East Side Coalition Unveils Its Vision for Safer, Transit-Friendly Streets

Image: Transportation Alternatives

A template to prioritize walking, biking, and transit at the intersection of Third Avenue and 117th Street. Image: Transportation Alternatives

Earlier this week, Laurence Renard was killed as she crossed First Avenue when a dump truck driver turned into her path from 90th Street, hitting her from behind. Renard was one of at least six pedestrians and cyclists who have lost their lives in traffic crashes on East Side streets since last August.

People are seriously hurt and killed with terrible frequency on the East Side of Manhattan: 148 pedestrians and cyclists died on its streets between 1995 and 2008, and more than 15,000 were injured. The area is rife with wide streets and intersections that invite speeding and reckless driving. At the same time, the East Side is home to high percentages of walk-to-work commuters, car-free households, and senior citizens. East Siders lead walkable lifestyles and make many trips by foot or bike, but their streets are extremely dangerous.

Last night, more than 100 people gathered at St. Mark’s Church on East 10th Street for the unveiling of Transportation Alternatives’ East Side Action Plan [PDF], which outlines a broad vision for making this part of Manhattan safer and more livable.

In a series of public workshops, more than 600 East Siders helped TA put together recommendations to redesign their streets and put walking, biking, and transit first. The Action Plan came out of those workshops to serve as “a tool for local East Side experts to use as citizen planners, so they can educate their communities and generate the local support needed to engage decision makers around design and policy change,” said TA’s Julia De Martini Day. Dozens of community groups from Chinatown to Harlem have signed on to the campaign.

With political attacks on pedestrian and bicycle improvements fresh in everyone’s mind, the kick-off event last night was something of a rallying cry for the coalition. New Yorkers who want safer streets have to organize and mobilize as effectively as possible, a point that former Bogota Mayor Enrique Penalosa brought home when he told the audience that the allocation of street space “is a political decision, not a technical decision.”

The East Side campaign has an ally in Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, who told the crowd that he’s been very encouraged by last year’s improvements for transit, biking, and walking on First and Second Avenues, and that he wants to see the NYC DOT and the MTA do more to prioritize those modes of travel. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and City Council Member Dan Garodnick also lent their support to the campaign in TA’s press release.

The East Village Community Coalition is one of the neighborhood groups that will be making the case for safer streets. EVCC Managing Director Kurt Cavanagh said he hopes to meet with the local community board and elected officials in about a month to talk about the recommendations in the East Side plan. Other community groups in Harlem, the Upper East Side, and Chinatown will be approaching their CBs and electeds in the months ahead as well. Stay tuned.

Video: Clarence Eckerson