UPPER WEST SIDE — A brand-new crosswalk and several traffic changes were unveiled Tuesday morning at a busy intersection that was the site of two pedestrian deaths this year.
The Department of Transportation's $300,000 renovation to West 96th and Broadway, where tens of thousands of commuters use the subway daily, took about three months to complete, said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg Tuesday morning. The changes focused on making crossing the intersection easier and safer for pedestrians, she said.
Instead of jaywalking, pedestrians are now able to cross West 96th Street via a new crosswalk built between the intersection's two malls, DOT officials explained.
The mall on the north side of the street has been enlarged to create more space for pedestrians to stand while waiting for the light to change, instead of spilling into the street, DOT officials said.
New curb extensions at the intersection's four corners should also make crossing easier as they cut down on the distance pedestrians have to cross, DOT officials said.
Additionally, southbound vehicles on Broadway can no longer turn left onto West 96th Street, making it easier for pedestrians to cross without interference, Trottenberg explained. Similarly, drivers' ability to make a left turn from West 96th Street onto Broadway has been eliminated for westbound cars, according to the DOT.
Eliminating the left turn possibilities means pedestrians have to wait less time for their turn to cross, said DOT Assistant Commissioner Ryan Russo. Cutting down on the frustrating wait time should also reduce dangerous jaywalking, he said.
"The Upper West Side has not seen such fast turnaround as what happened here," said City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal. She and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer explained that part of the reason the DOT moved so quickly was because Community Board 7 laid the groundwork, advocating for change at the intersection for years. Pressure from local residents also helped, Brewer said.
The new crosswalk relieves some of the bottlenecking at the southern mall as people enter and exit the subway station, said Captain Marlon Larin, the commanding officer of the 24th Precinct.
But he's not going to remove the officers currently stationed at the intersection as a result, he noted.
"It's a learning process," he said.
Local resident Megan Shumate, 33, said she liked the changes. "It's harder to jaywalk with this [new crosswalk]," she said.
But the verdict was still out on whether the changes would be effective, Shumate said.
"I hope people obey the rules," she noted. "We'll see how people react to it."
Neighbor Dan Ross, 35, said he could see the intersection from his apartment and noticed constant jaywalking at the corner, which he described as "kind of a mess for years."
"One of the big problems was people would cross in the middle. Instead of fighting that, someone came up with the bright idea of making it official," he said. "We'll see what happens."
The intersection redesign is one of 50 planned by the DOT for 2014. So far, the agency has eight under its belt, Russo said.