By Madeleine Thompson
On Monday morning, car horns blared as vehicles of all sizes vied for space at East 59th Street and Second Avenue, the second most dangerous intersection in the city. The Roosevelt Island Tramway ferried passengers over the heads of the many pedestrians on the ground, including Aaron Fisher, a street cleaner for the East Midtown Partnership. Fisher was not at all surprised to hear that the site topped the list of Manhattan's most dangerous intersections and came in second in the city. “I see accidents all the time,” he said.
A bundle of pedestrian and cyclist safety bills are making their way through the City Council right now to address some of the challenges pedestrians and cyclists face on city streets. One requests a Department of Transportation (DOT) study on using the Barnes Dance crossing method, where all traffic lights turn red at the same time and pedestrians can walk diagonally through the intersection. According to the DOT's Manhattan action plan, the Barnes Dance has only been effective “at intersections with about 20,000 pedestrians a day, high pedestrian signal compliance and low vehicular traffic volumes.” The method may not be more widely feasible “due to concerns about excessive pedestrian wait time.” Of a different bill proposing that cyclists adhere to pedestrian signals at some intersections, a DOT spokesperson said they “support the intent of the bill.”
Sam Schwartz, a former traffic commissioner and president of his firm Sam Schwartz Engineering, identified one issue in particular as singular to New York City: “Pedestrians do not follow walk-don't walk signals, don't necessarily cross at intersections and sometimes seem to challenge drivers,” he said, admitting that he fits into the latter category. However, he said, the chaos seems to slow cars down. In Los Angeles, by comparison, there are fewer pedestrians and the rules are more strictly enforced, but the fatality rate is much higher.
Gladys Levy said she never disobeys the traffic signals at East 57th and Third Avenue, the eighth most dangerous intersection in the city, though she sometimes does so elsewhere. “I might cross 51st Street without the light, but never Third Avenue,” said Levy, who lives nearby on East 51st Street. She was surprised to learn that 57th and Third was one of the most dangerous, but she blames the site's collision statistics on turning. “You can be crossing the street, and if [cars] think they can beat you they will,” she said.
Dwayne Hermidas, a doorman at 200 East 57th Street, has spent 12 years looking out at the intersection of 57th and Third. “Once I saw somebody crossing the street and a cab hit him,” Hermidas said, recalling an incident he witnessed about a year ago. He attributed the location's increased risk for pedestrians to the many buses that criss-cross each other on the two-way street all day long and the proximity of the Queensboro Bridge.
Fisher, at 59th and Second, said pedestrians there are very careful about not jaywalking because they know how dangerous it is. However, he empathized with the Department of Transportation. “I kind of feel for them in a way,” he said. “These streets were built a long time ago. It's really hard to work on them. How are you going to do construction on Second Avenue? People coming from Queens, from the Bronx, have to take Second Avenue to go down.”
Many of the city's most dangerous intersections have tunnels, bridges or large transportation hubs nearby. The entirety of 42nd Street from Sixth Avenue to Ninth Avenue is included, as well as 34th Street at Seventh and Eighth Avenues around Penn Station, and 40th Street and 11th Avenue by the Holland Tunnel. Though the DOT reports that pedestrian fatalities have decreased by 60 percent over the last 30 years, it remains to be seen whether Mayor Bill de Blasio's Vision Zero plan will accomplish its goal of eliminating them by 2024.
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at email@example.com