Volume 21, Number 6 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | June 20 - 26, 2008

Talking Point

Silence = Death on Greenwich Street

By Charles Komanoff

I had no trouble seeing the black S.U.V. a block and a half up Greenwich as I stepped off the curb at Duane. Unless the driver was blind, he could see me just as well.

Irrelevant. Move, pal, I’m driving here. Secretly poised for flight, I downshifted into an old man’s shuffle, but the behemoth kept coming. Several long seconds later, it rolled to a reluctant halt a foot from the crosswalk.

The driver was invisible behind the reflective windshield. Averting my eyes from the thick metal grille that could have knocked me halfway to Chambers St., I saw the license plate, leering like a bad joke: GR8KARMA. Great karma! Groovy.

It might as well have read, ILL KILL U.

Every minute of every hour, drivers gun their cars and trucks through the teeming crosswalk leading to Washington Market Park. These losers think they need to cross the street? The hell with ’em; I need to take a second or two off my time to the next red light.

Just try reciting Section 1151 of New York State’s Vehicle & Traffic Law, “Pedestrians’ Right of Way in Crosswalks,” to the guy behind the wheel. Worse yet, mention it to the cops. You’re lucky if they just dismiss you as a space alien, and don’t arrest you for lèse-majesté. Pedestrians’ right of way? You’ve got to be kidding.

Greenwich St., like most of New York City, is engineered for speed. Nevertheless, converting it from a brutish speedway to a safe, shared street needn’t be rocket science. City officials could reconfigure street geometry and texture to naturally “calm” traffic. Or they could opt for the old-fashioned route, traffic signals.

For three years and counting, however, the city has adamantly refused to do anything at all.

Since 2005, the Friends of Washington Market Park have begged city transportation officials to bring Greenwich St. traffic under control. Our Tribeca Kids Zone coalition comprises the P.T.A.s of the area’s dozen schools — public, private, nursery and religious — along with the Independent Plaza North Tenants Association. We’ve enlisted the support of Community Board 1 and local electeds, we’ve shot photos and videos documenting the danger (see www.streetfilms.org/archives/greenwich-street/), we’ve tabulated vehicle frequencies and timed “traffic gaps.”

We’ve “dialogued” with city officials till we got blue in the face. We’ve traded data with the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Signals, which subjects traffic signal requests to the voodoo science of federal traffic “warrants.” We’ve met with three different D.O.T. borough commissioners in as many years, and we’ve submitted a petition demanding a traffic light, signed by 600 neighborhood parents. All to no avail.

Sadly, D.O.T.’s much-ballyhooed regime change hasn’t made a dime’s worth of difference. Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has been lauded for pushing innovative traffic policies like congestion pricing and protected bike lanes, but she has turned a deaf ear to our pleas. Sadik-Khan has even rebuffed our invitation to come observe conditions for herself when schools have let out and Greenwich St. swarms with kids and caregivers.

I’ve studied pedestrian casualties throughout the five boroughs for more than a decade as a statistician and activist, and it is starting to defy probability that no child has been seriously injured crossing Greenwich St., let alone killed. Earlier this month, however, a car driven up Greenwich — in reverse — sideswiped a 3-year-old in a stroller. Fortunately, that toddler survived. But it’s only a matter of time before the community’s luck runs out.

During the past three years, a number of residents have urged our coalition to draw the city’s attention by blockading Greenwich St. I’ve resisted their entreaties. “We don’t need civil disobedience,” I said, “our traffic analysis will win them over. Give D.O.T. time to respond. The new commissioner will do the right thing.”

I should have known better. I’ve participated in enough pedestrian memorials and held the hands of enough grieving mothers to last a lifetime. I refuse to stand silently by while manslaughter awaits at the corner my fourth grader crosses on his way to school every day.

Memo to D.O.T. and the N.Y.P.D.: See you in September.

Charles Komanoff, author of “Killed By Automobile,” is a member of the board of directors of Washington Market Park.





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