Illegal Truck Traffic Getting Worse on 15th St.
BY SAM SPOKONY | A brief bump in police enforcement earlier this year hasn’t gotten the job done when it comes to stopping illegal truck traffic on West 15th Street, residents say.
Now, they’re calling for a much more thorough effort to tackle the problem.
“My understanding at this point, based on the way police have responded, is that enforcement against the trucks actually happens on only one or two days of the year,” said Stanley Bulbach, president of the West 15th Street 100 and 200 Block Association. “But the trucks aren’t being deterred, so I really think it needs more sustained enforcement.”
This newspaper reported on October 9 that Chelsea’s 10th Precinct was directing its highway safety officers to “pay more attention” to the rogue truckers, who often use West 15th Street, between Sixth and Eighth Avenues, as a shortcut to bypass congestion on the legal route of 14th Street.
That decision was prompted by complaints from block residents who were being woken up late at night by the rumbling trucks, and who were also worried about the overweight vehicles damaging a high-pressure gas main and an asbestos-covered steam pipe under the street.
The 10th Precinct responded by ticketing 21 trucks for use of illegal routes in the month of October — throughout Chelsea, not just on West 15th Street — but, as Bulbach noted, that seems to have been the only real spike in enforcement for the entire year.
Between the end of October and December 25, the precinct has written only six more illegal trucking tickets throughout all of Chelsea — with a total of 79 tickets for the whole year up to Christmas, according to police statistics. That’s an average of less than seven tickets per month across the precinct’s approximately 25 miles of total roadway, which includes other frequently-used truck shortcuts like West 19th and West 22nd Streets.
And the NYPD’s 13th Precinct — which borders the 10th Precinct at the corner of West 15th Street and Seventh Avenue, and thus splits coverage of the 100 and 200 blocks — wrote only 50 illegal truck tickets for the whole year, up to December 25, according to police. That’s an average of just over four tickets per month throughout that entire precinct, which also covers the Flatiron District, Kips Bay and Stuyvesant Town.
When West 15th Street resident Janet Charleston heard those statistics, she expressed the same frustrations felt by Bulbach and many other neighbors over the past year.
“The problem is still getting worse and worse, and that number of tickets definitely isn’t enough,” said Charleston, who added that the total of 129 illegal truck tickets between the two entire precincts “could’ve been given out on 15th Street alone.”
She explained that, among other incidents, she has been woken up between 2 and 4am by several trucks — sometimes five or more — barreling down the small street, which is made even narrower by a bike lane.
Charleston raised the issue at a Community Board 4 Transportation Committee meeting on December 18, after which the committee drafted a letter calling on both the 10th and 13th Precincts to step up enforcement in a more comprehensive way.
That letter — which still needs to be approved at the full board meeting on January 6 — specifically cites strong collaborative work that took place between police, the board and block residents in 2007 and 2008, leading to a sharp decrease in illegal truck traffic.
Another problem with enforcement may stem from policies pushed by the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT), which allegedly allow many truckers to get off the hook even after they’ve been ticketed.
Bulbach said he was recently told by Captain David Miller, commanding officer of the 10th Precinct, that numerous tickets his officers had written were being dismissed by the courts, because of “waivers” granted by DOT to any vehicles related to nearby construction.
“That could be another reason why the truck drivers aren’t concerned about being stopped,” said Bulbach, who noted the numerous constructions projects along his street in recent years, including a newly completed building at the corner of 15th Street and Sixth Avenue, as well as a 24-story luxury tower being built just east of that intersection.
A DOT spokesperson denied granting exceptions for trucks in that manner, although he stated that the city agency does in fact issue waivers for “exceptional cases,” such as Hurricane Sandy reconstruction projects.
Meanwhile, at presstime it was still unclear whom Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will choose to replace current DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who has been frequently criticized — alongside outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg — for the agency’s poor relationships with local communities in recent years.
As the pace of his transition lags, with many agency replacements still have yet to be selected, de Blasio has in fact asked some current commissioners to stay on the job for a while after he takes office on January 1, according to a recent Daily News report. In that article, de Blasio’s team didn’t specify which commissioners would be asked to stay on, and which would soon be replaced over the next several days.
But the transition team has told at least some city agencies that a decision on new leadership is not imminent, according to the News.
In November, several outlets reported that Margaret Forgione, DOT’s Manhattan Borough Commissioner, was one of the top candidates being considered for the top DOT job, alongside First Deputy Commissioner Lori Ardito.
In a conversation with this newspaper last week, one high-level political insider said that Forgione is still rumored to be leading that field.