No Exit, Upper West Side Style

exit.151_cityroom_ready.jpgOver on the New York Times’s City Room blog, Sewell Chan reports on opposition to the July 8 closing of the West 72nd St. exit ramp from the West Side Highway, a move that has been fought in court for years by neighborhood activists. The off-ramp is being demolished at the request of the Extell Development Company, which is constructing the massive Riverside South residential complex, to enable the extension of Riverside Boulevard, the complex’s main street. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has tried to make the case that poses a security risk, issuing a statement that said, in part:

A large-scale emergency situation on the Upper West Side, such as a significant fire, building collapse or terrorist attack, would require emergency personnel from throughout the city to access the area to provide medical and other relief services. With no point of entry at West 72nd Street, emergency response vehicles would need to exit the highway at West 56th Street and travel north on congested city streets, or exit at West 79th Street and travel south on equally congested routes to access any location in between.

An Upper West Side resident and commenter on the City Room site had similarly dire predictions for the outcome of the 72nd St. closing:

West End Avenue will now become a seven-lane superhighway, imposing increased noise, pollution, and danger to pedestrians. This was put through irregularly, without proper engineering and environmental studies, disregarding the will of the local community, and against the public interest. It shows municipal government being manipulated to serve private interests — NY City as a classic banana republic!

But another commenter cites this study on the reallocation of road space to paint a much rosier scenario:

I’d be curious to see the traffic model or data set that Stringer is using to make his prediction of increased congestion. I doubt he’d be able to produce any data to back up his claim of increased congestion.

That’s because the closing this off-ramp will, almost certainly, create a significant reduction in traffic on W. 72nd Street. After all, many of the vehicles currently using the street are driving to or from the off-ramp. Close the ramp and that traffic goes away. The traffic reduction would likely be felt on streets and avenues around the closed ramp as well.

Anyone know more about this project and care to speculate on how things will play out once the exit is permanently closed on Sunday?

Photo: Hiroko Masuike for the New York Times

  • I used to live in the neighborhood and while I don’t support the closing, I don’t think its a tragedy either. It is very close to the 79th St off ramp (where you can access the downtown side of the West Side Highway as well), and the main advantage of the 72nd St exit was that you could make a left on Riverside Dr, which you can’t do from 79th St. Otherwise, 7 blocks out of your way isn’t the end of the world.

  • Henry Hudson Parkway Task Force

    We tried to assess the impact of this on the Henry Hudson Parkway – that is, the roadway and the surrounding parkland. Our interest was in the functional and scenic values of the park infrastructure, as this is the terminus and gateway to Riverside Park and the parkway (both of which are on the national scenic register and city landmarks). We could only conclude that it will depend on how the space and infrastructure is preserved/redesigned. If the decommissioned off-ramp is landscaped as parkland, the historic stone wall preserved and highlighted as the gateway to the park, and all well-integrated into Riverside Park South and the greenway, the outcome could well be a pleasing one. Without seeing a detailed plan, however, who can know? The wrong design could be terrible.

    This of course does not address the concerns of increased traffic on West End Avenue. I do suspect that congestion pricing will change traffic patterns at the same time it (hopefully) reduces overall volume. My guess is that northbound traffic on 9A will be dominated by thru, not local traffic, seeking to escape the zone, and that West End should see at least a temporary decrease (which should be made permanent with some sort of landscaping in keeping with its grand boulevard design.)

    By the way, lest anyone doubt that DOT contractors are capable of gorgeous preservation work, look at the 96th Street & Riverside Drive overpass.

  • greg

    i used to live up on 79th street
    this closure will add a lot of traffic to 79yj near west end, all to satisfy a developer and his clientele

    new york, new york

  • Steve

    I’m on 79th and West End quite often. In my experience a fair amount of southbound traffic heading to destinations between 34th and 59th Streets exit 9A at 79th or at 72nd and use West End/11th Ave. as an “alt. route”, often speeding and/or running red lights once there. Closing the 72nd Street ramp may lead those who formerly exited at 72nd to exit at 79th or even at 96th, injecting this through traffic into a longer portion of the UWS.

  • alex

    I have to agree with greg. Any local traffic that would have used the 72nd St. off-ramp will likely use 79th St. This seems problematic for several reasons.
    1) 79th St. is an access point for peds a bikes to get to the pathway along the river. Increasing traffic on the round-about and at the light at Riverside Dr.
    2) ALL of the road surfaces near the 79th St. on/offramps are in horrible condition. Increasing traffic will only exacerbate the deteriorating condition of these surfaces. Plus, when the time comes for the road to be repaired (it should have happened long ago), the bottleneck will be further tightened.

  • Henry Hudson Parkway Task Force

    The plan is to close the exit of the NORTHBOUND lane. So the question is, who travelling north exits there now, and who will be doing so when it will cost $8? One could argue that congestion pricing will render prior traffic studies pretty moot, and deserve to be re-studied. There are other factors that have changed earlier assumptions made in 1992. Traffic on the greenway grew beyond all expectations, for example. Plans for waterborne transit are being realized. Residential development of the west side (all the way up and down) has added pressure to all modes. All of this makes it imperative to complete the corridor management plan, which was put on hold by Iris Weinshall after the collapse of the retaining wall.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I spent a good part of my childhood in the Upper West Side, and I’m still a frequent visitor, particularly to the areas under discussion. I wish that more of the people involved in this situation had a better understanding of how streets and traffic work.

    West End Avenue and the 79th Street entrance to the Parkway are dangerous not so much because of the volume of traffic as because of the steps that the DOT, the State and the Parks Department have taken to accommodate it.

    The light timing on West End Avenue is ludicrous from a pedestrian’s perspective: one of my frequent trips is a diagonal one, and if I encounter a “Don’t Walk” sign crossing West End Avenue, before I can walk a block south the light has gone through a complete cycle and I’m stuck at another “Don’t Walk” sign. The speeds that this light timing allows make the avenue feel very unwelcoming. If there were more cars on the avenue, it would reduce speeds and make things safer – if the DOT didn’t retime the lights to allow higher speeds or do something stupid like converting a parking lane to traffic use.

    The Riverside Park Promenade deserves a few grand entrances for pedestrians, cyclists, and other users (currently, I feel like one of Sailey’s rats entering through Penn Station. The 79th Street entrance could be one of these, but now everyone who wants to go there has to cross two highway on-ramps or else brave a narrow, isolated, poorly-lit tunnel, and then walk through another narrow path next to the southbound traffic (I won’t get into the restaurant problem). Park users crossing 79th Street are confronted with a wide, unfriendly intersection.

    The 72nd Street tunnel and stairway (and the crossing of Riverside Drive) are similarly demeaning to pedestrians, and I hope that the plans for demolishing the on-ramp include the creation of a better connection between the greenway and the neighborhood.

    The only thing that these problems have to do with the amount of traffic is DOT’s willingness to bend over backwards to accommodate that traffic. Hopefully the new, progressive crowd at DOT will re-evaluate this area and come up with an effective way to calm traffic.

    The Task Force comments are very instructive. I’m interested in what Hilary Kitasei has to say about this.

  • Hilary Kitasei

    Angus,

    Your description of this area couldn’t make the case better for a corridor management plan for the parkway that recognizes and integrates its park functions. The entire corridor has been degraded by fifty years of project-driven attempts to solve traffic problems.

    The tragedy is that this part of Riverside Park (south of 125ht Street) is one thousand times better than the parkway north of it, in Harlem, Washington Heights, Inwood, and Riverdale, where park infrastructure has been really abandoned, closed off, paved over, blanketed with billboards and expressway scale signage. The impetus for the Scenic Byway initiative came from a desire in those communities for equity in its treatment. Which is not to say that all of it can’t be better, but that at least they should be brought up to the level of Upper West Side.

    It makes no sense to plan waterfront parks and greenways as if the highways don’t exist. With planning, they can be made to enhance (and fund) the parks they run through, rather than sabotage them. Examples around the country abound – Chicago, Boston, Washington D.C., Minneapolis. Would those parks be better off with no parkways at all? Absolutely. But if they’re there, at least make them behave.

    All four community boards have just reissued even stronger resolutions of support for the Scenic Byway and corridor management plan. We hope the new DOT commissioner will be responsive.

    Hilary Kitasei
    (and hope you’ll join the Task Force. http://www.henryhudsonparkway.org)

  • Sproule Love

    While it may be true that this is a case of a special interest unfairly getting its way, the end result is in line with concept of a Streets Renaissance. Informed readers of StreetsBlog know there is a wealth of evidence that limiting automobile access by closing roads and exits lowers OVERALL traffic levels on remaining roads.

    I’m reminded of another compelling example of this phenomenon in a SB post from this past February on another popular topic here, R. Moses (see comment #19 for traffic example, see comment #20 for a hilarious characterization of Moses as Darth Vader):

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2007/02/09/crisscrossed-with-freeways-studded-with-parking-lots/#comment-28797

    Now it may be somewhat inconsistent of me to stay quiet when a special interest exerts undue political influence to further gain only because I also stand to benefit as a bike commuter from fewer cars in that area, but I’m going to hold my tongue on this one.

  • Andre T.

    A simple rule that will serve one well in the big apple: Traffic never gets better.

    It’s strange – I would have thought that the area residents would be largely in favor of closing that which brought so much passing traffic through their streets. For years, I was among the exit traffic trying to beat the North bound slowdowns on the H.H. But I understand the EMS and Fire Dept response concerns.

    But sadly, if money is involved, and real estate money at that – this is such a done deal, that the most difficult thing for the developers is to feign any compassion over who does not like it.

  • C. Burnett

    I have crossed 72nd Street at both ends and in the middle as a pedestrian, a bicyclist, and a driver for over thirty years and can swear that no one knows traffic patterns and hazards better than I do. That I and my family and neighbors are still alive is a testament to our savvy and skill, not to traffic laws or DOT Management or good driving. I wish someone from the DOT would spend a day with me on the street here before making any permanent changes to neighborhood traffic patterns.

    The exit ramp traffic at the west end of the street is dangerous- but at predictable times in a small area. Go a little further east, to West End Avenue at 72nd St. and you will see an deadly driver-walker dance at any hour of the day that will only deteriorate further if the DOT does not study the problems we have here already before empowering drivers to completely overrun the street.

    Although the offramp creates a dangerous crossing into Riverside Park during evening rush hours because cars, hoping to get around a jam in the highway’s northbound lane, rush down and OFF, blocking the crosswalk when they hit another jam, or running the light to turn left on Riverside Drive when they can keep moving, the bigger problem is down the street. Pedestrians- parents or nannies with strollers, people and their dogs, the elderly with or without shopping carts or walkers, high school kids on the way to the track, the homeless, the day camp kids and their counselers- have already faced death as they scurry anxiously to cross safely at West End Avenue and 72nd St.

    Here, drivers intent on getting out of the neighborhood to their own, I imagine, calmer streets, seem to become inhumanely focused on making the lights – they will often roll their cars into the crosswalk as closely as they can in a game of “Chicken,” knowing that normal people will so threatened by the vehicles that they cede right of way to them. When someone IS responsible enough to pause for those of us who are crossing, the drivers behind him or her will hit their horns and complain bitterly that the driver has failed to threaten pedestrians enough to make them get out of the way faster. Often, my neighbors and I look down into the cars of these loud horn-honkers and frown, silently asking them if the driver in front of them should run us over so that they can all get on their way over our injured bodies. The usual response to this is that the driver hits the horn again and swears at us as they roll.

    Here is a recent example of this practice. Yesterday morning, complying with the horn blowers behind her, a middle-age woman rolled her car into the crosswalk, forcing three of us to stop in the middle of WEA and when I asked her (through her open window) why she didn’t wait for us, she growled “I had a green light, B—-.” She hadn’t seen the “Yield to Pedestrians’ sign, high above her on the post.

    “So do we,” said a small voice beside me, trying to use only reason against a person who clearly felt that the tonnage of her car gave her the right of way.

    This kind of encounter occurs at all four points of this sixteen lane intersection, all day long. If this intersection becomes anymore dangerous than it already is due to any changes that would make it more of a highway entrance than it already is, then more of my neighbors will be hurt – emotionally and physically- and more drivers will find their commute being interrupted by EMS and the NYPD.

    Is the west side of the Upper Westside fated to become a faster, more convenient onramp for those who live in neighborhoods upstate or across the river? I agree with those who have pointed out that the intersection at 79th Street is also dangerous. I used to cross it every day on the way to school on a bike until one of my students had his arm broken by a driver who “had the light.” After that, I changed my route and warned the kids to avoid it or walk their bikes very carefully with the pedestrians.

    The offramp at 72nd St. accounts for less than half the dangerous encounters we face hourly at WEA. If more drivers heading home will be traveling on more lanes coming up the avenue and turning onto 72nd St.,where they will need to merge into just two lanes and then a single lane on to the Henry Hudson Parkway, what will that do to those of us who are trying to walk or bike or bus or cab home with our children and our groceries?

    Ironic, isn’t it, that as the mayor is trying to “green”and “decongest” our city by charging people to come through my neighborhood in order to cut down on vehicular volume, the DOT is doing its best to turn a neighborhood avenue south of 86th St. into a highway ramp? I say that when you give drivers six lanes of one-way traffic and rolling green lights,you give them the right and the motivation to move faster and more freely, not more respectfully and safely. Pedestrians and bikers are not heavy enough to remind drivers to move legally and respectfully, and my neighbors and I know that by experience. At very least, the DOT should see that cameras and officers encourage resposible driving here.

    If the mayor wants to improve air quality, to encourage safe biking and safe walking, and to make our city greener – all things that all New Yorkers deserve – he should instruct the DOT to close more lanes and streets and add more bike lanes. And enforce traffic laws around them. There are nowcameras snapping pictures of cars running red lights on the highway in Chelsea where there are very few pedestrians. Why aren’t they up here, where drivers would quickly learn that threatening pedestrians is also unlawful.

    The mayor must be mindful of the dangerous ripples any closings will cause, especially on his own neighbors and constituents. He should ask the DOE to consult with residents and police officers in those neighborhoods.

    Closing the 72nd offramp is a good place to start, er, forgive the pun, turning things around. The DOT closed the southbound entrance to the highway permanently years ago after i called them to complain about the cars spinning in u-turns when drivers realized they were heading in the wrong direction. The result was a safer walk into the park, a statue of a prominent New York woman, more park area,and a very popular dog run. Why shouldn’t the safety and beauty of the neighborhood be valued more highly than speed and convenience for commuters?

  • eco wiz

    I agree with C. Burnett, he should come and look at 79th and Amsterdam and all of the cars turning north on Amsterdam that have the green light but do not obey the yield to pedestrians sign. They must have just come from the Highway since they have not adjusted their speed for city streets.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Repairing the Neighborhood Scars Created By a Freeway

|
There is no more potent neighborhood destroyer than a massive highway. But for many urban places around the country, their horizons were fixed by a freeway long ago. Minneapolis’s Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is sort of a classic example, says Adam Froehlig at Network blog Streets.mn: Built in the early 1970s on the east side of downtown […]

Is This a Downtown Street or a Surface Highway?

|
Indianapolis recently decided to convert two downtown streets — West New York and West Michigan — from one-way speedways to calmer, two-way streets. The changes should help make the city’s downtown campus area more walkable, but now it looks like the city is compensating for those traffic changes by turning another street — West Street — into even […]

Envisioning an Upper West Side Streets Renaissance

|
If you’re thinking about coming to tonight’s Upper West Side workshop with Jan Gehl but you are having trouble picturing what a "Streets Renaissance" might look like, the video above was made for you. It consists of a series of photo simulations produced by New York City Streets Renaissance Creative Director Carly Clark. Whipped into […]

Syracuse Looks to Highway Removal to Revive Downtown Economy

|
All cities have physical barriers that divide neighborhoods and social classes. In Syracuse, one of the biggest is Interstate-81. On the east side you have the area known as “The Hill.” There, Syracuse University and its affiliated hospitals and research centers have fostered growth and prosperity. On the west side of the highway, things aren’t […]