UPPER WEST SIDE — The Department of Transportation announced Tuesday it would add two new pedestrian islands to West End Avenue — at West 72nd Street and West 79th Street — as part of a redesign plan it hopes will make the avenue safer.
The DOT's plan includes an island on the western crosswalk at West 72nd Street, which would require the banning of eastbound left turns. The DOT would also put an island in the north crosswalk on West 79th Street, which would require banning southbound left turns at the intersection.
Islands make it harder for vehicles to make turns that cut off pedestrians and easier for pedestrians to walk across the street safely, the DOT has said.
The plans for additional islands come two weeks after the initial public unveiling of the agency's plan to add four pedestrian islands to West End Avenue, two at West 95th and two at West 97th street. It will also reduce the avenue's four lanes of traffic to only three lanes, from West 72nd Street to West 107th Street, with one of the lanes becoming a dedicated turning lane.
The DOT's focus on the northern part of the avenue came in response to two pedestrian deaths at those intersections over the past two months. Over the past two years, 52 pedestrians were hit along West End Avenue, with two of the crashes resulting in deaths.
The entire plan, including the two new islands, received unanimous support from Community Board 7's transportation committee Tuesday night.
If the full board approves the plan at its Sept. 2 meeting, construction could begin next month, said Josh Benson, director of Cycling and Pedestrian Programs for the DOT.
Residents previously criticized the plan for not doing enough, and questioned why the DOT hasn't taken a wider approach that incorporates the entire neighborhood. They also faulted the agency for not studying how the changes would affect current traffic patterns. Their feedback prompted the addition of islands at West 72nd and 79th streets, the DOT said.
Still, critics say more needs to be done.
"It’s like squeezing a tube of toothpaste; [traffic is] going to pop up somewhere else," said resident Sean Donovan.
The advocacy group Neighborhood in the Nineties called for more speed bumps on West End Avenue given the cluster of preschools and schools in West 90s, as well as other changes to curb speeding and illegal truck use on the avenue.
Still, the majority of speakers noted that while the plan wasn't ideal, it was a good start and should be put in place as soon as possible.
"This is not a perfect plan [but] this is a vast improvement on what exists on West End Avenue currently… it will save lives," said resident John Simpson. "The time for action is now."
The DOT promised to come back to the board next April for a review of how the changes are working. Benson said if the plan is approved, he expects work on the lane changes and pedestrian islands to finish by Thanksgiving.