City targets block the box drivers in tix blitz
Bernardo Reyes didn’t mean to break the law.
The 48-year-old unemployed Queens resident was driving west on 34th Street recently when the car in front of him stopped short near the intersection of Lexington Avenue, causing him to stop in the crosswalk just as the light changed.
Two traffic cops were immediately on either side of him: One scanned his registration through the windshield, pulled him over and handed him a $115 summons.
“It’s a shakedown,” an angry Reyes later said. In less than two minutes, he had become the latest driver cited for “blocking the box.”
It’s an offense the city is now enforcing at more than 10 times the rate it did less than two years ago, before state legislation changed blocking the crosswalk from a moving violation to a parking infraction and empowered the city’s 2,800 traffic agents to dole out tickets.
The new regulation has caught bewildered drivers off guard and provided a financial boost for the city. Supporters say the ticket blitz has improved traffic flow, while skeptics wonder whether the ramped up enforcement has done any more than fill government coffers.
“I’ve heard too many stories from law abiding drivers about tickets they received after being in situations they have no control over,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria).
Between July 1, 2008 and June 30 of this year, 120,879 summonses were given out, according to the NYPD, which began enforcing the new regulations last September.
Those tickets raked in more than $11 million for the city.
During the calendar year 2007, before the law was changed, 11,490 tickets were given out, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, with revenue from the $90 tickets split between the city and the state.
On a typical day, about 60 agents are assigned to intersections throughout the city with the task of catching people blocking the box, though none are give quotas, said James Huntley, president of the agent’s union, CWA Local 1182.
Some New Yorkers applaud the increased enforcement as a means to cut down congestion in the city.
“When you block the box you shut communities down,” said Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
A spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who pushed for the new rules, predicted the number of tickets would fall as more people comply with the law.
"Anyone who’s been stuck at a green light understands the purpose of the change,” said the spokesman, Andrew Brent.
During a recent evening rush hour, traffic agents on 34th Street were citing drivers at a clip of about one every two or three minutes. Karin Lindner, of Westchester, was among those busted. She said she entered the intersection with a green light, only to get caught as two cars ahead of her made turns.
“It just creates a revenue stream for the city,” she said.