East side cop leader proposes traffic change
By Lincoln Anderson
A pitch by the Ninth Police Precincts commander to have the city change Avenue B to a one-way street so traffic will flow faster didnt make much headway at a meeting held by Community Board 3 last Wednesday.
In response to an increase in complaints about noise from taxi horn honking associated with the avenues burgeoning nightlife scene, Deputy Inspector Dennis De Quatro of the Ninth Precinct is recommending that the East Village avenue be made northbound. Judging, however, by the initial reaction of about 35 community members who showed up for last weeks C.B. 3 Transportation Committee meeting, support for his proposal does not appear very strong.
Residents said that changing two-way Avenue B to one-way would make the area seem less like a neighborhood; the proposal sparked fears of traffic speeding up and accompanying concern about the impact this would have on the at least four schools that line the avenue.
All agreed, though, that the new bar and club scene has caused a quality-of-life nightmare the two main complaints being noise and traffic mainly on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. In addition to late-night shouting as people spill onto the street when the bars close at 4 a.m., noise is caused by taxis clogging the narrow avenue to pick up and drop off fares at the nightspots, often doing so in the middle of the avenue, blocking traffic and setting off a din of horn honking.
Supporting De Quatros case for a one-way Avenue B, Sergeant Christopher Christodoulou, the Ninth Precinct public safety sergeant, gave a report showing that car accidents on the avenue have increased in recent years. In 2003, there were 76 car accidents on Avenue B, with 23 people injured; in 2004, there were 101 accidents, with 27 injuries; in 2005, as of last Wednesday with a month left in the year, there had been 83 car accidents, with 28 injuries. Most of the accidents are not major but occurred while a car was overtaking, sideswiping or rear-ending another on the cramped avenue, the sergeant said.
Theyre not head-on injuries, Christodoulou explained. These were people trying to squeeze by taxis.
De Quatro is proposing that the avenue run one-way northbound. Under the plan, at least the Downtown leg of the M-9 bus and possibly the Uptown leg as well would be shifted to Avenue B.
However, some residents said, instead of changing the avenues direction, theyd prefer more police enforcement on the main bar nights, like the crackdown De Quatro led two Fridays ago, when police blitzed Avenue B with 30 officers from the precinct, Manhattan South Task Force, Mounted Unit and Traffic Control Unit.
Youd make the money back in tickets, one resident pointed out.
Changing Avenue B would change the nature of the neighborhood, said East Villager Michael Oakleaf. Focus on keeping people quiet and being more respectful. A one-way Avenue B with faster-moving traffic would mean more stress, he said.
But De Quatro said he cant promise Avenue B will get two officers on foot patrol on peak nights, because hes got to spread his resources throughout the 1-square-mile precinct.
Concerns over Avenue B becoming more heavily used by car traffic if it is one-way are not founded, the plans backers say, because since 9/11 the streets around the E. 14th St. Con Edison power plant, including the entrance and exit to the F.D.R. Drive at E. 14th St., have been closed.
While not saying he supported the one-way option, David McWater, C.B. 3 chairperson, said, Theres no gain [for car drivers] to go north on Avenue B. McWater added that hed been getting calls all day from people who fear the avenue will become a speedway if its made northbound only.
Others complained that moving the Avenue B bus to Avenue C will inconvenience those who are not very mobile. De Quatro said, though, that shifting the bus will free up 500 parking spaces where the bus stops are currently.
De Quatro noted hes spent time on the avenue studying the traffic conditions at various times of the day and week. I feel the problems the residents are experiencing [about bar noise and traffic congestion and honking] far outweigh the problems of making the street one-way, he said. Im not proposing to be a transportation expert or an expert on the Lower East Side, he noted. Ive only been here three months. Im trying to take a proactive approach [to see] what can we do for businesses and residents. Right now, the speed on Avenue B is a crawl.