Residents, Stringer focus on dangerous Tribeca intersection

A pedestrian crosses the dangerous intersection at Duane and Greenwich Street in Tribeca while a taxi drives by. Downtown Express photo by Aline Reynolds

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  Three-year-old Tribeca youngster Ozzie Carty was riding his scooter to Washington Market park on Friday, Sept. 30, when a cab hit him and knocked him down at the intersection of Greenwich and Duane Streets.

While Ozzie was spared any noticeable injuries, Richard and Sonia Carty, the toddler’s shaken parents, continue to monitor him for symptoms related to a concussion or internal bleeding.  Last week the Tribeca couple joined elected officials and other neighborhood families to call for a traffic light or additional signage to be installed at the intersection, which is notoriously known as a danger zone for pedestrians.

“Last Friday was a very traumatic day for us. If [Ozzie] wasn’t wearing the helmet, this would be a very different discussion,” said Richard Carty at a press conference held by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer at the corner of Greenwich and Duane Streets on Thursday, Oct. 6.

Carty said he would be willing to purchase a stop sign himself for the intersection on eBay but acknowledged that the city would have to approve the installation.

“This is gross negligence,” said the angry parent. “There will be a stop sign. There will be more safety at this intersection. Period. There are no exceptions.”

The accident is one of at least five pedestrian injuries reported at the intersection over the last decade, prompting Stringer and local community advocates to make another big push to enhance safety at the crosswalk.

“This wonderful three-year-old child came one helmet and three inches away from a terrible tragedy,” said Stringer at the press conference. “I find it absolutely incredible that we’re still at a place where, while the neighborhood grows and the children multiply, the Department of Transportation sits back with a laissez-faire attitude and thinks it’s okay for our parents to be forced to play hit-or-miss with their children.”

“Just as [Stringer] was speaking, I actually saw a taxi cab whiz down the street, and it really exemplifies what the problem is,” said Community Board 1 Chair Julie Menin. “With all the kids who go to this park, it is absolutely inexcusable to have this problem.”

Hudson Street resident Nicki Francis, who attended the press conference, insists on holding the hand of her nine-year-old son when crossing the street during the family’s daily commute to P.S. 234.

In the last year alone, Francis said she herself was nearly hit twice there by traffic cops.

“It’s just a dangerous intersection… the taxis come here full force,” said Francis. “Nobody honors the fact that it is a crosswalk and you’re supposed to slow down.”

Neighborhood seniors such as Independence Plaza North resident June Grancio also fear being struck by a car while crossing Greenwich Street.

“You have to really be very careful and step out on the street a little to check if the traffic isn’t coming fast,” said Grancio.

Stringer is urging the federal and city D.O.T.s to conduct a series of safety-related studies along the Greenwich Street corridor. In an Oct. 6 letter addressed to U.S. D.O.T. Secretary Ray LaHood and to city D.O.T. Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, the borough president asked that Greenwich Street between Duane and Chambers Streets be considered for designation as a “slow street” — defined as a local street that uses traffic-calming measures to discourage vehicular through-traffic, reduce vehicle speeds and create a comfortable environment for bicycling and walking.

Stringer also requested that the city D.O.T. evaluate a number of traffic-speed controls for the intersection such as a speed bump, an elevated pedestrian crosswalk and enacting a reduced school speed zone due to the intersection’s proximity to P.S. 150 and P.S. 234.

Responding to the community’s concerns, D.O.T. spokesperson Seth Solomonow assured that safety is the D.O.T.’s first priority. Since the Sept. 30 incident, the agency has set up an automatic traffic recorder at the intersection and is now performing manual pedestrian and vehicle counts there, he said.

“We have set in a motion a thorough examination of this location to see what safety enhancements may be implemented,” said Solomonow. “We have already made site visits to the intersection, which will be studied and examined repeatedly in the coming weeks as we develop a traffic calming solution that works for this crossing.”

Local residents have been advocating for traffic mitigation devices for the intersection since the early 2000s. By 2005, the Friends of Washington Market Park had formed the Tribeca Kids’ Safety Zone Initiative to lobby the city D.O.T. for increased signage, police enforcement and other ways to heighten safety at the intersection. In subsequent years, however, the D.O.T. concluded that the crosswalk didn’t qualify for these measures based on two separate studies that proved the intersection did not meet the criteria based on pedestrian-vehicle volume.

“Essentially, it’s a mathematical formula,” explained Nelle Fortenberry, former president of the Friends of Washington Market Park. “We unfortunately have a T-intersection here, since a portion of the traffic along Greenwich Street turns left onto Duane — therefore we’ve never had enough cars versus the number of pedestrians who wait to cross that would result in the number required to give us a stop sign or traffic light.”

As a means of placating the community, in 2009 the D.O.T. added a pedestrian crosswalk sign and altered a truck-loading zone in front of the nearby Food Emporium such that delivery trucks would park horizontally, rather than diagonally, to the curb adjacent the intersection.

Fortenberry and others, however, are still dissatisfied with the conditions.

“I’d say they were band-aids, at best,” said Fortenberry. “Certainly, the fact that the pedestrians continue to have to basically dodge traffic instead of traffic waiting for them [to cross] is a growing concern.”

Fortenberry is confident the intersection will get a traffic light once the section of Greenwich Street around the World Trade Center becomes accessible to vehicles in a few years’ time. Until then, though, local residents believe something needs to be done to make the intersection safer.

“The traffic light is the holy grail for us, in that it absolutely forces traffic to stop and wait, and gives pedestrians a clear indication of when they should cross,” said Fortenberry. “At that point, vehicle traffic will increase so dramatically that we’ll absolutely qualify. [But] we don’t want to wait until that occurs and continue to put children and other pedestrians in harm’s way.”

As an interim measure, Fortenberry is hoping for a stop sign or some additional signage at the intersection.

“I’d like there to be a sign both above and in the middle of the crosswalk, with a yellow caution cone [indicating that] traffic must yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk,” said Fortenberry.

Council Member Margaret Chin is calling for immediate action by the D.O.T. to install a stop sign or traffic light there, claiming it is “unacceptable” that a child was injured.

“Despite pressure from the community, elected officials, and studies by the D.O.T., the measures to slow traffic on Greenwich have not made the street safer for the hundreds of mothers, children, and families who live and work in the area,” Chin said in an Oct. 6 letter to Sadik-Khan.

The Councilmember said she is “extremely disappointed” in the delay of addressing the issue, having advocated for a stop sign at the site since last year.

“This is my top priority and will take precedence over any of the D.O.T.’s activities in Lower Manhattan,” said Chin.

Representatives of the Friends of W.M.P. are meeting with Stringer next week to brainstorm advocacy strategies moving forward. Stringer, meanwhile, has plans to meet with Sadik-Khan later this month to follow up.