After years of pleading with city, Longwood residents get stop signs at E. 156th and Kelly St.
By Daniel Bejarano
It took 14 years of car accidents, but finally, the Department of Transportation has put two new stop signs at the corner of East 156th and Kelly Streets.
The signs went up March 16th, just two days after a contentious community board meeting at which residents blasted a city transportation official for not doing enough to prevent the accidents. Still, some area residents would like to see more aggressive traffic control efforts on a block they say remains dangerous.
Deputy Commissioner of Transportation Charles C.N. Ukegbu said his department initially didn’t see a problem at the intersection, but reviewing accident information provided by the community board changed their minds.
Speaking at the March 14 meeting, Ukegbu explained that specific pedestrian volume guidelines are a key ingredient in determining where the city can erect stop signs for traffic lights.
“When we looked at it three years ago, it was not significant,” he said, and then added, “I think we can focus on the good news, the sign can be installed.”
But some on the board suspected the DOT’s abrupt policy change was due to recent reports in the Daily News and on TV news stations highlighting recent accidents at the corner.
“If not for media attention, we would have gotten another letter saying a stop sign was not warranted,” said CB2 District Manager Rafael Salamanca, who called the media outlets for weeks to get them to report on the dangers at the corner following a serious accident on February 22 when an SUV and a police van collided, partially destroying a building façade.
DOT may have initially been basing its decision on old pedestrian volume data.
“There are new developments in the area, schools, two shelters, four daycares and two churches, all within the block,” said Lilian Estrella-Alston, who operates a day care where the SUV and the police van collided.
Since Estrella-Alston moved in 2008 to E. 156th street, she has witnessed around 20 accidents at the intersection.
“Accidents are either not being reported or the police are not reporting them,” she said. Thelvis Alston, her husband, said that he thanked the media since that was one of the only ways to get the DOT to act.
“We don’t let kids walk out because we’re afraid of a car sliding,” he said, adding, “There’s nothing but strollers there.”
The deputy commissioner noted that his agency can only work with information that they have and said that “it’s not an issue about the media or about costs. It’s an issue of methodology. Having the right information,” Ukegbu said.
Jesse Harris, who lives on the block and questioned the quality of DOT’s initial data has been requesting a stop sign at the intersection since 1998. Others at the committee asked if it was necessary that somebody died for the city to act.
“It’s how do we get to act proactively. It’s not about bodies, and it’s unacceptable to have to wait 14 years for a stop sign,” said Committee Senior Administrator of Urban Health Plan Alex Sonero. He also suggested that more affluent areas of the city – Forest Hills, Riverdale or City Island –wouldn’t have had to wait so long to get safety measures.
Despite the DOT’s prompt action to erect the signs after the meeting with CB2, several residents who live near the dangerous corner said a sign is not sufficient.
Saul Rojas, day care volunteer Pat Bryan and Jose Rivera, who delivers medication, all believed a traffic light would have been more effective since not every vehicle stops at the sign.
Several of these vehicles want to catch the green light at the next block; they speed up, ignoring the stop at Kelly St.
Rojas also suggested asphalt signs should be painted. “This street is ridiculous,” he added.
“It’s great about the sign, but a light or a speed bump would do the job,” said Antonio Rodriguez, who has lived in the area for 35 years.