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Residents Demand Changes to 'Dangerous' UWS Intersection

By Emily Frost | June 13, 2013 8:02am
 Residents are demanding a red turning signal and a longer lead time to cross the street. 
Residents Want Traffic Lights Changed at West 79th and Amsterdam
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Residents are calling on the Department of Transportation to make "life-saving" changes to the intersection of West 79th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, which they say is frequently the site of close calls between pedestrians and cars.

Turning, speeding drivers make it dangerous to cross the intersection, residents said, especially because cars on West 79th Street have a green left-turn arrow onto Amsterdam that conflicts with crossing pedestrians.

Dozens of locals regularly reach out to Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal's office with concerns about the intersection, said Paul Sawyer, a staff member at the office.

"[Pedestrians] were either unable to cross 79th Street or simply had a number of close calls with turning traffic," Sawyer explained.

Rosenthal recently requested a red arrow on the traffic light, to create a window in which drivers on 79th Street are not allowed to turn onto Amsterdam Avenue. The lack of a red arrow currently allows vehicles "to continue to turn even after the green turning signal shuts off," Rosenthal said in a letter to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Pedestrians would also benefit from a head start in the crosswalk, Rosenthal wrote, suggesting that the walk signal begin before cars are allowed to turn.

"It’s not working how it is — it’s very dangerous. It has to be addressed," said Andrew Albert, co-chairman of Community Board 7's transportation committee, at a meeting Tuesday to talk about the issue. 

The Department of Transportation agreed to study the intersection after 70 residents brought a petition to Rosenthal's office asking for changes last year that she passed on to the DOT. But a year later, the assemblywoman's office is still waiting for action.

"The agency expects to complete this study and provide findings to the community in the coming weeks," said a spokesman for the DOT. 

There were 35 pedestrian injuries at the intersection between 1995 and 2009, according to Transportation Alternatives' CrashStat.org, funded by grant from the New York State Governor's Traffic Safety Committee.

However, 20th Precinct Council President Ian Alterman said that he recently reviewed statistics on accidents at the intersection with the NYPD and found it was not very dangerous.

"Amsterdam and 79th was taken off the 'Accident Prone Location' list because it actually is not an accident-prone location any more," Alterman said.

There were two accidents and no injuries at the intersection in the 28-day period ending June 9, Alterman said.

"This [statistic] is exactly the same as during the same period last year," he said, adding that he nonetheless supported making the intersection safer.

CB7's transportation committee agreed Tuesday to send a letter to the DOT in support of changes to the intersection.

"I think red turning signals will save lives," Albert said. "It may add three or four seconds to the picture. At high pedestrian locations you’re going to save lives."

A representative from the DOT, Josh Orzeck, who mainly listened and took notes, said the DOT is open to making changes to the intersection.

He also announced that the department has added two speed bumps to West 78th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues, in front of P.S. 87.