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City Bans Left Turn at UES Corner After Installing It Per One Man's Request

By Shaye Weaver | October 18, 2016 2:18pm
 Southbound traffic on York Avenue used to stop while cars turning left on to East 79th Street had a green light so that cars could turn left. Turning left is now banned there.
Southbound traffic on York Avenue used to stop while cars turning left on to East 79th Street had a green light so that cars could turn left. Turning left is now banned there.
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DNA/Shaye Weaver

YORKVILLE — A dangerous left turn signal at the corner of 79th Street and York Avenue that the city installed in 2010 at the request of one man has been removed — following more than a dozen pedestrian injuries, one of which was fatal.

Residents had criticized the traffic pattern at the corner since its installation, saying it was poorly thought out and endangered pedestrians trying to cross the street. Under the 2010 changes, northbound traffic got a designated left turn lane and accompanying light signal.

The problem was that many pedestrians crossing the busy avenue would use their "New York instinct" to assume they could walk when they saw cars stopped at a red light, and have had close-calls or have been struck by cars that had the right of way, locals told DNAinfo in January.

Effective immediately, drivers will no longer be able to make left turns onto 79th Street from York Avenue in order to eliminate the confusion, officials said Monday, a change noted on Department of Transportation signs barring of left turns there.

The timing of the stoplights was also changed to sync north and southbound traffic in July, officials said.

"We're so relieved. It's been much better," said Betty Cooper Wallerstein, president of the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association. "Blind people would hear the traffic stop on one side would start crossing and end up dodging cars. It should not have taken years, but we're happy with it."

The problem began six years ago, when the DOT added a dedicated left turn light at the intersection without notifying the local community board. Officials admitted the change was made after a man wrote a letter to the agency complaining about the inability to turn there, but they refused to release the letter or identify the writer.

On Tuesday, the DOT praised Mayor Bill De Blasio's Vision Zero plan for removing the left turn and making the intersection safer.

"In January, Mayor de Blasio announced a new focus on left turns as a part of our Vision Zero initiative citywide. As part of the Vision Zero initiative, NYC DOT removed the northbound left turn signal at this location last July and banned the turn from York Avenue to westbound West 79th Street to eliminate pedestrian confusion," said DOT spokesman Jose Bayona.

He also noted a recent DOT study that found that in 2014, accidents relating to left hand turns made up 30 percent of all pedestrian and cyclist injuries in the city.

There have been 22 reported injuries at the corner since January 2012, 12 of whom were pedestrians, according to Bayona. One pedestrian died there in 2011, according to city's Vision Zero data.

The issue with the signal was brought up in a January Community Board 8 meeting after the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association voted to support the removal of the left turn signal, saying that returning the intersection to a normal pattern would save lives.

The board voted to support that request and Councilman Ben Kallos, who names 79th and York Avenue a dangerous intersection in his "Livable Streets" report, worked with them to get the DOT to solve the issue over the past six months.

“Every day I saw pedestrians crossing York Avenue getting caught by surprise as they dodged northbound cars that barreled through the intersection at 79th Street,” Kallos said in a statement.

“Thank you to the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association and Community Board 8 Manhattan for working with me to identify a dangerous intersection and for Department of Transportation for making our streets safer for pedestrians.”