By Fernanda Martinez
The number of crashes with injuries is rising on the Upper West Side this year, and block associations are hoping to get police and community organizations to focus more on the issue.
Last Wednesday, September 22, the Upper West Side Coalition of Block Associations held a virtual forum to address the concerns of residents over matters of traffic safety.
In attendance were law enforcement representatives from the 20th and 24th precincts, as well as representatives from the Department of Transportation, and several non-profit community organizations.
Among the topics discussed were the rise in traffic-related fatalities, measures the city is taking to protect pedestrians, and the ongoing citizen concerns that no measures will be enough until there is more efficient street engineering in the neighborhood.
On a citywide basis, there has been a 30% increase in traffic-related fatalities over the last year. “Over the last 12-month period, a pedestrian was killed by a motorist every three days,” said Liz De Vito, chair of the Coalition’s programming committee, who moderated the forum. She was citing NYPD data.
On the Upper West Side, stats presented at the meeting show that the total number of collisions is down this year, but the number of injuries is up 21%. Motorcycles are causing the largest rise in the number of crashes on a percentage basis.
De Vito called upon the police and community organizations to explain what measures they are each taking to keep the community safe.
“We find that the majority of the persons being struck and killed in the roadways are seniors,” said Captain Leighton Myrie, a representative of the 20th Precinct. “We’re going to be deploying our auxiliaries along Amsterdam Avenue to assist some of the seniors in getting across the roadways, and distribute literature into those high-rise buildings, trying to get more people involved and aware of the conditions that are out there.”
Local precincts handed out fewer tickets for moving violations for several months this year, even as traffic began to rise on the streets. More recently, police have started giving out more tickets in one section of the neighborhood. In August, the 20th precinct (59th-86th) increased enforcement, giving out four times as many tickets as in May. But stats from the 24th (86th-110th) indicate that enforcement continues to lag prior months. The precinct gave out 39% fewer tickets for moving violations in August than it did in March.
Julia Kite-Laidlaw, from the New York City Department of Transportation, noted that the city has installed upwards of 1,000 speed cameras and has redesigned street markings on Amsterdam Avenue to provide dedicated time for cyclists to switch sides of the streets, thus improving safety conditions for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike. “We’re targeting the behaviors that will have the greatest change there,” she said.
However, Steve Anderson, chairman of the board of the block association coalition, thought these measures were not happening quickly enough to truly protect the community. “We are scared to be in the street,” he began. “Many of us are aging; we’re an older population.”
“We are a community that is scared about safety in the streets, and we need enforcement,” he added. “We need not to wait years before changes are made. We thought bicycles were going to go up one avenue and down another and that there were going to be bicycles, and we were supportive of bicycles. Now we have unbelievable activity. And we’ve got the street restaurants squeezing us all in, and it feels out of control. As I walk around our community, people say to me, what are we going to do about that? What is the community board going to do? What is the Department of Transportation going to do?”