Traffic island faces a sea of complaints


The traffic island at the intersection of Van Cortlandt West and Sedgwick avenues is covered with scuffs and scratches—apparent evidence of run-ins with vehicles of various shapes and sizes. 

Placed on that street in 2012, the traffic island seems older. 

It was installed to prevent accidents at the busy intersection, where many drivers making a turn from Sedgwick seemed uncertain whether the street they were entering, Van Cortlandt Avenue West, was a one-way or a two-way street. It is a two-way street, and the traffic island sits in the middle. 

But good as the intention might have been, the resulting structure, when it appeared, drew a maelstrom of criticism over its shape and size. The traffic island, some residents and politicians complain, seems to block one of the lanes on Van Cortlandt West from view for drivers making a left turn from Sedgwick. 

City officials seem to concede that the traffic island’s design was a fiasco, but little has changed. 

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, one of the critics of the traffic island, said he has been sparring with the Transportation Department over the structure for a couple of years. 

In 2014, he complained about the location to Bronx Transportation Commissioner Constance Moran, Dinowitz said. She wrote back, conceding the construction was mishandled and promised to have it fixed by September 2015, according to copies of the correspondence Dinowitz provided to The Press. 

“Our highway design group is currently working on plans for the reconfiguration of the island,” Moran said in the letter dated Nov. 17, 2014. “We will keep you apprised of the design plan and work to shorten the curvature of the island.”

When that deadline came and went, Dinowitz said he wrote another letter, asking why the repairs had never been made.  This time no one responded, he said, so he sent another letter directly to Moran in December 2016. That letter has also gone unanswered. 

“It takes a village to be incompetent,” Dinowitz said while driving with a Press journalist around the northwest Bronx pointing out a range of traffic issues that, he says, have gone unheeded by the Transportation Department, despite numerous complaints from his office. 

“I do think that elected officials should get some sort of priority when it comes to complaints, not because we are special but because our complaints typically are coming from constituents,” he said. “When they don’t do their, job it looks like I don’t do my job.”

Dinowitz said unresponsiveness is not a word he would typically use to describe city agencies, to which he voices community concerns, but said the term would be appropriate when a complaint deals with traffic-safety issues. 

“DOT has responded and they’ve actually gotten a number of things done that we’ve asked, I can’t say that they don’t get things done,” he said. “But there are just some chronic problems there and things that don’t happen and it gets very frustrating.”

Dinowitz also pointed out the intersection of W. 256th Street and Riverdale Avenue, where he and Congressman Eliot Engel hosted a press conference in October, asking for a left turn signal to be added. During the meeting, two cars nearly collided.

“What happens is, we make a request and we send it to the Bronx DOT office and sometimes there’s no response,” he said. “Then we call them and they say ‘Well, if you sent a letter you should’ve sent an email, and if you sent an email you should’ve called us,’ so we generally do all three.”

The Transportation Department, which did not respond to a request for comment, is responsible for roughly 5,700 linear miles of city streets and highways, according to 2017 Fiscal Year budget report by the City Council. The department receives $224,879 to cover the cost of maintaining and repairing roadways, according to the report. 

Dinowitz said he does not have a problem if the department cannot or would not fix a particular problem, but he thinks complaints should be heard and should receive a response. 

“That’s like the epitome of what people think of bureaucracy, that things just get lost in a black hole,” he said.

In yet another incident, local politicians had pushed for more traffic lights along Broadway to make the street safer for pedestrians to cross. The Transportation Department heeded the call and added the lights, but did not switch them on for months. Eventually, a car fatally struck a 77-year-old woman in November, near one of the nonfunctioning traffic lights. 

“Had the light been completed when they led us to believe it would be finished, maybe that woman wouldn’t have been killed, but there is no way to know that,” Dinowitz said. “Within days [of the accident], it was working.”