Sunset Park Residents Want Improvements to Third Avenue Crosswalks

By Alan Neuhauser on August 23, 2012 7:50am 

SUNSET PARK — Local residents and hospital staff and patients fed up with dodging cars on Third Avenue are calling for changes to one of Sunset Park's deadliest and most highly-trafficked thoroughfares.

Pedestrians crossing the eight-lane road near Lutheran Medical Center have said crosswalk countdown clocks installed there last month don't offer nearly enough time to cross safely. The lanes are particularly dangerous for the hundreds of elderly, pregnant and wheelchair-bound patients who walk to and from the medical center, its satellite facilities and a nearby senior center every day.

"They have to change the count before someone gets hit," said Sunset Park resident Nelson Then, 37, after he crossed Third Avenue Monday afternoon with his wife, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis, and the couple's 9-year-old daughter. "It should be at least 30 seconds longer. People go through here with strollers, with babies, with walkers."

Many pedestrians crossing Third Avenue earlier this week became marooned on one of the road's medians, stuck amid the garbage, construction equipment and exhaust fumes that have collected beneath the Gowanus Expressway for years.

"You got to cross real fast," said Lisette Lara, 36, a mother and education major at Borough of Manhattan Community College who has lived near the intersection of Third Avenue and 55th Street for 15 years. "You have to either run, or just cross and wait until no cars are coming, then run again.

"We always try to stand behind one of the columns," she added, referring to the metal supports that elevate the highway.

From 2000 to 2009, 67 pedestrians were struck and injured by cars on Third Avenue between 50th and 62nd streets, three of them fatally, making those 10 blocks among the deadliest in Sunset Park, according to data compiled by Transportation Alternatives.

"It's very scary," said Maria Mercado, a home health aide at Lutheran Medical Center. "It's very dangerous when you cross the street, because you are afraid because the light changes so quick."

Dulce Pena, 81, and her son, Jose Delgado, 57, walk across Third Avenue.
Dulce Pena, 81, and her son, Jose Delgado, 57, walk across Third Avenue. "They need the light to be longer to let old people across," Delgado said. His mother added, "I was nervous" while walking across the intersection.
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DNAinfo/Alan Neuhauser

Pedestrians have 35 to 40 seconds to make it across the road, depending on the intersection — the same amount of time allowed on Fourth Avenue, which has two fewer lanes.

Third Avenue does match Federal Highway Administration guidelines, which state pedestrians should be allowed 3.5 seconds for a foot. The road measures about 150 feet from sidewalk to sidewalk, maps show.

Still, the city's Department of Transportation, following an inquiry from DNAinfo.com New York, asserted it is "currently evaluating signal timings along the Third Avenue corridor and looking into allocating additional pedestrian crossing time," a spokesman said in an email.

"Currently, given the width of this roadway as determined by the Gowanus Expressway overhead, the signal timings are calibrated to provide sufficient safe crossing time between either curb and the median area, as with wide roadways around the city," the spokesman said.

Community Board 7 had also previously asked the DOT to examine the 60th Street intersection, which is located near P.S. 503 and an Islamic private school, District Manager Jeremy Laufer said. He noted that crosswalks times were not changed with the new countdown signals.

"Third Avenue is a challenge because it's under the Gowanus. It's a unique situation," said Community Board 7 member Ryan Lynch, who also serves as associate director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

"There's things like pedestrian islands, pedestrian plazas, that help. But I think that, clearly, there's pedestrian safety issues, a need for making that street a more pedestrian-friendly street," Lynch added. "Maybe it's time for the city and community to try to come together to take a hard look at the issue."

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