It’s treacherous out there.
That’s the message residents of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and Bensonhurst urgently wanted officials to hear at a street safety town hall hosted by Councilmember Justin Brannan on March 27.
Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Police Inspector Dennis Fulton of the NYPD’s Transportation Bureau came to hear them out and to offer solutions.
Jittery residents came forward to speak about a litany of dangerous conditions for pedestrians on local streets, including speeding drivers, motorists who don’t yield to pedestrians and traffic signals that don’t give them enough time to cross the street. Bike riders told of drivers who callously treat them like they’re invisible, and zip back and forth across a lane of traffic, putting their lives at risk.
One woman said the intersection of 86th Street and Fourth Avenue is particularly bad because drivers do not yield to pedestrians, even though pedestrians are crossing the street with the green light. Fort Hamilton Parkway and 86th Street is also bad, according to the resident, who said she is full of fear when she crosses the street.
“One day, I’m going to be flattened like a pigeon!” she said.
Brannan told the audience he held the town hall so that transportation and police officials could hear directly from the public about the dangers on local streets and could begin brainstorming about possible solutions.
“While tonight is an acknowledgment of how much work we need to do and how much further we need to go, I do think it is important to note that tonight is a first. This is the very first time we have ever gathered in this district to discuss traffic safety,” said Brannan, a Democrat who represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst.
The statistics are sobering, according to Brannan.
“Between July 2017 and June 2018, there were 3,312 crashes in our community – 400 more than the average in other Brooklyn neighborhoods during that same time. In the space of a single day this past January, there were 17 car crashes within the confines of the 68th Precinct,” he said.
Behind the numbers is a real sense of fear. “From Bay Ridge to Bensonhurst, every day we see cars blowing through stop signs, big SUVs speeding down residential streets near schools and people just driving way too fast overall,” Brannan said.
Sandy Irrera, a school crossing guard assigned to Shallow Intermediate School at 16th Avenue and 65th Street in Bensonhurst, said she has seen first-hand how bad things are on the street. “It’s very dangerous there. People don’t care about crossing guards because they know we can’t give tickets,” she said.
Jean Ryan, a wheelchair-bound Bay Ridge resident, labeled Shore Road as a trouble spot. “You have to hope and dash across Shore Road. Shore Road is very hilly. You can look and a car suddenly appears over the hill,” she said.
One woman, who said her son is a student at McKinley Intermediate School, called the intersection of Fort Hamilton Parkway and Bay Ridge Parkway, which many students travel through to get to school, “horrendous.” She suggested that the streets near every school have pedestrian lead signals, traffic lights that give pedestrians a head start before drivers can proceed.
A big part of the problem is the inability of drivers to deal with their emotions, according to one man. “I’ve never seen such angry, aggressive driving in my life!” he said.
Trottenberg told residents that the Department of Transportation (DOT) is committed to making local streets safer for pedestrians and would explore a variety of traffic-calming measures to get the job done.
Trottenberg praised the state legislature’s recent passage of the bill to allow the city to install up to 750 speed cameras in school zones and said it will be a big help. “We will be installing speed cameras in this community,” she said.
DOT officials also revealed that several thoroughfares in Brannan’s Council district will be part of the Vision Zero Priority Corridors program, meaning that the agency will be installing safety measures at those locations. The local streets include Fourth Avenue, Eighth Avenue, 18th Avenue, 86th Street and Bay Parkway.
“Those are areas we are going to be targeting,” said Sean Quinn, director of DOT’s Bike and Pedestrian programs.
Quinn said DOT has a whole toolkit of measures it can use to increase pedestrian safety, including installing pedestrian islands in the middle of the street, painting curb extensions, changing the timing of traffic signals to give pedestrians priority and creating pedestrian plazas.
“These are things you might want to request,” Quinn told the audience.
Fulton pledged to enforce traffic laws. “We push our policy forward by concentrating on dangerous drivers,” he said. Last year, the NYPD issued 152,000 speeding tickets throughout the city and handed out 54,000 summonses to drivers for failure to yield to pedestrians.
“Certainly, no one likes receiving a summons. But we know the necessity of issuing them,” Fulton said.
But Brannan warned that there are some things elected officials and police cannot do. “Common sense and courtesy cannot be legislated or enforced,” he said.
The town hall was co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Max Rose, state Sen. Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus.