Red Light, Green Light…
City Moves Ahead with Traffic Signal for Rector Place and South End Avenue, Ten Months After Approval
At the April 23 meeting of Community Board 1 (CB1), Tammy Meltzer, chair of that panel’s Battery Park City Committee, announced that, “the City Department of Transportation [DOT] let us know this week that a traffic light will be installed at Rector Place and South End Avenue,” adding that, “it is due to be installed by the end of June.” She also noted, “we’ve worked long and hard with BPCA and City DOT to get a plan done and in place.”
She continued, “we had a death on South End Avenue this month,” in a reference to the April 4 pedestrian fatality that claimed the life 81-year-old Gateway Plaza resident Arlene Kalfus, who was hit by a bus while crossing South End Avenue, near Liberty Street. It was not immediately clear what role, if any, the death of Ms. Kalfus played in spurring DOT to move ahead with the traffic light planned for South End Avenue and Rector Place, although approval for this proposal was originally announced in September.
“This is a terrible tragedy,” Ms. Meltzer observed. “Hopefully, something positive can come out of this, as a call to action for DOT to do the things they have promised CB1, not only in Battery Park City, but around the neighborhood.”
“The signal will be installed not where Arlene was hit,” Ms. Meltzer continued, “but further down the road. This will still help traffic.”
Last September, Ms. Meltzer, 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.” That development followed the DOT’s earlier agreement to install a traffic light at North End Avenue and Warren Street, which was put in place during the summer of 2018.
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.)
There is some complexity associated with the installation of a traffic light at South End Avenue and Rector Place that still must be resolved. The unusual geography of the intersection (with Rector Park situated as an island in the middle of Rector Place) raises questions about whether a single traffic light can suffice, and whether separate sets of lights for northbound and southbound traffic will be needed. “Both sides of Rector are getting traffic lights,” Ms. Meltzer explained at the April 23 meeting of CB1.
In almost any scenario, however, this decision appears to pave 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 rarely enforced in New York), and a serious potential risk.
Also unresolved is what effect, if any, the installation of a traffic light will have on separate plans by the Battery Park City Authority (BPCA) to install a broader array of traffic safety measures along South End Avenue. Over the last five years, plans to redesign and rebuild South End Avenue have gone through several iterations, some early versions of which were controversial. The final version of this plan is the product of close collaboration between the BPCA and community leaders.
Current plans (which the BPCA hopes to begin implementing in 2020) include an innovation that (according to DOT officials) appears not yet to have been used anywhere in the City of New York: “speed tables,” which the BPCA plans to install at South End Avenue and Rector Place. These are raised sections of roadway that are also visually distinct from the surrounding pavement. The combination of a vehicle rising up several inches in an area where the driver perceives the texture and color of the pavement to have changed is designed to inspire caution and thus slow traffic.
The speed tables would be created in conjunction with other “traffic calming” design features at various locations, such as widened sidewalks, islands in the middle of the street, and curb “bulb outs” that shorten the distance pedestrians have to cross between curbs. Each of these would narrow the roadbed, inducing drivers to slow further.
Authority spokesman Nick Sbordone said, “BPCA continues apace on the plan for traffic calming measures along South End Avenue and West Thames Streets, as developed in close consultation with CB1 and New York City DOT. Detailed designs for these improvements are anticipated to occur during the last half of 2019, with construction expected to begin in 2020.”