July/August 1998, p.11

Reclaiming Bronx Streets

School's In - Drive Safely: Parents in the Bronx are demanding safer streets all year round. Read the latest news about this issue.

A West Bronx community is rising up to combat rampaging traffic - with help from T.A. and the DOT's Traffic Calming Office.

Efforts by the University West Burnside Neighborhood Association are an inspiring model for other communities seeking to fight back against the automobile. About a year ago, the Association's Quality of Life Committee identified speeding and traffic - and the resulting danger and noise - as their biggest problems. They quickly came up with a list of problem locations and hazards.

They sent the list to the Department of Transportation's Bronx Borough Commissioner, James Kilkenny with an invitation to meet and address their concerns. The meeting proved fruitless: the Association's suggestions were rejected and their plea for further study of the dangerous locations ignored.

Rather than give up, the Association shifted into a higher gear. They enlisted the support of Transportation Alternatives and the Bronx Borough President's Safe Routes to School coordinator, Susan Boyle who was working at nearby PS 226. T.A. recommended creating a broader neighborhood coalition to pressure the City. In weeks the Association's call for calmer, safer streets was joined by 10 church, social service and business groups. The Association resubmitted its letter to the DOT, but this time was joined by its new allies. The letter also went to the local City Councilmember, Adolfo Carrion, and State Assemblymember Roberto Ramirez. Just to make sure their urgency and unhappiness was clearly understood, the Association called Kilkenny at the DOT borough office every day.

The pressure paid off. Based on the Safe Routes to School project, a tour of the 16 critical sites was held with the elected officials, DOT's Kilkenny and Michael King, Director of Traffic Calming. By the end of the tour, DOT committed to installing a midblock crossing and six speed humps as well as signal and signage changes. Assemblymember Ramirez committed $40,000 to the crossing and Councilmember Carrion pressed for area-wide traffic calming and reduction.

The role of the DOT Traffic Calming Office in achieving consensus between the community and DOT is worth noting. In case after case, the Traffic Calming group has worked to gain a real understanding of neighborhoods' traffic problems, and then propose solutions. Unfortunately, with a staff of only four and a backlog of over 1200 community requests for help, the group is overwhelmed. The DOT needs to quadruple the office's staff and emulate its consensus-based approach throughout the agency.
If you are part of a community organization that needs help taming traffic, contact T.A. at (212) 629-8080 or the DOT Traffic Calming Group at (212) 442-7881.