How would you cross the street in an area shaped like the letter Y and where traffic runs in all directions without a crosswalk, stop sign, traffic light or island?
Many people who live near Heath Avenue and Fort Independence Street ask themselves this question every day.
“I try to get to the closest corner where I have a view of everything, and I try to wait when no cars are coming,” said Arlene Bowman, a local resident.
The Department of Transportation has been looking into the area’s traffic issues and possible improvements, but amid many calls for information, is yet to release any plans to the public. The “DOT is aware of community concerns and we are currently conducting a signal study at this location,” a spokesperson told The Press in an email.
The study began last September, according to Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who said it should have been completed by now. He and other politicians and local activists gathered for a rally on Feb. 8 to urge the DOT to release the results. In an additional effort, the Fort Independence Park Neighborhood Association has collected more than 300 signatures on a petition asking the department to release its traffic study.
In the meantime, many residents in the area remain concerned about the lack of a traffic light, stops sign, crosswalk or island in the area.
“It’s dangerous trying to cross,” Bowman said. “Cars are coming in so many different directions. And if you don’t stay on top [of it], you can get hit in a second. And then, the buses come along here, too. And a lot of the times, the buses have to be careful because they almost have accidents a lot of time.”
Jordan Moss, a member of the neighborhood association, said people of all ages have trouble crossing in the area. “Even I, as an adult, [have] a really hard time knowing the right time to cross. I look both ways multiple times.”
Moss added he is afraid to let his 12-year-old daughter, Devin, cross this street by herself.
“It’s not a matter of not paying attention, but you can be paying attention but cars are coming so fast. And, there’s such a poor time to react if you are crossing the street,” said Margaret Della, executive director of the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center.
Heath Avenue and Fort Independence Street comprise the “main artery” through which some 4,500 children and families travel to the community center each year, Della said.
The absence of a stop sign or a traffic light mean the intersection is not safe for drivers, either.
“It has an obstructed view. People come too fast around the corner and then you have buses coming and going along with cars,” Della said.
Angelo Suarez, a superintendent at an apartment building on Sedgwick Avenue, said sometimes pedestrians get blocked in by heavy traffic.
“Today, I was coming down the block and there were cars from this neighborhood coming this way, cars coming that way, and cars coming down, and they pinned a lady with two kids in a carriage. She was in between all three cars. Literally, right there in the middle of the street,” Suarez said. The woman froze in her tracks for a moment, but was fine, he said.
At night, the area becomes even more dangerous to navigate, residents said.
Anne DiLucca, a member of the Neighborhood Association, said she no longer walks her dogs in this area.
“They can’t see you if you are wearing a dark coat and my dogs are little. Coming across, I’ve almost gotten hit,” she said. “You no sooner step out to the street and you think you are safe and another car is coming the other way… sometimes you are stuck in the middle of the street.”
Deputy Inspector Terence O’Toole, the commanding officer of the 50th precinct, said that without any traffic signs posted at the intersection, there is little for police to enforce.
“The Department of Transportation has to do re-engineering and listening to the community concerns,” he said. “It’s a convoluted intersection.”
Dinowitz sent a letter to the Transportation Department in June 2014, asking it to conduct a traffic study or to “at least consider an all-way stop sign at the interaction of Heath Avenue and Independence Street,” the assemblyman said.
The DOT conducted the study in the fall of 2016, Dinowitz said. [This is mentioned earlier in the story.] He sent a second letter on Feb. 1, asking for the results of the study, according to a copy of the letter provided to The Press.
U.S. Congressman Adriano Espaillat also joined the Feb. 9 rally. He characterized the area as “dangerous” and called upon the DOT to “intervene immediately to ensure that measures are taken to protect pedestrians” and to release its traffic study as quickly as possible.
Other attendees at the rally included state senators Jeffrey Klein and Gustavo Rivera, Councilman Andrew Cohen, Community Board 8 chair Dan Padernacht, members of the neighborhood association and about a dozen residents.
“They need to put some type of stop light or something because someone is going to end up getting killed over here,” said Bowman. “Hopefully, with this rally, something will be done before it gets to that point.”