News | Upper West Side

Community Board 7 seeks changes near 96th Street after recent pedestrian deaths

  • STREET SMARTS | CB7's proposals to make the area around West 96th Street safer for pedestrians. Local leaders have pushed for action following a spate of deaths in the surrounding area.

After a harrowing couple of weeks in which three pedestrians died in the 96th Street and Broadway region, Community Board 7 is looking to make both immediate and long-term changes. 

Alexander Shear, 73, and Cooper Stock, 9, were hit and killed by cars within an hour of one another on the evening of Jan. 10. Shear was crossing at 96th Street and Broadway while Stock was at 97th Street and West End Avenue. Then, in the early hours of Jan. 19, Columbia University Medical Center anesthesiology resident Samantha Lee, 26, was struck on 96th Street between West End Avenue and Broadway and pronounced dead at the scene. 

Later that day, after Lee’s death, there was a strong police presence at the intersection. An elderly man was hospitalized after being knocked down by police for attempting to leave the area while being ticketed for jaywalking—a strategy that has since been widely criticized.

Source: Department of Transportation / Graphic by Kenza Ben Brahim

Ken Coughlin, a member of the CB7 transportation committee and Transportation Alternatives, an organization that bills itself as “your advocate for bicycling, walking, and public transit,” strongly condemned the police crackdown on jaywalking pedestrians at 96th Street.

“I think the crackdown on jaywalkers is totally misplaced. There have been many studies of the causes of crashes, and in the vast majority of cases drivers are primarily to blame. What we need is a city where pedestrians come first and are respected,” Coughlin said. 

CB7 chair Elizabeth Caputo sent a letter on Jan. 17 to Margaret Forgione, Manhattan borough commissioner for the Department of Transportation. The letter included four requests for each of the two intersections where Shear and Stock were killed. 

At 96th Street and Broadway, Caputo requested a “signalized and striped median-to-median pedestrian crossing,” changes to the timing of traffic lights, research into the eastern side crossing area, and a consideration to eliminate left turns. The latter suggestion came from a Nelson/Nygaard study of the area, completed in November 2013, which made numerous recommendations to increase the safety of the area. 

Caputo’s requests for 97th Street and West End Avenue were to change signal patterns on both the street and the avenue—aimed at slowing left-turning cars from 97th Street—and to introduce “No Left Turn” signs from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. at 95th Street and West End Avenue.

Lisa Sladkus, co-chair of the Advisory Council for Transportation Alternatives and previously the director of the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance campaign, said she was disappointed that recommended changes from the Nelson/Nygaard study were not made before the three most recent deaths. 

“We lost two of our neighbors last Friday night within 20 minutes of each other. The Wild West of driving out there is affecting our community in a big way. The UWSSR has been working since 2006 to make those particular intersections safer,” Sladkus said.

Sladkus said that she feels Caputo’s letter “addressed some of the issues” but is disappointed that there was not more included for cyclists.

“The Nelson/Nygaard study has some good points, but it is not complete,” she said. “These changes should have been implemented years ago.”

Caputo included in her letter that CB7 will take responsibility for “the visual clutter that surrounds the intersection,” adding that they will “take appropriate steps to make sure this clutter is removed.”

Next week’s CB7 meeting will include transportation department representatives who will specifically address traffic safety concerns around 96th Street.

eva.kalikoff@columbiaspectator.com  |  @evakalikoff

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