Hell’ s Kitchen residents demand pedestrian safety measures



The corner of W41st and 10th, where pedestrians are afraid to cross the street, allows up to three lanes of traffic to turn. Photo: Nicole Soviero.

Michael Huarachi went to a recent Community Board 4 meeting to present a petition with over 500 signatures, asking the board to address traffic at the intersection of West 41 Street and 10th Avenue, where three turn lanes lead to the entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel.

One week later, one of his neighbors was hit by a car there while walking his dog.

Huarachi, who has lived on 10th avenue for 14 years, is fed up with feeling unsafe. “In my building alone, which has over 900 units and over 1800 residents, there have been 4 people struck by cars on that block.”

The most recent victim, Cristobal Modesto, sustained injuries to his knee, back and ankles. He  says that it’s time for the city to do more to identify the area as a neighborhood, and suggests adding trees and a bike lane. “I think having trees on the west side between 40th and 41st will help identify that people live here and it’s a community,” he says. “Also having a bike lane may be helpful because it reduces the number of cars and will create a dedicated buffer.”

Success Academy, a charter school for grades K-7, sits on the W41st corner where traffic makes the initial turn, and according to school security guard Tykeisha Norfort, traffic makes drop off and pick up more difficult.

“A lot of parents complain,” she said. “They can’t even stop their car to drop off their kids because that’s how dangerous it is. They can’t even leave their car there for a few seconds.” They either pull over in the left turn lane off W. 40th or cross with their children, on foot, at 41st street. While Norfot says no child has even been injured, parents worry about their children crossing such a hazardous intersection.

“I wish I could be there at lunch or hire a babysitter or even be there for recess,” says Jennifer Hampton, whose nine-year-old attends Success Academy. “I am really scared when she leaves to go to the playground. These drivers don’t care.” The school doesn’t have its own crossing guards, and relies instead on city traffic guards: an NYPD traffic guard on the W41st street corner and sometimes another one across the street. Students are allowed to self-dismiss beginning in 5th grade, which means they can leave at the end of the day without a parent present — making some parents uneasy.

Hampton knows parents who decided not to send their children to the school because of safety concerns. ”All of the parents are concerned,” she said. “Success Academy has another middle school in the area and several people have said they chose not to put their kid in this location because it’s dangerous.”

Hampton thinks the school needs a dedicated crossing guard and more school signage. ”I don’t think people know there is a school there,” she said. “I think the school should add flags to the building. This recommendation was made and the school will try to do something of that nature”.

Colleen Chattergoon, community relation specialist at the Department of Transportation, says that getting a crossing guard at the intersection is a priority. There is a traffic enforcement agent there but they only move traffic along,” she said. “They don’t help pedestrians because it’s not their job.” Chattergoon blames the situation on increased traffic, both buses and cars, and is working with the city and the school to make Success Academy more visible to drivers. Sidewalk planters are another possibility, but according to Chattergoon, “Success Academy would have to get DOT consent and apply in order to have permission to have planters, and the school has not done so.”

Rebecca Milvich, a jewelry designer who frequents the area, thinks pedestrians are fearful because the traffic doesn’t yield. “These trucks should stop before you feel comfortable to walk,” she said, “and I think ultimately the main issue is the intimidation factor of the size of the trucks moving onto that street. They ignore the pedestrian traffic signals in order to make the turn.” Milvich wants to make sure truckers know the consequences of rolling through the intersection. “I think there needs to be warning signals to how much it will cost [the fine for] the trucks” she said, “and of course then enforcement of that”.

Some  CB4 members visited the corner to observe, and have agreed to look into a split phase a traffic signal which separates right-of-way pedestrians from turning traffic. But Huarachi argues that even with a split phase, vehicles can still injure people. Huarachi believes the ultimate solution is to ban large vehicles on W41st street. “I strongly recommend turning W41st street off of 10th avenue on the west side into a pedestrian plaza completely free of cars,” he said. “I know some schools in Chelsea have car-free zones and I think even a temporary car-free zone on W41st street would be ideal”.

Chattergoon said if the community proposes that idea the DOT won’t rule it out. But residents would have to file a claim through the DOT’s pedestrian program and acquire a maintenance partner—an organization that would help with programming, maintenance and beautification of the space.