By Ava Stryker-Robbins
April 20, 2022 marked a significant change on West 106th Street between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues: a traffic light was installed in the middle of the block, connecting The New Jewish Home, on the south side, and the Red Oak Senior Center, on the north.
West 106th Street is a long and hilly block. For that reason, senior citizens have historically jaywalked mid-block to get from one facility to the other to visit friends or receive services.
Back in 2017, Community Board 7 passed a resolution calling for a traffic light and accompanying crosswalk, stating that “Due to the hilly nature of the block, it is difficult for motorists to see pedestrians crossing, and due to the speed of some vehicles, cars come barreling into the mid-block, narrowly avoiding hitting pedestrians.”
Eighty-one-year-old Ernesto Lopez, who frequents the Red Oak center and has friends living at The New Jewish Home, said, “We had to go to one corner or the other to get across,” something extremely difficult for seniors to do because of the length and slope of the block.
Seventy-five-year-old Antoinette-Marie Williams, CEO of Doors Wide Open, which provides services to disabled people, spoke of jaywalking she had witnessed and participated in due to this difficulty: “We were illegally walking across the street because it was the easiest way to get there….There were accidents.”
Finally, CB7 Member Sheldon Fine, who also serves as President and Director of the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (which manages the Red Oak Senior Center), proposed the mid-block traffic light. In an email to West Side Rag, Fine said he had received many letters of support from The New Jewish Home and the 24th Precinct.
The proposal was unanimously supported by both CB7’s Transportation Committee and CB7 as a whole. However, Fine said, over time, they did not see progress towards their goal. Members of the Red Oak Senior Center began a letter-writing campaign to the Department of Transportation (DOT), which was accompanied by a second endorsement from the 24th Precinct.
DOT officials visited the site and met with residents who explained the dangers and need for the light. Then, the pandemic intervened. It was not until October, 2021 that DOT finally approved this project. In an e-mailed statement, DOT said they had conducted a typical traffic signal study, as they do following any such request, and found that a mid-block signal was warranted.
The installation of the mid-block traffic signal was completed on April 20th.
Residents of the Red Oak Senior Center are extremely relieved and excited by the installation of the light. Isabel Lopez, 83, describes it as “god sent” and “very important.” She said it had been “challenging” to get to her regular therapy sessions at The New Jewish Home with her motorized scooter. “It’s been a long time coming and we’ve worked as a building really hard to get it.”
The project was not officially completed until early last week, however, when DOT painted the crosswalk.
Congratulations seem in order!