News | Upper West Side

DOT unveils pedestrian safety plan following 96th Street fatalities

  • Jessica Swanson for Spectator
    TALKING TRAFFIC | Ryan Russo, the Department of Transportation’s director for street management and safety, outlined a plan to make the 96th Street intersection safer for pedestrians at Thursday night’s meeting.

The Department of Transportation unveiled plans for extensive safety changes to the 96th Street and Broadway intersection at a public meeting with Community Board 7 on Thursday night.

The meeting, held at the Goddard Riverside Community Center on 88th Street, was prompted by three recent pedestrian fatalities in the area and a subsequent letter by CB7 members to DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione asking for immediate steps to make the area safer.

Some of the changes in the plan include restricting some left turns at the intersection, widening the median where the subway hub is located, creating new turn and lane assignments, and changing signal timing. They come after changes made to the nearby 97th Street and West End Avenue intersection earlier this week.

Those present included neighbors and family of Cooper Stock, the nine-year-old killed by a taxi on 97th Street and West End Avenue on Jan. 10.

“We’ve heard a lot of discussion about potential barriers that have prevented major reform. The fact that plans drawn in 2008 and 2010 to fix the traffic problems in this area were not acted on makes us sick,” Barron Lerner, uncle of Stock, said. 

“I have three children, they go to school on 96th between Amsterdam and Columbus. Every day our walk to school crosses several dangerous intersections,” Julie Margolies, an Upper West Side resident, said. “We need change quickly because lives are at risk.”

The question of what the safety changes should target came up several times during the meeting—the audience appeared to support targeting drivers, applauding whenever a speaker voiced such a sentiment.

“This is not Los Angeles—we don’t need anybody to tell us when it is safe to cross the street,” Ken Coughlin, a member of the CB7 transportation committee, said. “We need the police to enforce the laws on the drivers who are actually doing the killing.”

Local politicians joined neighbors in the meeting to voice their concerns about safety in the 96th Street area.

Gale Brewer, the newly inaugurated Manhattan borough president and former City Council member for District 7, which covers the 96th Street intersection, spoke to the crowd after the meeting about her efforts to push for change. 

“We met with all of the community boards today and said, ‘give us hot spots [of traffic problems],’” she said. She mentioned her role in commissioning the Nelson\Nygaard study, which was completed in December and examined potential changes around 96th Street.

“In this case, me and Melissa Mark-Viverito and Inez Dickens gave the community board money for the study,” Brewer said. 

The Nelson\Nyggard study also recommended limiting left turns and expanding the mall.

She said that now that she is borough president, she is the “convener of all the community boards” and appoints the members, giving her the opportunity to gather their feedback and information. 

District 69 State Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell also spoke about his recent bill to lower speed limits citywide.

Jane Thompson, an elderly resident of 96th Street and West End Avenue, spoke bluntly about the recommendations of the study and the speed at which changes have been implemented.

“Too bad they weren’t done in December,” she said. “Maybe more people would be alive.” 

eva.kalikoff@columbiaspectator.com  |  @evakalikoff

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Martin Wallace posted on

I met one of your reporters yesterday night at CB9's Transportation Committee meeting (Sophia Gamez). I noted in this article that you quote the uncle of Stock saying "We’ve heard a lot of discussion about potential barriers that have prevented major reform." One of these barriers, which is unfortunately poorly understood and largely out of the spotlight, is the fact that the community boards themselves are often blocking the very improvements that local community members would like to see implemented. The Morningside Avenue project is a case in point. (http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/01/13/community-boards-9-10-manhattan-morningside-avenue-road-diet-traffic-calming/).

The Transportation Committees are the gatekeepers for these sorts of projects, and if they do not approve them, DOT has to water the plans down in order to save parking spots and extra lanes of traffic. Why is this happening? Well, even though only 24% of Manhattanites own cars, a majority of voting members on these committees own cars. Our committee has five members, 3 of whom own a car. It is these three who regularly block DOT plans that involve slowing down traffic, putting in stop signs, or making other improvements that might involve sacrificing parking spots in order to make roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians.

Until the membership of these committees turns over, improvements will continue to be slow to come, and more people, adults and children alike, will lose their lives in these kinds of accidents. I can only hope that Gale Brewer is planning to look closely at these boards and committees and give some new people a chance to make some change. I, for one, have decided to apply to become a voting member of CB9. I will have to hope that the chair of that board appoints me to the transportation committee, however.

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