West End Avenue will have two fewer lanes of traffic and four new pedestrian islands at 95th and 97th streets in the coming months after Community Board 7 overwhelmingly passed a Department of Transportation proposal to make the road safer on Tuesday night.
The changes, which will stretch from 72nd Street to 106th Street, are the latest in the city's Vision Zero initiative to reduce traffic fatalities. On the Upper West Side, four people have been killed in the area around 96th Street and Broadway this year, including two on West End Avenue.
“It's been a speedway for the last 45 years. Speeding along the West End corridor has always been a problem. Commercial traffic that doesn't belong there has always been a problem,” CB7 Transportation co-chair Dan Zweig said at the meeting, where 39 out of 41 members supported the proposed changes.
The approved changes focus on reducing the number of lanes and adding pedestrian islands at key intersections. West End Avenue currently has two driving lanes and one parking lane per direction—under the approved plan, there will only be one driving lane and one parking lane, though left turning bays will be added at intersections. Pedestrian islands will also be built at the 95th Street and 97th Street intersections.
According to District Manager Penny Ryan, repaving of West End Avenue at 72nd street started this week, and the approved renovations are expected to be completed by winter.
“If anybody drove down West End Avenue, half the time they were looking to the rear. That's why there is a lane for left hand turners so that people won't always have to be looking to the rear,” Zweig said.
During Tuesday's meeting, some neighborhood residents expressed concern that the changes could increase congestion. Others said that the community should jump on the chance to make changes to what is undeniably a deadly area on the Upper West Side and Manhattan in general.
“There is too much traffic coming off the highway at 95th street and 96th street. The West End Avenue proposal solves some of the problems but the real problem is the level of traffic,” Linda Miller, a neighborhood resident told the board members.
Another local resident, Larry Dugan, said that he had yet to see positive results from the lowering of the speed limit to 25 miles per hour which went into effect at the beginning of August. He also stated that the speed bump put into place on 95th street between Riverside Avenue and West End Avenue is not doing enough to keep drivers from going too fast.
“Until you decrease the amount of traffic, pedestrians will keep getting killed,” Dugan said.
The one opposing vote came from Community Board member Jay Adolf who was concerned about worsening traffic with the fewer lanes.
“I can only envision long lines along West End Avenue with people cutting through cabs. I apologize for my skepticism with DOT,” Adolf said to laughs from the crowd. “I live on West End Avenue and I look at this configuration and I see it as a recipe for disaster.”
Mary Beth Kelly, a representative from Families for Safe Streets, a group of families who have lost relatives to traffic-related incidents, spoke in favor of the resolution. Kelly shared photographs of her husband who was killed when hit by a car while riding his bike, and also Cooper Stock, the 9-year-old killed at West End Avenue and 97th Street in January while crossing the street with his father.
“We should not kill what's good enough for right now in desire for the perfect,” Kelly said to loud applause.