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Traffic Calming Measures Proposed to Improve Safety for Seniors

WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — The city is proposing changes to two major intersections in Washington Heights after finding that they are among the most dangerous in the neighborhood for senior citizens. 

The Safe Streets for Seniors initiative, conducted by the Department of Transportation, identified the intersections — Broadway, Wadsworth Avenue and West 173rd Street and Ft. George Avenue, St. Nicholas Avenue and West 193rd Street — and will make general improvements throughout the area. 

The intersections, located near churches and senior homes, have accounted for 43 accidents over the past four years, officials said.

"They’re actually very unsafe," a DOT official said during a presentation Tuesday to Community Board 12’s Traffic and Transportation committee, which passed a resolution in support of the plan. 

The agency needs to wait for CB12’s OK on the plan before moving forward and the full board will vote on the resolution May 23 during its general meeting

The DOT plans to extend sidewalk extensions, add pedestrian islands, change traffic light timing and improve signage and street markings in order to improve safety at both intersections.

At the Broadway, Wadsworth Avenue and West 173rd Street intersection, the department proposes improving problems that include long crossing distances between sidewalks, unsafe mid-block crossings and islands that provide "little refuge for pedestrians," DOT officials said.

At least 16 motor-vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian accidents were reported between 2006 and 2010, leaving two senior citizens injured, according to the department. In one of the incidents, a senior died attempting to cross Broadway, according to the DOT.

The most radical change at the intersection would ban a right turn onto Wadsworth from the northbound side of Broadway in order to reduce danger on the corner. 

Instead of entering Wadsworth Avenue at West 173rd Street, drivers will now be able to turn onto the street on West 174th and 176th streets.

The department would also create a pedestrian safety island in the north crosswalk to "create more refuge" for those crossing and build a curb extension on the south side for "shorter, safer crossings and to realign" the intersection, according to a DOT presentation.

At the Fort George Avenue, Audubon Avenue and West 193rd Street intersection, 27 motor vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian accidents were reported between 2006 and 2010. 

The DOT analyzed four major problems at the intersection, including "unorganized and unsafe traffic movement," faded markings, long crossing distances and a wide roadway used for U-turns.

In order to increase safety and traffic flow, the department proposes changing traffic light timing, upgrading and creating safer pedestrian islands and banning a tricky U-turn that DOT officials called "dangerous" and "scary."

The department would ban left turns from the southbound lane of St. Nicholas Avenue onto Fort George Avenue, and from Wadsworth Avenue onto St. Nicholas Avenue. 

Changes would also be made to improve signal operation and the department would install dual through-lane designation markings to "organize traffic flow" along the three intersections. 

Additionally, two traffic-calming measures will be made along Fort Washington Avenue, including a wide painted median and the creation of pedestrian spaces along the southern edge of the roadway.

At each corner of the intersection, the DOT also plans to add new pedestrian spaces and safety islands "to create more refuge space and safer crossings" for those walking in the area.