Greenwich St. pedestrian recounts limo road rage incident

On Aug. 27, Brian Lutz said he was speaking to his wife about how unsafe the intersection they were crossing — Greenwich and Duane Sts. — was when he suddenly heard someone yelling “Look out! Look out!” Looking to his left, Lutz saw a black limousine backing up straight at him.

“I was screaming at it ‘STOP! STOP! STOP!’ because I couldn’t just get out of the way, other people were still in the intersection,” Lutz said.

A few hours after the noon incident, Lutz described the incident in a telephone interview.

After the limousine showed no signs of stopping, Lutz ran up to it and the limo finally stopped 4 feet away from him.

“I was yelling at him, ‘What the hell are you doing? People are in the crosswalk!’ ” Lutz said. But the driver told Lutz to “Get out of the way,” and after he refused to move, the driver slowly drove in reverse towards Lutz and stopped again.

“I felt like that guy on Tiananmen Square,” Lutz said. “I couldn’t believe I was actually making a stand like that but it was absolutely necessary.”

Seeing that Lutz wasn’t moving, the driver drove forward about 15 feet, put the limo back in reverse and tried to go around Lutz, who immediately moved himself behind the limo again. Finally, the driver pulled forward and parked.

“I waited there and I watched him,” Lutz said. “He parked at Reade St. like I was going to go away so he could back up again. I just stood there and had the traffic go around me.”

He said the driver gave up about 10 minutes later and drove forward to Chambers St.

Located at the entrance of the Washington Market Park, the intersection attracts high amounts of traffic from pedestrians, but the one-way street has no traffic light or stop sign. Park advocates, Community Board 1 and local politicians have been trying to get a light there for years.

“This has been battling around for 10 years,” said Lutz, a public member of C.B. 1. “I’ve lived down here with my family for 20 years. Nothing horrible ever happened thank God. [But it’s been] a constant battle between the community and the D.O.T.”

The city Dept. of Transportation has said the intersection does not require a stop light or sign.

A similar accident occurred on June 9, when an SUV bumped into a stroller while backing up on Greenwich St. Nina Sosa, 26, was just going into the crosswalk while pushing Hannah Dietz, 3, in a stroller. Five-year-old Graham Dietz, her brother, was walking next to her. Hannah escaped with only a few scrapes and bruises and no one else was hurt.

When Nelle Fortenberry, president of the Friends of Washington Market Park, wrote to the D.O.T. this year to ask for more traffic control at the intersection, she received a letter in April from Janette Sadik-Khan, commissioner of the D.O.T., explaining why nothing could be done.

The D.O.T. will only install a traffic light at Greenwich and Duane St. if within a 12-month period, there were at least five reported accidents that could have been prevented by a traffic light, she wrote.

When the June accident occurred, Craig Chin, D.O.T. spokesperson, told Downtown Express that driving in reverse isn’t preventable by a traffic light, so the accident didn’t count.

The D.O.T. will also not consider adding other traffic control devices such as bulb out sidewalks or pavement treatments to reduce vehicle speeds or shorten the pedestrian crossing distance.

“Since our engineers have documented adequate gaps for pedestrians to safely cross Greenwich St., there is no compelling reason to shorten the crossing distance,” Sadik-Khan wrote.

Lutz said he told a D.O.T. official at a recent meeting: “The odds are going down and down and down that [an accident] isn’t going to happen….Would you like to pick the person’s child to be killed on that intersection before something actually gets down without all this [bull] talk going back and forth for years and years?”

— Sisi Wei