More than a decade of advocacy by community leaders came to fruition at a meeting of the Battery Park City Committee of Community Board 1 (CB1) on Tuesday evening, when Tammy Meltzer announced that the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) has agreed to install a traffic light at the intersection of South End Avenue and Rector Place.
Ms. Meltzer, who chairs CB1’s Battery Park City Committee, said, “the DOT has agreed that the volume of traffic, and the history of accidents there, both calling 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 follows the DOT’s recent agreement to install a traffic light at North End Avenue and Warren Street. That signal was put in place over the summer.
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.
Thanksgiving, 2015: A car racing (in the wrong direction) along Rector Place in a failed attempt to grab a parking spot jumped the curb, sheared a metal sign post out of the sidewalk, and wrecked two other cars.
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.)
No timetable has yet been announced for the installation of the traffic signal at Rector Place and South End Avenue, and there is some complexity associated with the decision 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.
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 almost never enforced in New York), and a serious potential risk.