Washington Heights group hopes for cure to drag racing on Amsterdam Avenue with Open Streets

Some of the many crashes that have occurred along a stretch of Amsterdam Avenue in Washington Heights. (Photos via Facebook/Anthony Mendoza)

Drag racing has quickly become a prime concern for residents living around Amsterdam Avenue in Washington Heights, and some of them are turning to the city’s Open Streets program as their best option for restoring a sense of safety.

In a letter to the city Department of Transportation, the group tells the agency that street racing is endangering the general welfare of residents but also poses a threat to a nearby schools after a speeding car plowed into a bus recently. It’s time to shut the road down if possible, they say.

“It’s a miracle no one has been killed,” local resident Cecilia Anglero said. “These cars speed up and down Amsterdam with absolutely zero regard for human life. The city needs to step up and put in place the measures our community deserves.”

Advocating for the Open Streets program also would bring the added benefit of increased foot traffic in the business district which could also benefit from installation of speed humps a pedestrian plaza and enforcement of busway regulations along nine-block stretch between 181st and 190th streets.

Other signees on the letter encompass local elected officials, small business owners, nonprofit organizations and educators. Included among the schools in the area of concern are Yeshiva University, the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy, J.H.S. 143 Eleanor Roosevelt, Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS), P.S. 189 and Comunilife.

“Our students have made pedestrian safety a part of their classroom learning. They have studied the negative impacts of excessive traffic and committed to beautifying the blocks around WHEELS through various eco-friendly projects,” said Molly Delano, executive director of Friends of WHEELS. “Reducing dangerous traffic along Amsterdam is a priority for our entire school and a teachable moment for our students, who can learn that their advocacy can lead to safer streets for everyone.”

The letter asserts that because NYPD data shows between August 2018 and July 2020 there were 173 crashes with 56 injuries along the corridor in question, the pandemic offers a unique opportunity to reimagine Amsterdam Avenue.

A collision in May between a car suspected of being involved in frequent drag racing crashed into a parked bus at Amsterdam Avenue and 190th Street, causing further cause for alarm in the community.

DOT did not immediately respond to a request for comment from amNewYork Metro.

The ever present street safety focus in the city has shifted to increasing complaints of drag racing across the five boroughs, enough to influence one Manhattan lawmaker, state Senator Brad Hoylman, to introduce legislation that will allow the city to continue operating the state speed camera program overnights and weekends. Currently, the speed camera program focuses on schools and only operates while classes are in session.

Awareness toward the increase in drag racing is illustrated in the city’s own data that shows between March and June of 2020, when the pandemic had most people laying low in their apartments or outside the city, over 400 complaints of street racing had been made to the city’s 311 service. This has been widely attributed to deserted streets during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York.

A copy of the letter from the Washington Heights community is below: