City Council Member Mark Levine threw out a depressing statistic to the nearly 200 people at Thursday night's Community Board 7 meeting: The number of tickets the police had given for tinted windows was "four times the number for speeding." The neighborhood has seen three pedestrians killed by drivers between January 10 and January 19, and an ensuing "jaywalking crackdown" that included police officers bloodying an elderly pedestrian. Levine declared, "The enforcement action needs to be against drivers," and the crowd applauded.

In addition to the tragic death of Cooper Stock at West 97th Street and West End Avenue, two people were killed by the intersection of West 96th Street and Broadway. Alexander Shear, 73, was dragged under a southbound tour bus that was turning left onto West 96th while Samantha Lee, 26, was fatally hit by two cars on West 96th Street, between Broadway and West End Avenue, while she was crossing the street midblock.

Besides better enforcement, Levine outlined other ways he and fellow elected officials hope to improve safety—through legislation (like lowering the speed limit) and streetscape changes. The main purpose of the meeting was for the Department of Transportation to present pedestrian safety improvement plans for the busy Broadway intersection. Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo said that the intersection was actually one of the most complex in the whole city, because it's two big two-way streets, plus the median features the 1/2/3 subway station (one community member estimated 76,000 people used the station each day).

2014_01_stoprop.jpg
The DOT's proposed changes to the intersection (Jen Chung/Gothamist)

The DOT's presentation (below) offered these changes:
1. Two left turns banned: Southbound Broadway to eastbound West 96th Street and westbound West 96th Street to southbound Broadway;
2. Expanded pedestrian space on the north mall;
3. New crosswalk from the north mall to the south mall;
4. New flush median & lane designations for West 96th Street;
5. Simpler signal phasing

NYC DOT proposal for Broadway and 96th Street

Russo noted that the current signal phasing (when the lights allow pedestrians and drivers to go) currently causes a very long wait time for pedestrians—many of whom are anxious to go to the subway station to catch a train. If a pedestrian is at the northwest corner of Broadway and wants to get the subway station on the south side of the street, it could take up to 1 minute and 45 seconds! "It's a recipe for impatience," Russo said. The new phasing would cut 47 seconds from the trip time.

2014_01_cb7rep.jpg
A community member addresses the DOT, NYPD and board (Jen Chung/Gothamist)

If CB 7 approves the proposed changes, the DOT estimates it can start work in early March and conclude in April.

An emotional NYPD Commander Nancy Barry of the 24th Precinct, joined by other officers, also spoke at the meting. She said she was heartbroken over the three fatalities and asked everyone to observe a moment of silence. She added it was "tragic for my officers" to respond to these deaths and that their failure to yield tickets were up 182% over last year.

Many residents were gladdened by the DOT's response—one characterized the presentation as "better than what I thought we'd see"—but they brought up numerous issues, such as the tendency for cars to make illegal U-turns in the intersection; possible spillover of traffic to other, already troubled intersections; and the overall lack of police enforcement of speeding cars or cars that go through red lights. One local asked Commander Barry if the harassment of jaywalkers could end. (This question was posed during the public comment period, which does not allow for answers.)

Residents suggested increasing the time all four stop lights are red as well as posting more speed limit signs. They blamed the MTA's 96th Street subway station redesign (there used to be more entrances from the street, when the underground transfers were messy) and the closing of the West Side Highway ramp, that fed more traffic to the 96th Street area. They also worried about the M96 buses that sometimes cause congestion and impatience among other drivers.

The ability for NYC to lower the speed limit and add more speed cameras, however, lies in the hands of Albany. Assemblyman Daniel O'Donnell said that before he can even ask Albany to lower the speed limit, the City Council needs to formally request it first. On the speed camera side, currently, the number of speed cameras is fixed (at 20). Many residents pointed out that drivers think the yellow light means they should speed—one suggested the city should hire Army veterans who need jobs to take pictures of cars that speed, run red lights or break the law in any way and give them a 10% cut of tickets.

As for the recent sting operation in the 78th Precinct, where Park Slope officers are posing as pedestrians to nab drivers who fail to yield, Levine was very enthusiastic about possibly bringing it to the Upper West side, calling it "simple" and "effective." Commander Barry, though, was not as familiar with the operation, which was spurred by the death of 12-year-old pedestrian Sammy Cohen Eckstein in November. Barry did tell us, "We'll look into it."