Cyclist Fatality Sparks Changes to Busy West and Chambers Intersection

The city plans to end conditions like this at West and Chambers streets that allow turning vehicles as well as cyclists and pedestrians to have a simultaneous green light. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Oct. 06, 2016

The death of a cyclist struck by a car at Chambers and West streets in June is prompting a safety overhaul at that intersection and the possibility of similar measures at other crossings along the West Street bike path.

Beginning in late November, cars turning right onto Chambers Street from West Street will no longer share the same green light with cyclists and pedestrians crossing Chambers Street, a city Department of Transportation official told Community Board 1 on Wednesday,

It was just such a turning car that plowed into 30-year-old Olga Evgleska Cook as she was riding south on the bike path along West Street. The outcry over her death led the DOT to study ways to prevent another tragedy at the intersection.

Gregory Haas, a planner for the agency, explained the city's solution to CB1's Battery Park City Committee. "Whenever the signal is green for bikes, it's a red right arrow [for cars]," he said. "And when the signal is green for the traffic to turn right, the bikes in the crosswalk have a red."

The downside for cyclists, Haas said, is that they will have a green light for shorter periods. "But what green time they have they don’t have to worry about bozos turning into them."  

In the last five years, Haas told the committee, there have been 17 crashes at the intersection that involved serious injury, four of them—including the recent fatality—were caused by right-turning vehicles colliding with cyclists.

Along with signal changes, Haas said there will be new street markings that include lines in what is now the right lane on the far side of the intersection "to prevent [drivers] from cheating and using it as a through lane." The Chambers Street crosswalk, now made of a textured material and difficult to recognize at night as a crossing, will be clearly marked. Bollards will be installed at the bike lane on both sides of Chambers Street to prevent cars from mistaking the path for a roadway.

The dangers involving cars that cross the bike path into Battery Park City lurk at all the intersections south of Chambers Street.  With an eye towards making those crossings safer, too, Haas said his agency will first see how things go at Chambers and West. (Two West Street intersections, at Murray and Liberty, are "tricky" he said, because of left turning northbound traffic.)

"I can’t make any promises but we do plan on implementing it next year," Haas said, adding, “If everything goes well, we would do this to every street that leads into Battery Park City."

Video of July 14 memorial for Olga Evgleska Cook, the cyclist whose death at Chambers and West streets led to an outcry for new safety measures at that intersection.