Danger Crossing the Bowery

Crossing at BleeckerKathryn Kattalia

During the 20 years that she has lived on East Fourth Street, Frances Bush has seen dozens of accidents involving pedestrians rushing across the Bowery — a wide avenue stretching roughly a mile from Chatham Square in Chinatown to Cooper Square in the East Village.

“You have cars coming off of Houston onto Bowery and they’re going quite rapidly,” said Ms. Bush, 50. “With the construction and the bike lanes, people get confused. A lot of safety has to do with that.”

With traffic running north and south, the Bowery is one of the main arteries of the East Village. It is also one of the deadliest.

Of the 109 pedestrians hit and killed on Manhattan’s streets between 2007 and 2009, seven fatalities took place on the Bowery, making it the fourth most dangerous road for pedestrians in the borough, according to a newly released report by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

For a longtime Bowery observer like Ms. Bush, that comes as no surprise.

“People don’t abide by the law,” she said. “They don’t follow the lights, they don’t follow directions. It gets real crowded here and people get distracted.”

The annual report released by the transportation campaign, a non-profit group that advocates for increased transit safety, records and maps pedestrian fatalities throughout downstate New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

“We’re looking to draw attention to dangerous conditions on roads so that they can be improved in hopes people don’t continue to die unnecessarily,” Ms. Slevin told The Local.

Broadway — Manhattan’s longest road — was also cited as the borough’s most dangerous after 11 pedestrians were killed there within the report’s three-year time period. Seventh Avenue and the Henry Hudson Parkway followed with eight fatalities each.

Ms. Slevin said the most dangerous roads analyzed typically share similar traits. Most of them, like Bowery, are wide with multiple lanes and have fast moving traffic, she said.

Some of those who work and live along the Bowery said reckless drivers may be largely to blame for the road’s high ranking in the fatality study. Robert Petroff, 51, who does construction work on the Bowery near East Houston Street for the New York City Department of Design and Construction, said it is common to see drivers flouting traffic laws as they zip along.

“If I’m standing out here for half an hour, there are at least five guys who run red lights,” Mr. Petroff said. “People are speeding down here.”

Others in the neighborhood said that quick crossing signals, narrow medians and confusing roadwork could also be among the factors that create hazards along the Bowery.

“It’s always under construction,” said Sarah Flanagan, 22, an independent filmmaker who lives on Houston Street and Broadway. “There’s no real space to cross. It’s kind of awkward, and you get you get caught in the middle.”

Ms. Slevin said the city’s Department of Transportation has made strong efforts to improve pedestrian safety along busy roads by installing blinking crosswalk signals, reducing speed limits and re-engineering roads to provide more medians and shorter crossing distances.

In the 2010 New York City Pedestrian Safety and Action Plan released in August, the transportation department outlined a strategy to re-engineer 20 intersections in Manhattan to increase pedestrian safety on major two-way streets. Between 2005 and 2009, the plan said, just over half the people killed in traffic accidents in New York City were pedestrians.

Officials at the Department of Transportation did not respond to The Local’s questions about whether or not the Bowery will be included in future road projects aimed at reducing traffic fatalities. Ms. Slevin said in that in previous years the department has been quick to react to problem spots indicated by the TSTC report.

“The city has done an excellent job of making streets safer and showing that streets are for all users and not just drivers,” she said. “They’ve done a tremendous job to improve safety.”

In the meantime, Mr. Petroff said, more needs to be done to crack down on reckless motorists.

“There needs to be more patrolling by the police,” he said. “We need cops on the street corners at red lights to just be a presence, because the cars just go.”

Others, like Deborah Wood, 58, who has lived on the Bowery between East First and East Second Street since 2008, said what people really need — both drivers and pedestrians — is common sense.

“You have to watch your step,” Ms. Wood said. “People just need to make sure they follow the traffic rules and watch when they’re making left turns, and they should be safe.”

Join the conversation: What do you think are the neighborhood’s most perilous intersections?