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Ped-Friendly Traffic Signal Could Have Prevented Woman's Death: Advocates

 A pedestrian was killed after being struck by a SUV on 38th Street and Eighth Avenue Monday afternoon, fire officials said.
A pedestrian was killed after being struck by a SUV on 38th Street and Eighth Avenue Monday afternoon, fire officials said.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

HELL'S KITCHEN — The life of a woman fatally struck by an SUV in Midtown on Monday could have been spared if the intersection had more pedestrian-friendly traffic signals in place — a measure residents have been calling on for years, advocates said.

Brooklyn resident Yuenei Wu, 67, was crossing Eighth Avenue in the crosswalk on Monday when a driver in a black Chevrolet Suburban turned left onto Eighth Avenue from West 38th Street and hit her, the NYPD said.

Installing a split-phase signal at the intersection — which provides one go-signal for pedestrian and cyclist crossings, followed by another signal for drivers — could have prevented her death, Community Board 4 transportation committee co-chairwoman Christine Berthet said Wednesday.

“Pedestrians and cars should not have the green light at the same time,” said Berthet, who is also the founder of pedestrian safety advocacy group Chekpeds.  

At this particular intersection, the addition of a split-phase signal would require the installation of a left-turn lane, as well as an arrow on the stop light for drivers making those turns. 

The committee has been campaigning for the city’s Department of Transportation to install split-phase signals at Hell's Kitchen intersections for years, she said.

“This whole corridor… it’s really chaotic, and we need DOT to really study that segment and make it much safer, because the volume of pedestrians is enormous,” she added.

In May last year, the committee sent a letter to the DOT calling for split-phase signals at 10 intersections in the district, including the east turn onto West 38th Street from Ninth Avenue and the west turn onto West 39th Street from Eighth Avenue.

A letter sent by Councilman Corey Johnson to the DOT less than a month earlier, which cited statistics provided by the committee, counted 22 pedestrians killed or “seriously injured” at four intersections in the district, including West 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, West 40th Street and Eighth Avenue, and West 57th Street and Tenth Avenue.

At the West 38th Street and Eighth Avenue intersection, 175 collisions involving motor vehicles took place between July 16, 2012, and June 3, 2016, NYPD data shows.

Sixteen people were injured in those collisions, including 10 pedestrians, a cyclist and five motorists, according to the data.

A DOT spokeswoman on Thursday said the department "is initiating a study to evaluate the need for signal timing changes at [West] 38th Street and Eighth Avenue."

Committee member David Warren said he felt “exactly the same way” as Berthet about the need for split-phase signals at intersections on Eighth Avenue and elsewhere.

“It’s sad, because this woman has lost her life, and if [traffic planning] had been done properly years ago, she would still be around,” he said.

Chekpeds vice president Ernest Modarelli said he found Monday’s fatality “disturbing” in light of recommendations community members have made to DOT over the years.

On Monday, about a dozen passersby lifted up the SUV that pinned Wu to the ground, but were unable to save her life.

The SUV driver was arrested for failing to yield to a pedestrian, and has received a desk appearance ticket, police said.

“I find it upsetting that the DOT takes it so slow to react to these situations until after a tragedy like this,” Modarelli said.