To the relief of many Upper East Siders who have wanted the change for years, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has disallowed left turns onto E. 79th Street for cars heading north on York Avenue.
Though there was never a turn signal at that intersection, the light would remain green for drivers going north on York after the other three lights had turned red so the northbound cars could make a left turn. This confused pedestrians, who would think all lights were red and would cross the street without realizing some of them were in the path of the northbound cars who still had a green light.
“This is an intersection where I myself have felt unsafe,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, who helped accomplish the safety improvement. “I brought the concern to the Department of Transportation and we went over multiple different options.”
After deciding that eliminating left turns all together was the best move, Kallos and the DOT took it to the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association for a vote.
Betty Cooper Wallerstein, president and founder of the neighborhood association, is happy to see the intersection made safer, but frustrated that it took more than four years to do so.
“People are used to, when the traffic stops, crossing,” Wallerstein said. “The streets have to be safe for blind people, too. It never, never, never should have taken so many years to correct that mistake.”
In a 2014 survey Kallos’ office conducted of his constituents, it was noted that “the uptown/downtown traffic lights appear to be out of sync.” There have been 74 collisions at 79th and York since 2012, resulting in 20 injuries, half of which were suffered by pedestrians.
Jim Clynes, chairman of the Upper East Side’s Community Board 8 and a member of the East 79th Street Neighborhood Association, once set up a lawn chair in front of the Chase bank at the intersection to observe the situation for himself.
“I could see how confusing it is,” he said. “It goes against common sense to have one lane of traffic moving and the opposite lane stopped, because it gives the false impression that it’s safe to cross.”
Community Board 8 passed a resolution about a year ago to have left turns eliminated, which Clynes believes helped motivate the DOT to speed up the process.
According to Kallos, there are still plenty of dangerous intersections in his district to improve.
As part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero pedestrian safety initiative, the intersections of E. 79th and Second Avenue, E. 75th and First Avenue, and E. 86th and Lexington Avenue are just some of the nearby spots slated for an upgrade.
Madeleine Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org