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Mott Haven Groups Renew Call for Safer Streets Following Crash

By Patrick Wall | April 3, 2013 11:44am
 Mott Haven residents at a 2012 rally for safer streets in the neighborhood. The group has planned another rally for Saturday, April 6, 2013, following a recent hit-and-run crash.
Mott Haven residents at a 2012 rally for safer streets in the neighborhood. The group has planned another rally for Saturday, April 6, 2013, following a recent hit-and-run crash.
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Friends of Brook Park

MOTT HAVEN — A hit-and-run crash on Bruckner Boulevard that killed two pedestrians early Monday has refueled fears about heavy truck traffic in the area, which some say police have done too little to curb.

Monday’s crash marks the third in the area in recent months involving pedestrians and trucks, including a fatal December crash where a tractor-trailer plowed into a 69-year-old man as he crossed the street.

Each crash has unfolded on or near 138th Street, a crowded thoroughfare lined with shops and surrounded by highways that is notorious among locals for speeding trucks and, to some, lax traffic enforcement by the police.

“138th Street...has become an unseemly corridor of death under your silent watch,” resident Monxo Lopez wrote to the local precinct commander in January.

Monday’s crash happened sometime before 4:30 a.m. on Bruckner Boulevard just south of 138th Street, officials said.

A man and his nephew were walking on the dark road when a northbound truck or SUV fatally struck them and fled the scene, according to a police source. Both men were intoxicated, the source added.

A coalition of local groups has scheduled a rally for Saturday to call for safer streets and stepped up enforcement of speeding and truck laws.

Members said that while 138th Street is designated as a local truck route meant only for in-borough deliveries, truck drivers frequently use it and other neighborhood streets as shortcuts to avoid the traffic of the Major Deegan Expressway.

They also note that while the local 40th Precinct issued 449 tickets for tinted windows in January and February, the most recent months with available data, it gave out only four tickets during that period to trucks that strayed from designated routes.

“The trucks will take whatever route they can to get to their destinations as quickly as possible if there’s no enforcement,” said Mychal Johnson, a resident and member of South Bronx Unite. That group sued FreshDirect to block the online grocer from building a Port Morris facility that would bring scores of new trucks to the neighborhood.

In a reply to Lopez’s email, Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack said the 40th Precinct “takes accidents very seriously” and had issued more traffic tickets in 2012 than in the previous three years. He also noted that tinted windows can put officers in danger during car stops.

In an interview Tuesday, McCormack added that the precinct recently trained more officers to inspect trucks and use radar speed detectors. The precinct issued 514 speeding tickets last year — one of the highest totals in the city.

He also noted that the pedestrians struck Monday and one hit on 138th Street in January had been walking on the road outside of the crosswalks.

He added that heavy truck traffic is unavoidable on 138th Street, a busy commercial corridor requiring hundreds of weekly deliveries, but that traffic enforcement is “100 percent” a priority for the precinct.

“We’re doing our best to handle it,” McCormack said.

He also said he has spoken to the city Department of Transportation about remapping the 138th Street truck route, but said DOT was unlikely to make changes because of the need for local deliveries.

A DOT spokesman did not answer a question about changes to the route, but said the agency increased the crossing time at the 138th Street and Bruckner Boulevard intersection in March “to enhance safety.”

Lopez, who lives a block from 138th Street, insisted Tuesday that speeding by trucks and other vehicles remains a major hazard for pedestrians and bikers.

“When people see a green light, they go like it’s Nascar," he said.

Speeding was the most common cause of city traffic deaths in 2012, contributing to about 30 percent of all traffic fatalities, according to recent DOT data.

The State Assembly included in this year’s budget funding for a pilot program to put speed-enforcement cameras in some New York City school zones, but some senators objected and the measure was removed from the final budget.

Juan Martinez, general counsel for the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, said even a limited number of such cameras, combined with modest fines, would deter speeders.

Had one been installed around 138th Street, it may have even helped police find the driver from Monday’s hit-and-run crash, he added.

“It’s so obvious and simple,” he said. “It’s tough to understand why it shouldn’t be done.”

The safe streets rally is scheduled for noon on Saturday, April 6 at E. 138th Street and St. Ann’s Avenue.