Volume 74, Number 19 | September 08 - 14 , 2004

Downtown streets among most unsafe for pedestrians

By Albert Amateau

There were eight auto accidents in which pedestrians were killed on Houston St. in the seven years from 1995 to 2001 — and three of those fatal accidents were on Houston St. at Avenue A, according to a new study by Transportation Alternatives, a group that advocates for traffic safety.
Canal St. was even more dangerous — 14 auto accidents resulted in pedestrian deaths during the study period. And on 14th St., seven accidents ended in pedestrian deaths.

Those daunting facts are part of Transportation Alternatives’ citywide study, with maps, available online at www.crashstat.org. The Web site shows where and how often pedestrians have been killed or injured by autos and whether safety at each location has improved over the seven years that the study covers.

In the entire borough of Manhattan, there were 6,011 locations where auto accidents resulted in 304 pedestrians killed and 26,341 injured between 1995 and 2001, the last year that accurate data is available.

David McWater, chairperson of Community Board 3, whose East Side district includes some of the most fatal intersections, said Houston St. and Avenue A is “the worst intersection I’ve ever seen in my life.” McWater has owned a bar, Nice Guy Eddie’s, near that corner for about eight years.

“You have 18 seconds to cross the intersection — I can’t do it myself,” he said, noting that Houston St. is an unusually wide thoroughfare and that the intersection includes the beginning of E. First St. “There is a turn signal at the east-west crossing [Houston St.] but no north-south turning signal, so everyone rushes to the median — and there’s a schoolyard on the southeast corner, another big risk — it’s madness,” he added.

Also on Houston St., fatal pedestrian accidents have happened at four other intersections, Avenue B, Bowery (with two deaths and 31 injuries), between Second Ave. and Forsyth St. and between Wooster and Greene Sts.

The notorious traffic conditions of Canal St. are borne out by the Transportation Alternatives study. There were two deaths and 14 injury accidents during the study period at the Canal St./Bowery ramp to the Manhattan Bridge, an “improved” location that had fewer pedestrian injury accidents in the three years from 1999-2001, compared to 1995-1997.

Accidents at four other Canal St. intersections — Mott, Allen, Lafayette and Mulberry Sts., also had two deaths each during the study period. Accidents at the Centre, Varick and Church Sts. intersections resulted in one death each, and one person was killed on Canal between Hudson and Varick Sts.

Seven accidents fatal to pedestrians occurred on 14th St. from east to west — at First, Second, Third, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth Aves. and between Ninth Ave. and Washington St. Union Sq. E. at E. 15th St. just across from the city’s largest Greenmarket, had three fatal pedestrian accidents during the study period.

The intersection with the most pedestrian injuries, 118, was E. 33rd St. and Park Ave., but it showed the most improvement, with 23 fewer injuring accidents from 1999-2001

“The city Department of Transportation to its credit has made several pedestrian-oriented safety improvements, but Manhattan streets can still be much safer by redesigning streets using traffic-calming devices,” said Kit Hodge, Transportation Alternatives staff member.

Pedestrian-friendly timing of traffic lights, pedestrian refuge islands, crosswalks clearly visible to pedestrians and drivers and stricter enforcement of safe driving rules are some of the strategies that Transportation Alternative is advocating.

Despite the high number of pedestrian fatalities on Canal St., the study indicates that safety has improved at several Canal St. locations.

“I agree that safety has improved, but a lot more work needs to be done,” said Marc Ameruso, a Community Board 1 member who lives near Canal St. “The Canal Area Transportation study that NYMTC [New York Metropolitan Transportation Council] is doing with the community is a big step in the right direction. It’s going into its second phase in September — looking into long-term solutions — and I expect it to bring more safety improvements,” he added.

Nevertheless, the numbers in the Transportation Alternatives study are chilling.

The Essex and Delancey Sts. intersection was tied with the W. 14th St./Sixth Ave. intersection for the third and fourth most dangerous in Manhattan, each with one death and 51 injuries in the seven-year period. Two pedestrians were killed in accidents at the Bowery/Grand St. intersection and there was a fatal pedestrian accident at Bowery and Division St.

In the Village, Sixth Ave. was especially dangerous. At Washington Pl. there was a fatal pedestrian accident and four injuries. Another fatal spot was on Sixth Ave. between W. Fourth St. and Washington Pl. There were 12 injured pedestrians at Sixth Ave. and Waverly Pl. The intersection of Sixth Ave. and Greenwich Ave. at W. Eighth St. had 19 injuries and became more dangerous in the most recent three years of the study period.

Christopher St., at the Sheridan Sq. intersection of Seventh Ave. and W. Fourth St. also had 19 injuries. Christopher St. between Hudson and Bedford Sts. had a total of 11 accidents causing injuries.

Zip code area 10002, bounded on the east by Bowery and Catherine St., on the north by Houston St. and on the south and east by the East River — including the east end of Canal St., had the most pedestrian fatal accidents, 25, in Manhattan. The area also had 1,149 pedestrian injuries from accidents. Zip code area 10013, which includes the Hudson Sq. district at the west end of Canal St. as well as the central part of Canal St., had 17 fatal pedestrian accidents and 895 injury accidents. The 10001 zip code area, which covers Chelsea between W. 14th and 25th Sts. west of Sixth Ave., had 18 pedestrian deaths and 1,281 injury accidents.

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