Pedestrians vs. Left Turn Signals

Despite the new signs, pedestrians cross illegally between Broadway medians at 96th Street.

Last week I traveled to my homeland on the Upper West Side. As a recent transplant to Brooklyn, I had forgotten the nightmare that is the intersection of 96th Street and Broadway.

In 2010, a new median station entrance opened for the 1/2/3 IRT Line 96th Street station. The entrances had previously been located on the sidewalks. While the new station is beautiful and makes sense for circulation of subway users, it has created a hazard on the street by forcing pedestrians to the median.

Existing Conditions

Diagram 1: Existing Pedestrian Movements at 96th Street and Broadway

To rationalize traffic movements, NYCDOT installed left turn lanes on Broadway, creating new signal phasing. This change has created a lot of confusion and caused dangerous situations and conflicts between cars and pedestrians.

To mitigate these challenges, NYCDOT has placed signs such as “Wait for Walk Signal” and “No Ped. Crossing Use Crosswalk” (pictured above) to encourage better pedestrian behavior. However, in New York, pedestrians walk wherever and whenever they please. So, if they don’t see cars moving, they go, often putting their lives at risk. This not only occurs at 96th and Broadway, but many other busy intersections throughout the city with left turn signal phases.

At this intersection, after the east-west traffic stops and before the left-turn signal phase begins, people begin to cross north-south on the western and eastern crosswalks in the intersection, despite the red light and eventual on-coming traffic.  In addition to the potential crashes this creates, pedestrians act outraged, as do the drivers. This prevents cars from moving through the signal with sufficient time, and creates congestion for the following phase as well. Congestion and danger is furthered by people illegally crossing between medians (see Diagram 1).

Diagram 2: Potential Solution: The Pedestrian Scramble ("Barnes Dance")

It is true that better enforcement and ticketing by the NYPD might change pedestrian behavior, but I believe the DOT should explore more creative solutions for this intersection. One possible solution (Diagram 2) could be a variation on the “Pedestrian Scramble” or “Barnes Dance,” which would stop all traffic and allow pedestrians to cross in one movement. This would decrease the amount of separate pedestrian movements and perhaps cause less confusion, while allowing pedestrians to take direct routes. This approach could reduce conflicts between pedestrians and cars, improving safety, health, and convenience for all intersection users.