Spring 2004, p.9

A Tale of Two Streets

DOT intended to remove protective pedestrian medians like this one on Houston Street.

“The first thing is keeping our citizens from getting killed on the roads.
I think economic impact is way down the list.”
-Mayor Mike Bloomberg on Queens Boulevard Safety Improvements, April 2004

“We have to bring Houston Street up to standards. This includes removing median tips and bell bollards to accommodate turning cars and trucks.”
- Representative of the New York City Department of Transportation to Manhattan Community Board 2, January 2004

T.A. applauds Mayor Bloomberg for clearly putting the lives and safety of pedestrians on Queens Boulevard in Queens before the flow of motorized traffic. In April, the mayor shrugged off sharp criticism from small businesses in Sunnyside, Queens for backing planned pedestrian safety improvements on the west end of the boulevard. The City’s planned improvements include blocking side street motorized traffic from crossing the Queens Boulevard median beneath elevated stops of the 7 train and building tips onto the median island so that pedestrians have a protected space to stand and wait while crossing the wide street.

Given that the mayor has publicly pronounced his support for pro-safety, pro-pedestrian measures, it is hard to understand what the City Department of Transportation is attempting to do on West Houston Street in Manhattan. The agency, which is reconstructing the street for a water main project, recently told the community around West Houston Street that it intended to remove the pedestrian median islands and truck-stopping “bell bollards” and replace them with new turning lanes. The DOT’s proposed plan would be radical step backwards for street safety; it would sacrifice pedestrian safety to increase Houston’s car and truck carrying capacity.

“Median tips,” which the DOT is installing on Queens Boulevard, protect pedestrians waiting to cross the street, slow down turning motorists and reduce the chances that a turning motorist will strike the pedestrian in the crosswalk. So-called bell bollards are designed to deflect turning truck drivers from damaging the median or striking people waiting on the median.

The DOT says that Houston Street must be brought “up to standard” as part of the agency’s street reconstruction. But there are no national, state or city standards that require the agency to remove the Houston Street pedestrian safety islands or add left turn bays. In fact, the opposite is true. The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Flexibility in Highway Design says that local traffic engineers should pay close attention to the needs and safety of pedestrians. It points to Houston Street’s neighbor, the West Side Highway/Route 9A, which has numerous median tips, as a model of “world class design.” The FHWA book highlights the importance of “accommodating pedestrian movements” and keeping pedestrian crossing distances short.

Meanwhile, across the East River, the DOT has proposed a pragmatic plan for taming Queens Boulevard, where drivers have killed 84 and wounded thousands of pedestrians since 1994. The DOT’s plan includes, among many other improvements, installing and extending median tips and protecting them with bollards—exactly what the agency says it must remove from Houston Street.

The DOT should heed the mayor’s words and put pedestrian safety first on every major street in New York City, not just where the harsh glare of publicity has shamed the City into action.

Good Parts of the DOT’s Houston Street Plan
The DOT’s plan to remove the tips of the median pedestrian islands and bell bollards on Houston Street is utterly wrongheaded. But the agency’s plan to widen the sidewalk on the south side of the street and install a raised and planted median, like that on Upper Broadway in Manhattan and Queens Boulevard, makes sense for pedestrians.

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