Penn South Pedestrians Want Better Bike Lane Safety
BY SAM SPOKONY | Police are cracking down on rule-breaking bicycle riders around Chelsea’s Penn South housing co-op, after pedestrian safety complaints from residents of the complex reached a tipping point in recent months.
Captain David Miller, who leads the NYPD’s 10th Precinct, said he assigned a traffic safety officer to specifically focus on handing out summonses to rogue riders in the bike lanes around Penn South — which spans West 23rd Street to West 29th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues — after the precinct’s Community Council meeting on October 30.
During that meeting longtime Penn South resident Phyllis Shanley, among others, expressed fears about bike riders — especially those on tourist-friendly CitiBikes — going the wrong way in their lane, running red lights and cutting off slow-moving, elderly residents as they cross the street.
Cops Beef Up Bicycle Enforcement at Penn South
“A lot of people here feel that the situation with bicyclists is getting worse,” said Shanley at the October meeting. “Pedestrians are at greater risk than ever.”
A month later, it looked as though Captain Miller’s newly assigned traffic safety officer was breaking some ground on that front.
At the Community Council meeting on November 20, Miller announced that over the past month, approximately 50 bicyclists in the Penn South area had been slapped with summonses — and in a phone interview the following week, 10th Precinct Community Affairs Detective Mike Petrillo explained that the traffic safety officer will stay on that beat “until we see more improvement” in pedestrian safety around the complex.
After learning that police had stepped up enforcement, Shanley said she’s still hoping for an even greater impact on keeping the bike lanes and intersections safe.
“It makes me feel better, but not a lot better,” said Shanley, referring to the role of the traffic safety officer. “I’ll have to wait until next month to see if it’s really continuing to make a difference.”
Shanley, a senior citizen, believes that many of the safety issues are caused by younger bike riders who are not fully conscious of the urban environment.
“I think a lot of young people here didn’t grow up in the city, and instead they have a suburban mindset, so they don’t know how to interact in traffic in an urban setting,” said Shanley. “A lot of them just see it as a faster way to get to work, so they’re flying along, and they don’t understand that they have to calculate for pedestrians. If there’s no car stopping them, they just go, and they don’t care about the pedestrians.”
It’s also important to note that when dealing with bike complaints, 10th Precinct officers can’t patrol past the northern edge of Penn South, since the precinct’s boundary stops at West 29th Street, between Seventh and Ninth Avenues.
BIKE LANE STOPLIGHT NEEDED?
In addition to pushing for increased police enforcement, some Penn South residents have called on the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) to install a special stoplight at the intersection of West 25th Street and Eighth Avenue, which they believe would help to more safely control the flow of traffic when both cars and bicycles make left turns from the avenue onto the street.
There are already special signals of that kind at the Eighth Avenue intersections of West 19th, 21st and 23rd Streets, which provide red or green lights specifically to bicyclists, or which provide a red or green arrow to all left-turning traffic.
The effort to get a new signal at West 25th Street and Eighth Avenue dates back to mid-2011, when Penn South resident Sylvia Burns created a petition that was later brought before Community Board 4 (CB4). The petition, which specifically called on the DOT to install the signal, garnered over 1,000 signatures from residents of both Penn South and some neighboring buildings.
Within months, both Burns and CB4 sent letters to the DOT requesting the new signal, while citing the petition.
But the DOT never acted on the request, and Burns didn’t even get a response from the city agency until August 2012. In that letter, the DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione wrote that, based on investigation conducted during the previous month, “No signal timing changes are recommended at this time.”
“I was disgusted,” said Burns, who pointed out that the DOT’s response seemed not to have even answered her original request. She was asking for a new, additional signal at the intersection, not a change in the timing of the current signal.
“I felt like I did everything I possibly could, and nothing happened,” she added.
More than a year later, Burns still hopes to keep the issue alive, but has found it difficult to gain any traction since the failure of that past CB4-aided effort.
Burns agreed it hasn’t helped that the DOT has not sent a representative to the past three 10th Precinct Community Council meetings.
Captain Miller has stated that he asked the agency to send someone each time, but that the DOT “respectfully declined” the invitation.
In his interview, Detective Petrillo added that the DOT had claimed a “conflict of schedules” when declining the precinct’s previous three invitations.
Responding to a question about the push for a new signal at West 25th Street and Eighth Avenue, a DOT spokesperson claimed the agency has never received Burns’ petition or any complaints about the issue, but pointed out that the DOT has installed a mixing zone — street markings that separate turning cars from through traffic, and place them alongside the bike lane — at that intersection, which “enhances visibility of cyclists and provides sufficient space for turning vehicles while also enhancing pedestrian safety.”
The DOT spokesperson also claimed that the intersection’s current design provides “sufficient safe crossing time for pedestrians” who are crossing Eighth Avenue, but did not mention the safety of pedestrians who may be crossing West 25th Street.
“Whenever we have the light to cross 25th Street, there’s always still the potential for a car, or more likely a bicycle, to make a left turn from Eighth Avenue and possibly injure whoever is crossing,” said Burns. “A new signal would simply make it safer for us to cross, especially those of us who have to move slowly.”
“We just want the same safety precautions that they already have on 19th, 21st and 23rd Streets,” she added. “I don’t think that’s too much to ask, and I just want the DOT to stop giving us the runaround.”