More improvements to come, residents debate effects of changes so far
Getting to the Hunts Point subway stop from the Hunts Point peninsula is “hell,” said resident John Carlos on a recent afternoon. “Cars and buses are on all sides. It gets easily crowded and there is not enough time to cross.”
Pedestrians have to cross a 72-foot roadway under the Bruckner Expressway while watching out for traffic from five converging streets. They make the crossroads of Hunts Point and Longwood one of the city’s most perilous places.
So while most residents interviewed at Crames Square applaud city plans to calm the disorder, many also feel the improvements leave more to be wanted.
According to the most recent figures from the state Dept. of Motor Vehicles, between 2004-2008, 17 pedestrian were injured in the area, while another 21 pedestrians were injured across the street at Hunts Point Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard.
“It’s an enormous, busy, and complicated intersection. You have the 6 train that runs there, a lot of vehicles, people walking around, and cars pouring on and off the Bruckner Expressway,” said Noah Budnick, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group that promotes bicycling, walking and public transit over automobile travel.
“People coming off the highway have a highway mindset. As they race off the ramp, they still think it is 65 when it is 30,” said Budnick.
A study by the New York City Economic Development Corporation found that the percentage of accidents involving trucks is four times higher in Hunts Point than in the Bronx as a whole. Most accidents happen on or near Bruckner Boulevard.
In an effort to improve safety, last fall the city Dept. of Transportation shortened crosswalks, built islands on Southern Boulevard, East 163rd St. and Hunts Point Avenue for pedestrians who were still crossing when lights changed and redirected the flow of traffic.
Oscar Valdes, a senior on a mobility scooter who stopped at one of the refuge islands, appreciated the changes. “Before, crossing used to be confusing and scary, but now I feel safer,” he said.
For others, the changes are not enough.
“It has improved,” said Sasha Woods. “But more needs to be done. It’s still unsafe for younger kids. I’m 23, and I still get confused.”
Drivers complain that the changes have made congestion worse.
Because of the islands, “The streets were cut down and made narrow. You can’t do that in a high traffic, commercial area,” said Richard Rodrieguez.
Most of the tie-ups occur where 163rd Street meets Hunts Point Avenue, where bus stops for the Bx5 and Bx6 complicate matters. The intersection was cited as the fifth most dangerous for pedestrian accidents in the Bronx by the state DOT.
The traffic congestion there is where Kevin Woodard blames the congestion for the damage got the front right bumper of his Nissan Pathfinder scratched.
“Sometimes when I get stuck, I’ll go all the way straight down” on [ Southern Boulevard, he said, ] “just to get out of it and I’ll come back around,” he said. “I’d rather do it that way. Then I don’t have to worry about an accident again.”
Although some drivers are frustrated with the changes, Rafael Salamanca, district manager of Community Board 2, he believes the kinks in the new system will work themselves out. “The complaints we have gotten in the past have to do with change, and people getting accustomed to it,” he said.
Impatient drivers are the chief cause of gridlock, Salamanca said. Rodrieguez and Woodard agreed.
“Drivers don’t respect the box,” Rodrieguez said. “They know they can’t make the light, but they just go anyway.”
Woodard thinks the only way to improve matters is to station an agent to direct traffic. “It’s always going to be congested for the simple fact that there’s so many roads crossing each other, so the only way to contain it is to have an agent there,” he said. “If not, then forget it, it’s always going to be chaotic.”
An agent is needed, Salamanca said, and the community board is working with the police department to station one at the troubled intersection. The board is also working with the DOT to find ways to improve the traffic pattern, especially after a new mall is built.
“We’ve gotten some positive feedback. We’ve also gotten some negative feedback,” Salamanca said. “But what I can tell you is that the project has served its purpose, which has been to increase pedestrian safety.”