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Upper West Side Sees Largest Jump in Pedestrian Deaths Despite Vision Zero

By Emily Frost | February 18, 2015 7:48am
 Crashes that injure pedestrians are still happening at a steady clip on the Upper West Side. 
Crash Rates Steady on UWS After Vision Zero
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UPPER WEST SIDE — The Upper West Side saw the largest increase in pedestrian and cyclist deaths in New York City last year despite the rollout of the mayor's Vision Zero plan, which marked its one-year anniversary Wednesday.

In 2014, the neighborhood's 10025 zip code saw six fatalities involving pedestrians compared to just one the previous year — representing the biggest increase anywhere in the city.

The area was also among four with the highest number of traffic-related pedestrian deaths in the city last year, according to NYPD data.

"I am more cynical and disappointed than I ever have been," said Jane Burbank, 64, a 32-year neighborhood resident.

Changes to local streets have not made the neighborhood feel safer and in fact have caused dangerous traffic backups, she said. 

And with major construction projects like the new Jewish Home Lifecare nursing home planned, Burbank worried the congestion will only increase and make things worse for pedestrians.

"We'll look like a battlefield. It will be very, very dangerous," added Janet Wasserman, 80, who has lived in the neighborhood for the past 36 years.

A year ago, at local school P.S. 75, Mayor Bill de Blasio officially introduced Vision Zero — a mix of infrastructure, policing, education and legislative initiatives aimed at bringing traffic-related deaths in the city down to zero.

The choice of location for his announcement was not accidental. By last February, there were already three crashes involving local residents killed by cars while crossing the street, all occurring within a two-block radius of the elementary school. The deaths included a 9-year-old boy, a famed collector and a young doctor.

By the end of the year, four more people would die within 10 blocks of P.S. 75: a 13-year-old cyclist who was hit by a car, a 73-year-old woman struck while crossing the street at dusk, a 61-year-old mother hit in a crosswalk and a 44-year-old photographer struck en route to a New Year's Eve concert at St. John the Divine.

The 10025 zip code — which spans from West 91st Street up to West 116th Street, between Central Park and The Hudson River — had the biggest increase in traffic-related deaths across the entire city, with six deaths in 2014 compared to just one in 2013.

In addition, Cydney Arther, the 73-year-old victim, was killed on West 90th Street and West End Avenue, which sits just a block outside the 10025 zip code. 

Of the 117 city zip codes where crashes occured in the city, 10025 tied with four others for having at least six pedestrian and cyclist deaths last year.

The 11105 zip code, covering the Ditmars neighborhood of Queens, and the 11206 zip code, covering the border of East Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy, also each had six traffic deaths.

The 11234 zip code, which includes Brooklyn's Mill Basin, Flatlands and Marine Park neighborhoods, had the most traffic deaths in the city with seven last year. 

The Community Reacts to the First Tragedies of 2014

In the weeks after the early January 2014 tragedies, before the mayor announced the Vision Zero initiative, community members, police officers and elected officials offered different reasons for why the crashes had occurred on the Upper West Side and how to prevent them.

Officers in the 20th Precinct said pedestrians had to pay better attention when crossing the street, citing four non-fatal crashes in late January that involved people jaywalking. The precinct put up signs at busy corners around the neighborhood cautioning residents to stay alert and wait for the walk signal. 

In the 24th Precinct, officers went on a short-lived ticketing spree targeting jaywalkers that ended in an altercation with a man who was arrested for resisting arrest after getting a ticket at West 96th Street and Broadway.

But community members said both the 20th and the 24th precincts had to do more. Police officers writing more summonses for vehicles failing to yield, running red lights and speeding would make a difference in calming traffic, residents argued. 

Politicians called for the speed limit to be lowered to 20 mph in the neighborhood and across the city, arguing that speed is what kills people when they're hit. 

And residents who regularly cross at the intersections where the three locals were killed — West 97th Street and West End Avenue, and West 96th Street and Broadway — described faulty street infrastructure that allowed vehicles to make dangerous maneuvers. 

Street Changes 

By the end of January 2014, the Department of Transportation announced plans to restructure the crosswalks, traffic lights and left turns at Broadway and West 96th Street. It also committed to giving pedestrians more time to cross at West 97th Street and West End Avenue and making traffic signal changes to the street so cars couldn't fly through a series of green lights. 

The changes were completed in May and in April, respectively. 

But many residents were angry that it took pedestrian deaths, including that of a child, for the city to make changes to areas they'd been complaining about for years. 

While the street-safety advocacy group Transportation Alternatives would rather see proactive changes, deputy director Caroline Samponaro said at least the tragedies sparked action. 

"I think responding to tragedy is an important measure," she said. "We shouldn’t discount this."

In addition to committing to changes at two deadly intersections, the DOT also rolled out plans for making Riverside Drive at West 72nd and 79th streets safer by adding new crosswalks and better traffic signal timing. 

Tragedy Strikes Again

On July 10, 2014, exactly six months after 9-year-old Cooper Stock's death, Jean Chambers, 61, was killed while crossing the street at West End Avenue and West 95th Street. 

Residents pivoted their attention to West End Avenue, arguing traffic changes were needed there to make it safer. 

DNAinfo found that between July 1, 2012, and July 15, 2014, there were 50 crashes in which a pedestrian was injured on West End Avenue and two crashes in which a pedestrian died, according to NYPD data.

Among the major changes the DOT proposed for the avenue were four pedestrian islands and narrowing the four lanes down to three. 

But residents have said while the pedestrian islands help, narrowing the street would create a big backup of traffic and cars would end up blocking intersections. 

Crashes Remain Static  

While no pedestrians or cyclists have been killed in the neighborhood so far in 2015, the rate of crashes involving pedestrians in January 2015 has stayed the same as last year, according to NYPD data.

Last month, there were eight crashes in which a pedestrian was injured in the 20th Precinct, which spans from West 59th Street to West 86th Street. In January 2014, five people were hit by cars and injured in the precinct.

Last month in the 24th Precinct, which spans from West 86th Street to West 110th Street, there were 10 crashes in which a pedestrian was injuredaccording to NYPD data. In January 2014, the precinct saw 10 pedestrians either injured or killed by vehicles. 

Looking Forward

Over the past month, the DOT introduced a series of changes to the Lincoln Square area known as the "bow tie." Bike advocates cheered the extension of the Columbus Avenue bike lane and residents were happy to hear that more crosswalks would be added and more sidewalk space created. 

The city now has a 25 mph speed limit under Vision Zero, but residents said they still see plenty of speeding cars. 

Street safety advocates are still looking for the DOT to add a northbound bike lane that would be protected from traffic along Amsterdam Avenue. More than a year ago, Councilwoman Rosenthal said it was a safety feature she would push to have in the neighborhood. The DOT agreed to study the avenue to see whether a bike lane was feasible in December 2013. 

While Rosenthal said "great strides" had been made during her first year in office, she expects even more this year.

"I am very interested in seeing DOT's proposal for converting Amsterdam Avenue to a livable street," she said in an email. "There's so much going on there, including use by trucks."

A DOT spokeswoman said in the coming year it will work on safety enhancements to the Lincoln Square bow tie area and to Riverside Drive. She said it was too early to evaluate the safety enhancements completed mid-way through last year.