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'New York Instinct' Puts Pedestrians at Risk Crossing UES Corner: Residents

By Shaye Weaver | January 10, 2016 5:45pm
 Upper East Side Residents say the traffic pattern at York Avenue and East 79th Street is confusing and dangerous.
Residents Are Asking For Clearer Traffic Lights at York Avenue and East 79th Street
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YORKVILLE — A confusing network of traffic signals at East 79th Street and York Avenue is putting pedestrians who aren't familiar with the pattern at peril, residents say.

Upper East Side resident Marco Antonio Tamayo watched a woman nearly get struck by a car as she crossed York Avenue in December.

While the don't walk signal was on, the traffic light for cars heading south on York Avenue was red and the woman used her "New York instinct" to assume she was safe to go, Tamayo said.

She quickly realized that cars heading north on the street had a green light.

"I was petrified, I didn't know what to do or what to say, but thank God people were aware of this," he said.

"They started to scream to stop this confused pedestrian and before the person reached the path of the car, she stopped.

"This is totally unacceptable and must be stopped, because above anything, life is paramount."

Residents of the area are concerned that the intersection is a tragedy waiting to happen and are calling on the city's Department of Transportation to change the traffic lights at 79th Street so that both south- and north-bound cars are given a red light at the same time.

In addition, the intersection could be made safer for pedestrians by removing the left turn light, which allows cars going north to turn left while traffic going south has a red light, according to members of Community Board 8.

"I have literally had to pull people back, people with baby carriages, young people and a lot of children, in that neighborhood," said resident and personal injury attorney Alan Friedman.

"As bad as us adults are, it's even more dangerous for children that don’t have the experience that adults do. There is going to be a death there one day."

The city changed the timing of the signals without notification to the community board about six years ago, according to Scott Falk, the co-chairman of CB8's transportation committee.

Since 2009, there have been 17 pedestrian injuries and one death at the intersection, according to the city's Vision Zero view map.

The East 79th Street Neighborhood Association recently voted during a meeting to ask the DOT to make fixes to the intersection because of the impending danger, according to Betty Cooper Wallerstein, who leads the group.

"We have thousands of kids crossing the street," she said. "We need to get the lights to be normal and not crazy and confusing."

Some residents suggested the DOT use a Barnes Dance at the intersection — where traffic in all directions is stopped to let pedestrians cross. But the majority agreed that eliminating the left turn signal would take care of the problem.

CB8 passed a resolution on Wednesday night calling on the DOT to change the traffic light pattern and eliminate the left turn signal.

DOT's Manhattan Borough Deputy Commissioner Nina Haiman, who attended the CB8 meeting, said the DOT could not do a Barnes Dance at the intersection but it might be possible to ban a left turn there.

The DOT on Friday said it will look into potential changes at the intersection that can address the community's concerns.