Multi-Year Traffic Safety Push Culminates as Traffic Light Comes to South End and Rector
More than a decade of advocacy by community leaders came to fruition on Saturday (June 29) when contractors working for the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) activated a traffic light at the intersection of South End Avenue and Rector Place.
Tammy Meltzer, who chairs the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1, said at a May meeting, when the final approval was announced, “the DOT has agreed that the volume of traffic, and the history of accidents there, both call for a change. The good news is that this won’t be a ‘traffic calming measure,’ which is what we’ve been promised in the past. This will be a traffic control measure.”
This development followed the DOT’s recent agreement, dating from the spring of 2018 to install a traffic light at North End Avenue and Warren Street. That signal was put in place last summer. The preliminary approval to move ahead with a traffic light at South End and Rector was announced at the same time, in April of last year. But for reasons that were never made clear, DOT officials did not move to implement this promise for more than a year. In the event, preliminary work (installing circuits beneath the pavement to control the signal) began in late May. The lampposts that hold the light were installed in mid June, and the lights themselves were hung on Friday. After being covered by plastic hoods for 24 hours,. they were activated the following day.
Both intersections provide tempting short cuts for frustrated motorists on the nearby West Side Highway, where traffic often slows to a crawl. By diverting one block away from that clogged artery, knowledgeable drivers (such as those operating for-hire passenger vehicles, buses, or delivery trucks) can speed for several blocks uptown or downtown, before returning to the West Side Highway.
But this back road for drivers has created a significant hazard for pedestrians. In September, 2011, Rector Place resident Seema Galati was run over by a speeding for-hire vehicle. At the same intersection, in November, 2015, two vehicles racing to claim a single parking space rammed one another, and wrecked several parked cars. (One of them was moving with enough force to shear off, flush with the sidewalk, the iron post holding a stop sign.)
While the new traffic light is almost certain to enhance pedestrian safety, it appears not to be a panacea. On Sunday afternoon, a reporter observed several vehicles blithely driving through the intersection, despite the signal being against them. This may have been attributable to the fact that is new, which means that drivers are not expecting to see it.
This installation of a traffic signal at South End and Rector has paved the way to another goal that local leaders have long advocated for: a legal, and safe, crosswalk at the intersection. Because there has never been a traffic light, or even a stop sign at this location, it has never been possible, under City regulations, to paint a crossing lane for pedestrians on the pavement, from one side of South End Avenue to the other. Hundreds of people cross there each day in spite of this, but this has always been a technical violation of the laws against jaywalking (which are almost never enforced in New York), and a serious potential risk. Although a crosswalk traversing South End Avenue has not yet been painted on the pavement, the pedestrian signals have already been installed.
One question that community leaders may wish to address with DOT and Battery Park City officials is the appearance of the lampposts holding the lights. Most such fixtures in Battery Park City are painted dark green, and encased in visually appealing sheaths that cause them to resemble historic designs, in keeping with the neighborhood’s aesthetic. At least for the time being, however, the new posts are painted a bright shade of silver, and conform to standard-issue, contemporary municipal design.
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