Police Deny Appeal for Traffic Agents at a Busy Bronx Intersection

By Patrick Wall on October 26, 2012 8:20am | Updated on October 26, 2012 9:48am

LONGWOOD — At a five-way intersection where 163rd Street, Southern Boulevard and Hunts Point Avenue converge, locals say that some things never change.

Double-wide buses lumber through red lights, lines of cars back up for blocks, and pedestrians dodge and dart through traffic like running backs.

Two years after the city's Department of Transportation made major changes to the intersection to calm traffic and protect pedestrians, locals say serious problems remain.

Many insist that a police traffic agent stationed at the intersection could easily relieve congestion and enforce the new calming measures.

But this month, after years of lobbying for such an agent, local leaders received a letter from the police commissioner informing them that no traffic officer would be assigned there.

“This affects everyone who drives and people who take public transportation,” said Rafael Salamanca, district manager of Bronx Community Board 2, which made traffic agents its top request on the past three annual budget forms it filed with the city.

“This is a major thruway,” he added. “So why can’t we get what we need?”

The intersection, also known as Crames Square, is among the borough’s busiest and, in the past, has been one of the most dangerous for pedestrians.

Drivers stream through the hub to enter and exit Hunts Point, to access Bruckner Boulevard and the Sheridan Expressway, to fuel up at the nearby BP gas station or to pass along Southern Boulevard, a major commercial corridor.

Pedestrians rush to catch the 5, 6 and 19 buses, as well as the 6 train, or duck into the groceries, pharmacies, dollar stores and restaurants that line the square.

These crisscrossing currents of buses, trucks, cars and people can create headaches, and sometimes hazards, for those trying to navigate the intersection.

“It’s hard as heck to get across this street,” said Gloria Smith, 54, who has contended with the complicated intersection for nearly 25 years.

Between 2004 and 2008, 26 pedestrians were injured near the intersection, according to state Department of Motor Vehicles figures, leading the city DOT to identify the area as a “high pedestrian-crash location.”

In response, the DOT met with the community board in 2010, then implemented a range of safety and congestion fixes. The agency installed new pedestrian islands, shortened crosswalks, narrowed driving lanes, modified signals, relocated a bus stop and banned several troublesome turns.

The following year, there were no serious injuries at that intersection, according to the DOT’s preliminary data. And in the first six months of this year, accidents there were down 25 percent compared to the same period in 2011, according to the NYPD.

“It’s much better since this has been here,” said Natasha Keyes, after hopping off a pedestrian island where she had waited out a rush of cars.

But others say that traffic logjams, blocked crossways and reckless driving persist at the intersection — with some even suggesting the DOT's changes may contribute to the problems.

“It’s worse than ever,” said Medina Sadiq, executive director of the Southern Boulevard BID.

“The merging that cars have to do there is just crazy,” she added, with some drivers swerving to circumvent the restricted turn lanes or braking behind buses stopped in the middle of the intersection. “And the DOT just made it worse.”

Others argue that it’s drivers, not the DOT, who are fault.

“The improvements work. What doesn’t work is people disobeying traffic laws,” said Orlando Marin, a resident who called the pedestrian islands “critically important” for some seniors and others who cross the street slowly.

Whatever creates the conditions, most locals agree that they would be greatly improved if traffic agents were there to guide drivers and enforce the new restrictions.

In addition to placing traffic agents at the top spot on their annual budget request list, the community board hosted a 2010 meeting with NYPD officials to appeal for the agents in person. And in July, State Assemblyman Marcos Crespo wrote a letter to NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly reiterating the request.

Just this month, Kelly wrote back to Crespo to inform him that because the data shows the DOT improvements are working, and since budgets are tight, “the more effective course of action at this time is for the city to continue making infrastructure improvements rather than adding personnel.”

He added that if accidents begin to increase and no “engineering solution” can be found, then “the possibility of adding a traffic enforcement agent to the area will be revisited.”

That response leaves some disheartened, such as Diley Rosado, an assistant manager at the Rent-A-Center outlet near the intersection. He said the traffic turmoil there has improved little over the years.

“It’s always been a problem,” Rosado, 26 said. “It’s never going to stop.”

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