On a slow roll: It’s taking a millennium to make safety changes outside Downtown high school

The city’s Transportation Department finally installed signs outside Millennium High School ten months after a student was hit by a cab driver, and local civic gurus claim more is needed to safeguard kids.
Photo by Colin Mixson

BY COLIN MIXSON

The city’s Transportation Department is still studying ways to safeguard kids at Millennium High School nearly two years after a taxi driver slammed into a former student there, and local civic gurus say officials need to streamline the process for improving traffic safety before another scholar gets hit. 

“A student could die as we wait for these studies to be completed,” said Community Board 1 Education Committee Chairwoman Tricia Joyce. “Clearly we need another way to do this.”

The city began exploring ways to shore up safety outside Millennium after a cab driver collided with a 16-year-old girl outside the school’s S. William Street entrance in January 2017, leading members of CB1, along with former state Sen. Daniel Squadron to highlight the lack of appropriate signage around Millennium, and demanded city transit officials join locals on a walkthrough of the site. 

It was roughly two months following the crash, before agency reps eventually joined community board members on a tour of the block outside the school between Broad and William streets in March, although it would take until October for DOT even to install a school crossing zone and 20-mph speed limit signs outside the building. 

Meanwhile, board members insisted that other hazards plagued the street, making the area unsafe for youngsters hitting the streets en masse after classes — namely large trucks that routinely park in no-standing zones due to lax enforcement, blocking students’ view of incoming traffic on the curving street.

The view from outside Millennium High School’s front door, where locals claim trucks park illegally and block students view of oncoming traffic.
Photo by Colin Mixson

The community group complained about careless drivers in a 2017 resolution calling on DOT to install a speed bump on the block. But city officials claimed they couldn’t install the bump without first studying the street, and it took another five months before former Manhattan Transit Commissioner Luis Sanchez claimed via email that there were too many curb cuts on the street to permit the requested hump — which was not the answer locals were hoping for after the long wait, according to Joyce. 

“The city has a criteria and if you can’t check certain things off a box, they just say no, it doesn’t matter if it’s logical or not,” said Joyce.

Undeterred, the board followed up the very next day with a new request, this time asking the city to install a crosswalk outside the school’s mid-block entrance, which would be accompanied by a flashing traffic light.

Of course, that appeal required yet another study specifically for the crosswalk pitch, which remains ongoing to this day — nearly two years after the collision with the student that started it all.

Safety advocates claim this episode highlights a serious flaw in the city’s process, by which traffic safety improvements are considered piecemeal, potentially over many years. 

“It seems to me they could take action much more quickly rather than going through study after study to find the solution,” said Eric McClure, founder and executive director of Streets PAC, a political action committee that supports transit-minded political candidates. 

McClure pointed out that the city is capable of moving quickly when motivated, noting the rapid installation of concrete barriers along the Hudson River Greenway following last year’s Halloween terror-truck attack, which did not wait for any exhaustive study. 

“The day after the terror attack on the Greenway, the city plunked down a bunch of stone barriers without any outreach or anything,” said McClure. “That’s been the case in a few instances. Clearly they are feeling a difference between a terror attack and a run of the mill dangerous driving incident.”

Joyce echoed McClure’s sentiment, and suggested officials may not discover their motivation to act fast until yet another tragic accident unfolds outside Millennium High School.

“It’s the same reason they said no at a traffic light at Duane and Greenwich streets for 10 years, and then finally installed one after a third person was hit,” said Joyce, referring to a 2011 accident that saw a cab driver hit a 3-year-old kid there. “Clearly there needs to be a new process in terms of these studies.”

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