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Delancey Street Countdown Clocks, A Look at DOT Logic

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The city has at long last installed countdown clocks along Delancey Street.  Six months ago, a Department of Transportation spokesperson told us they were coming sometime in 2011. After several high profile accidents, elected officials (including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver) urged the DOT to “complete the project without delay.”

Who knows whether the installation of the clocks this week is merely a coincidence or whether the notoriously independent DOT “fast-tracked” the job in the aftermath of the most recent accident last month.  We do know, however, that the DOT believes the LED displays (being added to 1500 intersections throughout the city) make a difference when it comes to saving lives.  As evidence, the department cites its own Pedestrian Safety Study  which found “signals at wider crosswalks helped reduce the number of pedestrians still in the crosswalk when the countdown signals turned to solid red.”

It should be pointed out that there has been no change in the amount of time allotted for people to cross Delancey, one of the city’s widest streets. At Clinton Street, for example, the red hand begins flashing after seven seconds. The clock then begins counting down from 15 before the “red hand” becomes solid and cars start moving again to and from the Williamsburg Bridge ramp.

Complaints from residents about the dangers on Delancey are, of course, nothing new. Recently, Jodi Zagoory, who lives in the Seward Park Co-op and sits on the board there, shared with us a letter dated July 14, 2010 from DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione that manages to be completely perplexing and illuminating all at the same time. Forgione was responding to Zagoory’s concerns about Delancey Street safety, following a near-accident at the intersection of Delancey and Essex streets. Pay very close attention!

An investigation… found the signals at the intersection of Delancey and Essex Streets operating properly with an adequate amount of time allocated for the pedestrian crossings. We provide a total of 37 seconds to cross Delancey Street, a distance of 98 feet, which equates to a walking speed of 2.65 feet per second… At the intersection of Delancey and Clinton Streets, we provide a total of 25 seconds to cross Delancey Street to the center island (a distance of 70 feet), which equates to a walking speed of 2.8 feet per second. We also provide a total of 65 seconds to cross Clinton Street (south leg) a distance of 42 feet, which equates to a walking speed of 0.6 feet per second and 18 seconds to cross Clinton (south leg), a distance of 28 feet, which equates to a walking speed of  1.6 feet per second.  The crossing time is adequate even for slower paced pedestrians (the average walking speed is considered 3.5 feet per second). In order to obtain the full benefit of the crossing time provided, pedestrians should start crossing at the beginning of the “Walking Man” indication. A flashing “Head” indicates that there is insufficient time to complete the crossing. However, pedestrians already in the crossing will have sufficient time to proceed to the opposite sidewalk or median (where provided).”

There’s plenty to decipher here. But one takeaway is this: the DOT seems to expect pedestrians to cross Delancey Street in two legs — seeking refuge in the center island while they wait for the light to turn green again before attempting to make it all the way across. As those of us who live in the neighborhood know, that’s not the way it works in real life.


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  1. I am able-bodied, a brisk walker, but crossing Delancey has always been a challenge. I do not want to do it in two passes, as I feel somewhat insecure standing in the center island with oncoming traffic. This has got to change.

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