Are Phone Booths on Ninth Avenue a Pedestrian Menace?

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As reported in Sunday's City section of the Times (Times Select required), residents of Hell's Kitchen are concerned that the placement of a double phone booth at the corner of 45th St. and Ninth Ave. may have been a contributing factor in two pedestrian fatalities at that intersection.

On May 22, 2000, a tour bus struck and killed Randolph Walker, a 71-year-old actor, as he crossed 45th Street on the west side of Ninth Avenue. The tour guide later testified that he and the driver had been looking ahead as they turned onto the side street, yet saw no one in the crosswalk.

On Feb. 23, Nina Petrow, 55, was killed in the same spot by another tour bus turning off the avenue.

The second death has revived neighbors' long-held suspicions about a pair of phone booths, joined into a single roofed cabin, that sit perhaps 12 feet north of the intersection. They say the double booths can briefly block pedestrians from the view of drivers turning onto the street.

"After this second instance, we all went, 'Well, duh,' " said Renée Stanley, a stage manager who lives on 44th Street near Ninth Avenue and saw Mr. Walker get hit. "Once is an accident. Twice, there's a direct line."

Lee Compton, chairman of Community Board 4, has asked the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications to remove the phone booths, calling it "troubling" that "an 8-foot-tall-by-6-foot-wide visual barrier was placed so close to this dangerous intersection."

According to Nicholas Sbordone, a spokesman for the technology department, the phone booths' placement complies with city rules and the booths' operator, Telebeam Telecommunications Corporation, has disputed the contention that they are "a nuisance."

Walker's death prompted marches of protest against tour buses operating in the theater district, actions that led to the eventual shutdown of Apple Tours, the company operating the bus that killed him.

Note that in the Times photo accompanying the latest story, at least one of the phones appears to be off the hook. Perhaps it is, like so many of the city's pay phones, out of order, even if the advertising on the oversize booth is still bringing in revenue.

Hell's Kitchen residents and businesses have been engaged in a long-running process to improve traffic and public space conditions in their neighborhood. Just last night they held another community workshop

Photo: Hiroko Masuike for the New York Times