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UWS Leaders Demand Immediate Traffic Changes After Pedestrian Deaths

By Emily Frost | January 15, 2014 3:06pm
 The Community Board is asking the DOT to make a series of adjustments immediately to improve pedestrian safety after two recent traffic fatalities. 
UWS Leaders Call Safety Improvements
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UPPER WEST SIDE — Two pedestrian deaths within an hour of each other at nearby Upper West Side intersections last week sparked a tense and emotional meeting Tuesday that led local leaders to demand immediate traffic changes. 

On Friday evening, Cooper Stock, 9, was killed on West End Avenue by a taxi driver who failed to yield while turning left off of West 97th Street, authorities said. Less than an hour earlier, Alex Shear, 73, was killed by a tour bus while he was crossing Broadway at West 96th Street, authorities said.

During a discussion of traffic safety by Community Board 7's Transportation Committee Tuesday night, residents and board members struck a grim note while discussing the traffic situation before agreeing to ask for immediate action like traffic light changes.

"I wake up every single day worrying that my kid is going to end up like Cooper. Our streets are not safe," said local resident Mark Gorton, who jumped out of his chair and started accusing the committee for not doing enough. "We have tried to work with this committee... When people come with safety issues, these things die a quiet death." 

He added that past recommendations for safety improvements "were killed the way the Senate killed Civil Rights with quiet maneuvers."

It then took the intervention of board chairwoman Elizabeth Caputo to quiet the shouting match that involved Gorton, board member Ping Kwan and other members who urged Gorton to settle down. 

"We do work hard, but we could always work harder," Kwan acknowledged. "We could always do more."

For many residents, the meeting was a chance to publicly express concerns they've had in the wake of the accidents. 

"I live within feet of where the young boy was killed," one resident said. "It’s a street where I hold my breath and think this could be my last day."

Newly elected City Councilmembers Mark Levine and Helen Rosenthal attended the meeting to offer their support and listen to solutions.

"We’ve got the ear of the mayor on this," Rosenthal said.

Drawing on the traffic study CB7 commissioned from consultants Nelson Nygaard, as well as residents' experiences at the intersections of West 97th Street and West End Avenue, and West 96th Street and Broadway, the committee settled on several traffic changes they thought could be made immediately. 

The board said the timing of the lights should be changed at West 96th Street and Broadway to prevent cars from racing through the intersection. Specifically, they asked that when an east- or westbound car reaches Broadway and has a yellow light, the light at the far side of the intersection should already be red so that cars are not tempted to race through the lights. 

Similarly, the board asked the Department of Transportation to change the timing of the lights on West 97th Street so that cars traveling downhill from points east would have to come to a full stop at some point before reaching West End Avenue or attempting a turn onto the avenue. 

Rosenthal suggested that pedestrians have longer to cross the street before any cars are given the right to turn at the intersection — a traffic measure known as a leading pedestrian interval.

The board also asked, at the recommendation the NYPD, for the addition of a sign stating that cars "must yield to pedestrians."

DOT representative Josh Orzeck confirmed that changes are a priority for the department.

"We want to come to you with options by the next meeting," he said. "Here’s what we think and what we think is feasible and we want community input."

Members also asked in their resolution, which passed unanimously, for the 20th and 24th Precincts to do "greater enforcement of failure to yield, running red lights and speeding."

A vigil, open to the community, will be held for Stock and Shear Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. at the southwest corner of West 97th Street and West End Avenue.