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Residents Praise Delancey Street Safety Plan, But Wish It Could Come Sooner

By Julie Shapiro | February 9, 2012 12:21pm

LOWER EAST SIDE — The city's plan to make Delancey Street safer got mostly positive feedback when it was introduced Wednesday — but the length of time it would take to put in place would put more lives at risk, residents complained.

In the wake of 12-year-old Dashane Santana's death last month, the Department of Transportation plans to widen sidewalks into landscaped plazas and change traffic patterns and signal timing along the most dangerous stretches of Delancey Street, officials told Community Board 3.

The goal is to make Delancey Street feel less like a highway and more like a neighborhood street, said Josh Benson, director of bicycle and pedestrian programs for the DOT.

"This is more than I expected, and I'm pleased about that," David Crane, chairman of CB3's Transportation and Public Safety Committee, said following the meeting. "These are big changes…I'm hopeful it will be a much safer situation."

Pedestrians cross Delancey Street at Clinton Street, a crossing that could soon get nearly 50 feet shorter.
Pedestrians cross Delancey Street at Clinton Street, a crossing that could soon get nearly 50 feet shorter.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

The city plans to narrow Delancey Street's rushing flow of traffic by eliminating unnecessary lanes and parts of the service roads that border the street. This will allow the DOT to bump the sidewalks out into the street, narrowing 14 of the 19 crosswalks between the Bowery and Clinton Street, Benson said.

The biggest impact will be at Clinton Street, where the DOT will cut 49 feet off a crosswalk that is now 165 feet long, including a 30-foot median, Benson said.

"Taking off the 49 feet is amazing," said Linda Jones, a Lower East Side resident and CB3 member who said the DOT's plan would make the intersection safer.

But some residents raised concerns about the fact that the city's changes won't be put into effect until the end of June.

"Maybe somebody else will get killed by June," said Martin Glass, 81, a longtime Lower East Side resident. "That to me is absolutely horrendous."

Nahum Freidowitz, 60, another Lower East Side resident, asked why the city couldn't immediately lengthen pedestrian walk signals along Delancey Street.

"Even if it would create more traffic coming off the [Williamsburg Bridge], it would save lives," Freidowitz said.

Benson replied that changing the signal timing now would create gridlock, which wouldn't just be inconvenient for cars — it would also be dangerous for pedestrians. He said it made more sense to implement the DOT's entire plan as a whole, which will take until the end of June.

Benson also gave residents more detail about the traffic pattern changes the DOT is proposing.

The DOT plans to eliminate three left turns: from eastbound Delancey onto Chrystie Street, from eastbound Delancey onto Allen Street and from southbound Essex Street onto Delancey.

The city also intends to add a new right turn from Clinton Street onto the Williamsburg Bridge, and will force cars on the westbound Delancey Street service road to take a right onto Clinton Street, rather than continuing along Delancey.

Some residents objected to these changes, worried that they could worsen traffic congestion in the neighborhood. Most said they wanted to see how the new traffic patterns worked before they decided.

Local elected officials including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and City Councilwoman Margaret Chin have praised the DOT's plan, as did the Transportation Alternatives advocacy group.

"The improvements, which prioritize neighborhood trips over vehicles traveling through the LES and Chinatown, are the steps that will ensure no other family suffers the loss that Dashane's family has had to endure," a Transportation Alternatives spokeswoman said in a statement Thursday.

Dashane Santana, 12, was struck by a car and killed on Delancey Street Fri., Jan. 13, 2012.
Dashane Santana, 12, was struck by a car and killed on Delancey Street Fri., Jan. 13, 2012.
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Santana, a talented singer and dancer who had applied to The Julliard School, was struck and killed by a minivan as she crossed Delancey Street at Clinton Street Jan. 13.

Nine people, including Santana, have been killed in accidents along Delancey Street since 2006, and more than 600 people were injured there between 2006 and 2010, the DOT said.

The intersections of Delancey Street at Clinton and Essex streets are by far the worst for injuries, with 129 pedestrians, cyclists or motor vehicle occupants injured at each intersection between 2006 and 2010, according to the DOT.

In nearly half of the crashes involving pedestrians, the pedestrian was crossing with the walk signal, showing that the current traffic patterns and signals are not effectively protecting pedestrians from vehicles, Benson said.

Community Board 3's Transportation Committee will continue discussing the DOT's Delancey Street proposal Feb. 15 at 6:30 p.m. at 111 Division St. The committee will vote on whether to support the proposal in March.