly fine doing so. Cars driving 35 MPH are NOT the problem. This is doing nothing more than hampering otherwise safe drivers.

  • Crooked Hillary

    Unless there are cameras on every block (which there won’t be), apps like WAZE that pinpoint the location of the speed cameras will ensure that only on those specific blocks with the cameras will drivers follow the speed limit.

  • gmoney

    How about drivers not being assholes and start caring about other human’s lives by obeying the laws? Slow down, speed kills.

  • ZeroVisionPhila

    But video doesn’t LIE sadly she I watch her come off the sidewalk though the REDLIGHT and get her career ended by the cement truck! It’s wasn’t the drivers fault! It’s was lack of responsibility!

  • Crooked Hillary

    Oh, I won’t disagree with you. But don’t act like bicyclists are innocent here. The rules of the road apply to them, too, but I see far too many bicyclists blatantly violating the law. Or being assholes and not caring about other humans’ lives or their own.

  • Crooked Hillary

    Officially, its also called the Joe DiMaggio Highway. We can treat it like a highway and just keep bicyclists off of it; they can take the next parallel avenue.

  • Jacob

    A big part of the problem is incredibly long signal cycles. Even with more time devoted to peds crossing the street, the wait time will still be excessive, leading to many people making risky decisions. Also, too many lanes in the off-peak, makes it still prone to speeding. Positive steps, but a LONG way from being anything close to a safe urban street.

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  • Daphna

    Above 59th Street the speed limit on the West Side Highway is 55mph but drivers drive faster than that with impunity. Below 59th Street, the speed limit is 35mph but that speed limit is disregarded by drivers. I am glad to hear of the reduced speed for the short section of the West Side Highway below Chambers Street, but speed limits are only effective if there is enforcement that generates compliance. Otherwise a speed limit is just meaningless numbers on a sign.

    The most valuable improvements among this plan are the painted curb extensions, but those will only be at five intersections in lower Manhattan.

  • MatthewEH

    I saw an unfortunate woman on a Citi bike misread the 34th Street intersection pretty badly on Sunday. My wife and I were set up in the a centerish lane (the rightmost of the left-turn-only lanes) to wait for the light; once it changed our plan was to take a path much like a left-turning car would take, and then tail rightward into the south-side crosswalk once we were aligned with it. Citi bike woman was over in the rightmost lane and, after waiting there a moment, got razzed by motorists wanting to make their green-right-arrow turn in that phase of the light. She cleared off over to the sidewalk, which of course left her stuck there for another *full* round of the light. I commiserated with her verbally until such time as we got our green.

  • Paul52

    Put your peeve to rest:
    Learn to pronounce

    secure or protect someone against (a possible contingency).
    “by appeasing Celia they might insure themselves against further misfortune”

    Its use here was perfectly appropriate.

    An attorney who wrote insurance clauses into many a contract and bid specification.

  • gmoney

    Crooked Hillary, can’t tell if you’re a troll or trying to be constructive. Just kidding, you’re a troll, so I’ll feed you a little. Bikes are not on the West Side Hwy (they are on a parallel bike way) and don’t want to be. It’s the crossing points for bikes and pedestrians that are the issues. When cars are going 55, they don’t quite react as well to lights and crosswalks.

  • gmoney

    I’m not talking about cyclists. I’m talking about cars. Stop trying to pivot. Admit it, you don’t have a good argument on why cars should be allowed to speed (because there never is one). You just said that you WON’T obey the law because you have WAZE and you know where speed cameras are, and now you are arguing about cyclists violating the law. Hypocrite! You lose.


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