West 96th Street, a major four-lane thoroughfare, has long been a problem for parents of young children, seniors or anyone else who can’t react quickly enough. Aggressive drivers barrel out of nearby exits from the West Side Highway, and cross-town traffic streams in and out of the Central Park traverse. Many complain that drivers regularly make turns with pedestrians still in the cross walk. The problem is prevalent on West 95th and 97th streets, too, in the area between Central Park and Riverside Drive.
Parents of children who attend schools around West 96th Street say they have tried to make these blocks safer. They have gone to community board meetings and reached out to elected officials with their complaints and recommendations. But nothing has improved. So now the unsatisfied parents and school administrators have joined with a local pedestrian advocacy group to detail the traffic problems. Eight schools are now working with the group Upper West Side Street Renaissance on the “Corridor 96 Project.”
Tila Duhaime, one of the project’s organizers, said 14 volunteers stood on the corners tallying infractions from car drivers. There was plenty of red-light running and failing to yield to pedestrians while making a turn, she said.
“There is that behavior in a lot of places in the Upper West Side, but we haven’t recognized how dramatically bad it is,” Duhaime said. “There was more aggressive driving and instances of aggressive driving on this corridor.”
Like other pedestrian safety initiatives, this one aims to protect those most vulnerable to aggressive driving: seniors and school children.
Julie Margolies, a parent of three with two children at the Studio School on West 95th Street, said pedestrian safety in the area has been a consistent problem.
“I think individuals have tried over the years—individual schools, individual parents—to be heard on this issue,” Margolies said. “It’s great that schools are getting involved because they have teams of parents behind them. Not everyone knows the Byzantine system of local city government.”
The recommendations will eventually be presented to the Department of Transportation after administrators from partner schools and community board members add their ideas as well. Many of the pedestrian safety measures recommended will be relatively simple and low-cost, Duhaime said. Some of the changes the group is seeking include signals that let pedestrians cross the street before cars can turn into the lane, and removing parking spots close to intersections so pedestrians can see around corners.
Crossing guards help, said Amy Winarsky, a parent of a child at P.S. 75, on West End Avenue and West 96th Street. But children who stay after school or who go to weekend events are at risk.
“It’s the children that are responsible for crossing safely when in fact it should be the adults responsible for driving safely,” Winarsky said. “Unless [the city builds] in systems that govern the cars, they’re at risk.”
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