#RoadFix: 125th and Lexington Avenue in Harlem

| September 4, 2013

In our monthly #RoadFix series, we’ll be enlisting traffic experts to examine individual roads and intersections, looking at accident rates and suggesting solutions for problem areas. If there’s an intersection near you that you’d like us to look at, please send us an email! This month’s #RoadFix was written by David Wallace of Traffic Safety Guy.

Did you know that 125th and Lexington is one of the most dangerous intersections in New York City? This article discusses issues specifically dealing with that intersection and possible solutions to make it safer for everyone.

Nationally, 20% of all pedestrian fatalities occur at intersections, with approximately 25% of those fatalities being the fault of the pedestrian. With pedestrians improperly trying to cross the street next to cars trying to turn left or right, or beat the traffic light as it turns red, and little or no thought given by one for the other, this is a recipe for disaster.  After 122 injuries and one death at 125th and Lexington from 1995 to 2009, the disaster has occurred.

Facing west from 125th and Lexington

Facing west from 125th and Lexington. Notice the MetroNorth station two blocks away, which adds foot traffic to the area as commuters transfer between regional trains, buses and subways.

When evaluating intersection safety, it is critical to consider not only the motor vehicle traffic flow, but also the pedestrian activity, especially at high-volume, multi-lane intersections like 125th and Lex.  According to New York Magazine, 1,100 cars an hour and thousands of pedestrians regularly pass through this intersection during peak times.

So what can be done to make this intersection safer? Potential solutions include:

  1. Pedestrian countdown signals
  2. Changing the timing on the traffic signals
  3. Install “bulb-outs” at the intersection

One solution is pedestrian specific, one is focused on the motor vehicle and one concentrates on the road design.

Pedestrian countdown signals

The pedestrian signals at 125th and Lexington are the standard walk (walking figure in white) and don’t walk (red hand) signals.  Since they don’t know how long they have to wait, some pedestrians will try to cross the street disregarding the traffic signal, or at the last second, try to cross when a car is turning onto the street.  The pedestrian countdown signal was created to provide pedestrians with useful information.  A variation of the standard pedestrian signal, it provides pedestrians with a visual display of the time remaining before the light turns red. This type of signal also allows a person to see how much time is left from the other street before their light turns green. A pedestrian countdown increases the feeling of safety and reduces the number of pedestrians found walking in the crosswalk when the light changes. Studies have shown that pedestrians appreciate the information and use it appropriately.

Traffic signal timing

Second, changing the timing on the traffic signals also has benefits.  First, I do not know the timing of the traffic lights at that intersection, however, typically, when a traffic light turns red in one direction, the traffic light for the cross street turns green with a fairly short hesitation.  Extending that hesitation to 2 or 3 seconds, making it red in all directions, ensures that cars turning left or trying to beat the light are not broadsided and pedestrians are not starting to cross the street.  A study has shown that this simple change can reduce injury crashes significantly.

Facing south on Lexington

Facing south on Lexington from 125th Street.


Finally, installing “bulb-outs,” or curb extensions, at intersections extends the sidewalk into the parking lane of the road and narrows the distance and time a pedestrian needs to cross the street.  Curb extensions increase the space for pedestrians to wait for the light, and act as a traffic calming device by forcing cars to slow down to make a right turn.  On the downside, this option can be more expensive to develop than the other two measures. But when looking at the number of injuries at this intersection, it would be money well spent.

All three options will impact the motor vehicle traffic flow to various degrees.  That’s why pedestrian safety requires more than just working with the pedestrians, or just the motor vehicles or just the road design.  It requires a comprehensive approach acknowledging the partnership of all three.  125th and Lexington is one of the most dangerous intersections in a city with thousands of intersections. Isn’t it time to take action and change this dangerous intersection to one that is a partnership for safety?

What do you think?

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Category: #Roadfix, Automotive, Construction, Enforcement, Infrastructure

About the Author ()

A national leader in traffic safety, David works with law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, probation officers, highway safety advocates and others, to bring a complete and independent perspective on what needs to be done in making roads safer for everyone. David does not focus on one aspect, but considers multiple factors. It is this comprehensive approach that makes a difference.

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