By Suzanne Ma
CHINATOWN — A tree-lined median built along the Bowery from Division to Canal Street is the city's solution to make traffic flow more safely in accident-prone Chinatown.
The median is also meant to protect pedestrians at the Bowery and Canal, an intersection where four people died and more than 50 people were injured in the last 15 years.
The "green streetscape" would "create a refuge for vulnerable, slow-crossing pedestrians," said Department of Transportation representative Kelsey Walko at a Community Board 3 meeting Wednesday night.
But Morris Faitelewicz, member of the board's transportation committee was skeptical.
"This is not improving pedestrian safety unless you block the people from [arbitrarily] walking across the street," he said, referring to the tendency for Chinatown pedestrians to jaywalk. "The only way to truly save pedestrians is if they are forced to go in the right direction."
Faitelewicz suggested lining the median with fencing so pedestrians would be forced to cross at designated cross walks.
Committee chair David Crane disagreed, and he was backed by member John Leo.
"I think [the city's plan] is better than nothing at all," said Leo. "At least there's an island where people can find some refuge in the middle."
Wednesday night's proposal came after a seniors pedestrian safety study, separate from the seven-year-old study set to wrap up later this year that is supposed to include recommendations that specifically address the intersection of Bowery and Canal, dubbed a "death trap" by local residents.
There have been 11 accidents in just the past two years at that crossing, according to the Department of Transportation.
Chinatown locals have long pleaded with the city figure out a way to slow traffic at the base of the Manhattan Bridge where they say too many speeding motorists have a hard time negotiating the narrow, pedestrian-heavy streets.
In the most recent incident, in November 2009, eight people were injured when a cement truck driver lost control and plowed into six cars before rolling onto the sidewalk.
Walko, the DOT representative, said the agency had already installed signage to slow traffic down on the off ramps leading into Chinatown.
Community Board 3 passed a motion Wednesday night supporting the DOT's plans. Work will begin on the Bowery median in April and is expected to take up to a year to complete.