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Crashes Down at Deadly UWS Intersections After Redesign, Data Show

By Emily Frost | July 20, 2015 11:10am
 Jean Chambers' daughter, Maria, holds a picture of her mother at the intersection where she was fatally struck on July 10, 2014.
Jean Chambers' daughter, Maria, holds a picture of her mother at the intersection where she was fatally struck on July 10, 2014.
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DNAinfo/Emily Frost

UPPER WEST SIDE — Crashes have declined significantly at two deadly intersections on West End Avenue following a redesign by the city and an increase in police presence along the busy stretch, according to NYPD collision data. 

Vehicle crashes have decreased since the addition of pedestrian islands at West 95th and 97th streets and West End Avenue. The two intersections each saw pedestrian fatalities last year that led to emergency action by the Department of Transportation. 

A little more than a year ago, on July 10, longtime local resident Jean Chambers, 61, was killed when the driver of an SUV struck her while turning onto the avenue as she crossed, authorities said.

The tragedy came exactly six months after Cooper Stock, 9, was killed two blocks north while crossing the avenue, sparking outrage and leading to legislation creating harsher penalties for negligent taxi drivers. 

Both Chambers and Stock were crossing with a walk signal when they were hit by drivers making left turns onto the avenue.

Following emergency meetings with the city, the DOT installed islands at both intersections, among other changes, completed in mid-November of last year. In the nearly eight months since, there have only been six total collisions counted at the two sites, compared to 17 over the nearly 11 months prior to that, NYPD data shows.

The mid-avenue islands are considered places of "refuge" for pedestrians and limit a car's turning radius, explained DOT's Josh Benson.

With the islands, "cars can’t do these sweeping turns, they can’t cut in tight… they’ve got to go out and around," he told residents last summer.

Additionally, the agency narrowed the avenue from four lanes to two at the intersections and banned early-morning left turns there.

While the DOT said it won't officially study the effects of the redesign until a full year after its implementation, John Chambers, Jean's husband, believes they've made that portion of the avenue safer.

"If [the islands] had been there before, I don’t think Jean would have been killed," because a sharp left turn wouldn't have been possible, he told DNAinfo.

They've slowed down traffic as well, he believes.

"You simply can’t be going that fast to get around the island...it’s just physically impossible," he said.

Chambers, an illustrator, mother and wife, was also an ardent dog-lover who frequented Riverside Park. 

After more than 30 years of living here, the neighborhood was really more "like a small town," her husband recalled. She knew fellow dog owners, neighbors, merchants, her local church congregation and her daughter's school community, he said. 

Data from the NYPD shows that crashes are not happening with the same frequency at either intersection as compared to the months before the redesign. 

There were 12 total collisions from January of last year until the redesign of 95th Street and West End Avenue in mid-November. Since then, only four crashes have occurred. 

At West 97th Street, there were five crashes between January and mid-November 2014, compared to just two in the time since. 

The redesign has been bolstered by efforts from the 24th Precinct, which has focused on the avenue as part of its traffic strategy under the city's Vision Zero plan to reduce traffic fatalities.

"My summons enforcement officers have increased their enforcement on areas along West End Avenue," Sgt. Carmine Semioli told DNAinfo, adding that the ban on left turns at West 95th Street and West End Avenue between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. has also helped.

Additionally, the precint brought in a new school crossing guard at West 95th Street and West End Avenue "to help facilitate the safe passage of children to and from school," Semioli added.

Community Board 7 distributed a survey on the redesign, with 90 percent of the 680 respondents claiming to live on or near West End Avenue.

About 50 percent of respondents said they felt safer walking across the street after the changes were made, and more than 37 percent said drivers were making safer turns.

Still, more than half of respondents said they were either moderately or extremely concerned with traffic congestion on the avenue. About 39 percent said their concern had actually increased as a result of the redesign.

"In some ways it's worse because people are more angry and impatient and reckless," said local resident Jane Burbank, a close friend of Chambers', referring to the reduction of the avenue to two lanes. 

The presence of the Henry Hudson Parkway, with its West 95th and 96th Street entrances and exits, is an ongoing issue, casting a pall over any improvements, she said. 

"The congestion is impossible already,"  Burbank said, "and there will never be enough enforcement."