West Side Intersections Get Countdown Signals

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By Dan Rivoli

The city announced the installation of 1,500 countdown signals at intersections, including four Upper West Side corridors, after a report found pedestrian injuries happen more on multi-lane streets.

“The report and actions detailed today, including the installation of pedestrian countdown signals across the city, will make our streets even safer,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement, “especially for the pedestrians who, year in and year out, account for the majority of New York’s traffic fatalities.”

Broadway was the largest corridor on the Upper West Side selected to have countdown signals, from Columbus Circle to West 169th Street. Other Upper West Side corridors include 11th and 12th avenues from West 14th Street to West 72nd Street and Riverside Drive from West 103rd Street to West 173rd Street.

The first 250 countdown signals will be installed this month with the rest phased in over the next year.

The city wants the inclusion of pedestrian countdown signals to be the standard for new installations on wide streets.

An earlier pilot program that featured these signals at 24 intersections in five corridors showed that they reduced the number of pedestrians in the crosswalk when the light was about to turn green. On narrower streets, the report notes the countdown signals had no effect.

“Pedestrian countdown signals can help cut out any guesswork in crossing busy intersections to keep pedestrians from being caught in the middle of a dangerous situation,” said Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in a statement.

The report reviewed more than 7,000 crash records to find out who is at risk for a pedestrian accident.

Manhattan has a high concentration of serious accidents. Four times as many pedestrians are killed or seriously injured per mile of street than in the four outer boroughs. Nearly half of those pedestrians killed in Manhattan lived outside the borough.

Most of the accidents, 79 percent, involve private vehicles and 80 percent involve male drivers.

Seniors are especially at risk when crossing wide streets. The report found that seniors comprise 38 percent fatalities, though they make up 12 percent of the population.

East Side Council Member Jessica Lappin, who chairs the Aging Committee, said the city is the third most dangerous for senior pedestrians.

“My hope is that these changes will make it safer for seniors, children and everyone in between,” Lappin said. “Making sure they know how much time they have to cross, and in certain instances increase time to cross, should make a big difference.”

The study also found that drivers involved in these accidents are often speeding, failing to pay attention to the road and not yielding to pedestrians.

The Department of Transportation is going to try a pilot program that creates a zone where the speed limit will be cut to 20 miles per hour from the standard 30 miles per hour. One reduced speed limit zone is planned for 2011.

The department will also identify 60 miles of street to reconfigure in a pedestrian-friendly way, such as refuge islands and sidewalk extensions.

Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, who recently criticized the Department of Transportation as being too slow to put in safety changes to the West 71st Street-Broadway-Amsterdam Avenue intersection, said she and other pedestrian groups have pushed for these changes before.

“I think the time for study is over,” Rosenthal said. Though she wants to see where the safety pilot programs will be tested, she was pleased that countdown signals will be installed in the neighborhood.

“It’s about time it comes to the very crowded pedestrian thoroughfares we have here on the West Side,” she said.

Michael Auerbach, president of the environmental and transportation advocacy group Upper Green Side, called the report a confirmation of what New Yorkers already know about dangerous, heavily-trafficked streets.

“The countdown timers have been long awaited. They have them in other cities. They’re proven and they save lives,” Auerbach said. “[The Upper West Side] is a place where people live, go to school, go shopping. They’re on the street in these neighborhoods and they need these safety improvements.”

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