More Accidents Waiting to Happen

In this 2008 crash at 125th and Lex, the driver was killed and seven pedestrians were hit.Photo: Tina Fineberg/AP Photo

The corner of Lexington Avenue and East 125th Street, traffic-safety advocates say, is another of the most dangerous in New York. From 1995 to 2009, there were 106 pedestrian and bicyclist crashes there (twenty involving children) causing 122 injuries and at least one death. Unlike Webster Avenue and East Fordham Road, in the Bronx (page 44), this intersection has seen almost no effort to cut the risk. There is, arguably, no corner in New York with a higher ratio of danger to inattention.

Traffic volume:
East 125th feeds the RFK Bridge, and at peak hours nearly 1,100 cars per hour pass in both directions. It’s often either heavy traffic or bumper-to-bumper crawling gridlock, both hard to cross. A 2008 Federal Highway Administration report to Congress singled out “high-volume signalized intersections where pedestrians must compete with vehicles even during the pedestrian phase to safely cross.” Here, both streets fit that description.

Sidewalk overcrowding:
In addition to the thousands of local pedestrians who use this corner, residents of the homeless shelter on Wards Island are bused here in the morning and picked up at night, because it’s close to the bridge and provides subway access for jobs and appointments. Eight methadone clinics are also within a five-block radius, and their populations often linger on the broad sidewalk apron outside the Lexington Avenue Pathmark. While local officials don’t blame these populations for the problem, the congestion from all of the groups that use this corner compares to the pedestrian volume in midtown, they say. Sidewalk crowding is a double-whammy: More people crossing means more chances for accidents, and people pushing through the crowd are more liable to step off the curb and get hit.

The city buses:
The M101, M103, M98, M100, M35, and M60 bus lines stop here; so does one express bus from the Bronx. Disembarking en masse, passengers fill the sidewalks further. As they do, explains Transportation Alternatives’ Juan Martinez, “the crowding drives people off the sidewalks, and they walk in the street.” Tall buses also make it hard to see traffic lights and cars.

The subway:
More than 28,000 passengers per weekday use the 4/5/6 stop, contributing to the crowds. In 2008, a fast-moving van jumped the curb and smashed into the subway entrance, killing the driver and hitting seven bystanders. A 2-year-old who was pinned under the van was fortunate to survive.

How to fix it:
Community Board 11’s George Sarkissian believes that an engineering review could show “either how to widen the sidewalks so they’re not so crowded, or work on the pedestrian flow to get people moving, or narrow the distance between sidewalks as folks cross the street, so they have a little more time.” Martinez adds that traffic enforcement is extremely lax here: “In 2011, the entire precinct issued zero speeding tickets. This year, through October, they’ve issued four.” The NYPD had no comment; the DOT is considering a number of options on 125th Street, but no formal plan has been made.

More Accidents Waiting to Happen