Getting emotional about street safety

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  • At the intersection of West End Avenue and 96th Street, Council Member Helen Rosenthal called to reduce the area’s high collision rate. Photo: Madeleine Thompson

  • Council Member Helen Rosenthal (left) and P.S. 75 principal Robert O’Brien (speaking) called for safety improvements that would reduce the area’s high collision rate. Photo: Madeleine Thompson


Helen Rosenthal pushes for improvements as supporters recount personal experiences

By Madeleine Thompson

Every New Yorker has a story. Maybe you were traversing a crosswalk right outside your apartment and almost got mowed down by a car, or maybe you saw it happen to someone else. “It was about four o’clock that Wednesday afternoon,” said Upper West Sider Hilda Chazanovitz, speaking through a megaphone at the intersection of West End Avenue and 96th Street. “I was going to meet a colleague, I was in the crosswalk, I had the green signal. And the next thing I knew I was on the ground in the middle of the street.”

Chazanovitz was hit by an SUV just steps from her home last year, but she considers herself one of the lucky ones. She joined Council Member Helen Rosenthal last Wednesday morning to push for street safety improvements throughout the city.

Rosenthal and four of her colleagues introduced a package of legislation last November that would better protect pedestrians and cyclists. In front of a crowd of about 30, Rosenthal advocated for her bill, which would study the feasibility of implementing a traffic device known as the Barnes Dance in some of the most dangerous intersections. The Barnes Dance — named after former city traffic commissioner Henry Barnes — gives all pedestrians at a given intersection the walk signal at the same time, so no cars are moving and people can traverse the intersection in any direction. As of November 2016, 89 intersections employ the Barnes Dance.

To the passersby and supporters who gathered last week, Rosenthal described a recent bike ride in the area during which she found herself “getting emotional” about the 2014 death of nine-year-old Cooper Stock, who was hit by a taxi cab as he was crossing the street at West 97th and West End Avenue. She credited the Department of Transportation (DOT) with an immediate response to that tragedy, but said that in comparison to the dangers just a block away at West 96th Street, “the silence is deafening.”

On the southwest corner of that intersection is P.S. 75, which houses 800 students who cross the surrounding streets every day. “In the many years that I’ve been here, one of the things that’s been scary is how many close calls we’ve had,” said Principal Robert O’Brien. “The aggressiveness of some drivers, particularly taking left-hand turns, is really scary to watch. To their credit, DOT has made some changes … but they haven’t been sufficient to give us comfort.”

A crossing guard who has worked at West 96th and West End Avenue for two years explained that what results in so many collisions is a combination of the entryway to the West Side Highway and drivers making left turns. “We’re not supposed to cross adults — we only work for the school — but because it’s so dangerous we sometimes try to [help them],” said the guard, who asked to remain anonymous because they weren’t sure if they were allowed to comment. The guard thought the Barnes Dance could reduce incidents, but advised making the traffic lights last longer so cars wouldn’t get backed up.

The other bills accompanying Rosenthal’s proposed Barnes Dance legislation would, among other things, force cyclists to obey pedestrian signals at some intersections, study Citi Bike stations near parks, regulate commercial cyclists and study overcrowding at several pedestrian-heavy intersections.

Madeleine Thompson can be reached at

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