UPPER WEST SIDE — The Department of Transportation plans to reduce the four traffic lanes along West End Avenue down to three in order to create a dedicated turning lane, and also add pedestrian islands to reduce unsafe turns by vehicles, it announced Thursday night.
The changes are planned for West 72nd Street to West 107th Street, and if approved, work could begin this fall, said Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione.
"[Currently,] vehicles have to change lanes to get around double-parked vehicles and vehicles waiting to turn left. There’s a lot of lane changing that creates a feeling of chaos," explained Josh Benson, director of Cycling and Pedestrian Programs for the DOT.
The new lane orientation would cut down on weaving, but it would also slow traffic, Benson said.
"By creating one lane, the speedsters don’t have a place to pass," he said. "You can’t go faster than the person in front of you."
Drivers waiting to turn wouldn't feel pressured to make unsafe turns that cut off crossing pedestrians because they would have their own turning lane, Benson added.
The timing of the plans, which were revealed in a packed elementary school auditorium, is in part a reaction to two recent pedestrian deaths along the avenue, the DOT acknowledged.
At West 95th Street and West 97th Street and West End Avenue, where two pedestrians were killed this year when drivers failed to yield to them in the crosswalk, the DOT proposed adding pedestrian islands on the north and south sides of both intersections.
"Once we install the pedestrian islands, the path of the vehicles becomes much more of a right angle. They can’t do these sweeping turns, they can’t cut in tight… they’ve got to go out and around," said Benson.
Without the islands though, drivers veer into the other lane when turning, creating a dangerous situation for pedestrians, he said.
The islands create a "refuge" for pedestrians and can house planters if they're maintained by local community organizations, he said.
In order to create the islands, the DOT will ban the southbound lefthand turn at West 95th Street and the northbound left hand turn at West 97th Street, both of which are low volume turns, according to the plan.
For the most part residents thanked the DOT for taking action, but asked that it consider congestion as an unintended consequence of the lane reduction plan. They also pleaded with the department to think bigger and not present fixes on a piecemeal basis in reaction to tragedies.
"We need to wake up from the nightmare, not just make a change here and a change there," said Mary Beth Kelly, a resident and founder of the advocacy group Families for Safe Streets. "I applaud these changes, but we need a big vision."
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg accompanied the DOT team, which many residents praised as an acknowledgment by the department of the importance of their safety concerns.
Residents also took her presence as an opportunity to sound off on the presence of trucks along the car-only West End Avenue, speeding in front of P.S. 75, and traffic pileups leading to the Henry Hudson Parkway.
But Benson reminded them: "It's a big city out there. We do a lot on the Upper West Side, but we have to focus elsewhere."
Community Board 7 will hear more feedback and review the plans at its Transportation Committee meeting Aug. 12 and vote on them on Sept. 2.