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Artwork by Bryan Christie Design
Webster Avenue and East Fordham Road, in the Bronx, was identified by the Department of Transportation as the city’s most dangerous intersection in 2008. Fourteen pedestrians and two cyclists had been hit that year, and 131 since 1995. Since then, the DOT and local groups have been picking apart and rebuilding the crossroads.
1. Webster Avenue is 70 feet wide, with no median. Most walkers proceed at 3.5 feet per second, and most intersections are designed around that. But the elderly cover about 2.5 feet per second, so a crossing takes almost half a minute. Standard signal timing left little margin of error for old folks (and children).
2. It’s a shopping hub. That brings in 80,000 pedestrians every day; fewer than 10 percent arrive by car. Thousands more flow out of the nearby Metro-North station, and Fordham University and a high school lie within two blocks.
3. Traffic on East Fordham Road blocked turning vehicles. Frustrated pedestrians would weave through the gridlock, often against the light (against-the-signal pedestrian crashes are 56 percent more deadly than those with the light).
4. Eight bus lines stop here. Tall buses make pedestrians, cars, and stoplights harder to see.
5. Lane markers and crosswalks were eroded. Low curbs and worn sidewalks, with inadequate pedestrian ramps at the corners, make problems worse for the visually impaired. At the intersection’s southern end, the Webster Avenue crosswalk was almost invisible.
6. Right-turn “slip lane” was a hazard. One extremely dangerous feature of the intersection was a lane (containing a crosswalk) that sluiced cars off East Fordham Road, barely slowing them. Speed is a major predictor of danger: One DOT report notes that a pedestrian’s odds of dying are 24 times greater in a 40-mph crash than in a 20-mph one. (Thirty-one percent of truck-related pedestrian fatalities and severe injuries come during right turns.)
Changes Carried Out, In Progress, or Proposed:
7. Retimed lights allow 56 seconds to cross Webster Avenue. The left-turn green arrow onto East Fordham Road also appears after the green light, not before. This change means fewer cars get trapped in the intersection, where they cause gridlock and sometimes get hit.
8. Timed-countdown walk/don’t-walk signals were installed. In a San Francisco study, they decreased pedestrian-injury collision rates 52 percent. Here, they’ve been only semi-effective at getting people to quit walking through stopped traffic.
9. More prominent “pedestrian refuge islands” on East Fordham Road. A median allows walkers to cross in two trips. A raised median at a marked crosswalk reduces the number of pedestrian crashes 46 percent.
10. “Slip lane” for right turns was eliminated and replaced with a sidewalk. A no-brainer: Now cars have to slow down before making a right turn. The built-out sidewalk functions as a “neckdown”—a narrowing of the roadway that shortens the crosswalk and slows cars. Small neckdowns have appeared all over town in recent years, with mixed to positive results: They increase some risk, because pedestrians are nudged closer to traffic, but the shortened crossing times and slowed cars add safety. One small study showed that neckdowns decreased the severity of accidents—fewer fatalities, less damaging injuries—more often than not.
11. The left-turn lanes on Webster Avenue have been lengthened. That’s key: According to one study, left-turn crashes causing death or serious injury happen three times as often as right-turn crashes. The lane now extends about 200 feet up Webster, causing fewer drivers to make late lane changes.
12. Cars’ stop point on Webster was moved back, about twelve feet behind crosswalks. This treatment is called an “advance stop bar” and keeps drivers from being surprised by a pedestrian who steps into view directly in front of them. (Federal guidelines suggest at least a four-foot setback, and further in a dangerous intersection like this.) Street markings were also repainted and crosshatching added on Webster Avenue.
13. A dedicated bus lane will be added to Webster Avenue. Nearby Third Avenue will also become bus-only above 189th Street, taking some pressure off this corner. Buses may no longer be allowed to turn onto East Fordham Road, easing gridlock and enhancing visibility. This is all taking place as Select Bus Service—the new limited-stop bus arrangement that’s been tried on Second Avenue in Manhattan—is rolled out on Webster Avenue in 2013. (It’s already running on East Fordham Road.) Widened sidewalks at the stops, called “bus bulbs,” are likely additions.