Last night the general public got a first look at the Department of Transportation’s plan to finally make Delancey Street safer. You’re looking at an image from a PowerPoint presentation illustrating a big part of the proposal — carving out pedestrian safe zones on the edges of the street, one of Manhattan’s widest thoroughfares. The ideas presented at a meeting of Community Board 3’s transportation committee were developed, in part, as the result of the “Delancey Street Working Group,” a panel formed in the aftermath of several pedestrian fatalities.
In a packed community room at the Seward Park Co-op, DOT official Scott Benson detailed several different initiatives he said could be implemented in the next four months. Among them:
- Reducing the width of Delancey at Clinton by reclaiming sections of the roadway on both the north and south sides of the street. The plan is to put up pylons and planters, essentially extending the sidewalk. This change would reduce the width of Delancey by 49 feet. Fourteen out of 19 crosswalks between Clinton and the Bowery would be shortened.
- Following the completion of a study, possibly lengthening the time pedestrians have to cross some intersections (Benson warned that no more than a few seconds could likely be added at any location).
- Opening Clinton Street at Delancey to automobile traffic, allowing cars and trucks to enter the Williamsburg Bridge. Right now, motorists coming from the FDR head down Grand Street, turn right on Clinton, but then must take Broome to Norfolk in order to get on the bridge. Benson said this change would help relieve an overburdened Norfolk Street.
- Eliminating the makeshift service road that acts as a fifth lane of Delancey, heading east towards the bridge. Local traffic would still be able to continue alongside the bridge, since the barricades blocking Clinton Street would have been removed.
- Requiring vehicles heading westbound on the Williamsburg Bridge service road to turn on Clinton. Currently they have the option of turning or staying on Delancey.
- Eliminating left turns at several intersections, including Allen and Chrystie streets. Left turns would be prohibited onto Delancey from southbound Essex (at all hours; right now left turns are banned from 4-7 p.m. only). Motorists going south on Essex would be required to turn left on Broome, accessing the bridge from Norfolk Street.
Some of the proposals outlined last night were suggested by Community Board 3 and the 7th Precinct last summer. Back then, the DOT rejected substantive changes, telling The Lo-Down “there are no plans at this time to make changes to the roadway width.” But in the months that followed, political pressure intensified, especially following the death of 12-year old Dashane Santana, who was struck by the driver of a minivan at the intersection of Delancey and Clinton.
Noting that the crossing (as well as the Essex/Delancey intersection) had each seen a high number of pedestrian injuries in the past five years, Benson said, “Delancey Street is one of the places in the community where there is a need for additional safety improvements.” At the same time, he argued that the Transportation Department had done a lot in recent years to improve safety (the installation of countdown clocks and improved pedestrian islands were mentioned).
The reaction to the plan was generally positive. David Crane, chair of CB3’s transportation committee, said the DOT had been “very responsive” and had acted quickly to address concerns raised during Delancey Street Working Group meetings by neighborhood stakeholders.
A few residents asked why pedestrians could not be allowed more time to cross the wide street. One man said it seemed to him the DOT was prioritizing “cars over people.” Benson disagreed with this characterization, saying the result of substantially increasing crossing times would be to cause gridlock, which would ultimately make the neighborhood more unpleasant for everyone.
There were also questions about the role of NYPD traffic agents, who are completely focused on moving automobiles on and off the bridge, rather than on pedestrian safety. Crane said he wants to explore whether school crossing guards or other agents focused on pedestrians could be deployed during peak hours. Margaret Forgione, DOT borough commissioner, said the NYPD had been briefed on the plan and generally supported it (it should be noted that police on the local level are dubious about the notion that the department has been consulted in any meaningful way).
State Senator Daniel Squadron, who convened the Delancey Street Working Group, came by the meeting last night, thanking the DOT and the community board for their efforts. He said the plan represents a positive first step, but he added that everyone needed to stay focused on long-term solutions to the neighborhood’s traffic issues.
Bob Zuckerman, executive director of the LES Business Improvement District, said his organization had agreed to maintain the new planters on Delancey Street. As we first reported last fall, the BID is also working on a plan to create wider pedestrian islands at at least two intersections (Essex and Orchard). They intend to use money left over from a grant awarded by the Manhattan Borough President and to seek more funding to improve additional intersections.
Next Wednesday, CB3’s land use committee will hear another presentation from consultants hired by the city to study environmental impacts of a proposed mixed-use development on the Seward Park development site, which borders Delancey Street. The Economic Development Corp. has been looking at traffic patterns in and around the site. Crane has suggested a more comprehensive traffic study, encompassing a wide swath of the Lower East Side, is needed. So far, no one has been able to come up with the approximately $500,000 it would take to conduct that kind of sweeping survey.
Also next Wednesday, the transportation committee will meet again to discuss the DOT proposal. CB3 is likely to vote on the plan in March.
You can have a look at all upcoming CB3 meetings on our Community Calendar.
Click here for more highlights from the DOT’s slide show.