DOT: Stop Sign Would Make Duane St. Intersection Worse
By Matt Dunning
As community groups and residents in Tribeca renew their push for a safer crossing at Duane and Greenwich Streets, high-ranking officials from the city's Department of Transportation said this week that installing "inappropriate" traffic controls at the intersection would likely make it more dangerous for pedestrians.
For years, Community Board 1 and the Friends of Washington Market Park have been lobbying the city for a traffic light or, at the very least, a stop sign at the three-way intersection. The crosswalk is mere feet from the Washington Market Park, and is frequently used by residents of the Independence Plaza apartment complex as well as parents and children on their way to and from two neighborhood elementary schools.
But DOT officials have resisted the idea, saying the volume of vehicles and pedestrians at the intersection doesn't meet the traffic requirements set by the Federal Transportation Administration. DOT Deputy Commissioner Gerard Soffian reasserted the department's position Monday at a City Council hearing on pedestrian safety, insisting that a traffic light or stop sign could actually make it harder for people to get across Greenwich Street.
"We don't put in a control device that's not appropriate, because that often creates more problems than it solves," Soffian told the committee. He added that even if the department were to disregard the federal guidelines and install a stop sign, most drivers would probably ignore it.
"Motorists tend to have an inherent sense as to whether a traffic control is appropriate for a location," Soffian said. "When they feel it's not right, sometimes it leads to non-compliance with that traffic control device."
According to the FTA's rules, streets must meet a certain ratio of cars to pedestrians to warrant a stop sign or traffic signal. The department last studied the intersection a year ago and found that it did not meet the threshold. In 2008, after a similar study of the crossing, the DOT rearranged the timing of the lights between Harrison and Chambers Streets to slow down traffic. The department also intended to install concrete "bulb-outs" on either side of the intersection in order to narrow the street for pedestrians, but later scrapped the plan, saying it would have been too difficult to relocate the catch basins and utility lines beneath the sidewalks.
City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who convened Monday's hearing along with Bronx Councilman James Vacca, asked if the DOT could somehow waive the federal guidelines and install a device in the name of overwhelming community support.
"There is no such thing as a waiver," DOT First Deputy Commissioner Lori Ardito answered. "We've always followed the federal warrants when it comes to installing traffic lights or stop signs. There is no exception to that rule."
The department's refusal to deviate from the FTA's guidelines has been a source of frustration for members of Community Board 1, who along with the Friends of Washington Market Park have recently revived their campaign for a stoplight or sign. At Monday's hearing, CB1 chairwoman Julie Menin called the DOT's position "totally unacceptable."
"For DOT to basically say that they cannot install a stop sign is just ridiculous," said Menin, who delivered her comments after DOT officials had left the hearing room. "It's absolutely insane to argue that the federal standards should have no exemptions."
Since 2000, nine pedestrians have been hurt in the crosswalk at Duane Street, according to figures from the DOT and Transportation Alternatives. One of them, a 3-year-old child, narrowly escaped serious injury two years ago when a car backed into the crosswalk. Pam Frederick, the president of the Friends of Washington Market Park, noted in her written statement to the City Council that with the summer months fast approaching, work at the nearby World Trade Center in full swing and a three-year reconstruction of Chambers Street scheduled to begin in a matter of weeks, conditions at the intersection are only going to become more hazardous for its users. During her testimony, Frederick asked if there were any real penalties the department might incur by installing a control device in spite of the FTA's guidelines.
"Who cares if they don't meet the federal warrants," Frederick said. "Are there huge consequences to putting up a stop sign? I think they have to be asked to defer to the pedestrians at that intersection, and acknowledge that this neighborhood has experienced a huge population boom."
A DOT spokeswoman said the department would not comment on the issue of penalties.
"That intersection is used by thousands of children every single day," former Friends of Washington Market Park president Nelle Fortenberry said at the hearing. "Cars almost never yield to pedestrians waiting to cross, they just plow right through the intersection. It's only a matter of time before there's [another] accident."
Submitted by volunteer on May 6, 2010 - 16:28. categories [ ]