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Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Tremont Crash Zone

A passenger waits for the bus at a stop where the sign has
been wiped out by an out-of-control vehicle. Apparently
crashes are so common here, extra protection has been
added around the posts for the traffic signals
When New York City reduced the citywide speed limit from 30 to 25 mph, some arterial streets kept the higher speed limits. Among those was a portion of East Tremont Avenue. On recent visits, it looks like an outright crash zone. An entire stretch of the street east of Morris Park Avenue has been rendered a sprawling residual space by the combined impacts of out-of-control cars, shallow properties bordering the railroad, and the proliferation of auto-related land uses. Given the conditions confronting pedestrians, the speed limit warrants a revisit.
This sign encourages higher speeds 
when driving past the bus stop

Tremont is one of the few major cross-Bronx connections. This section has only sparse land uses, which are largely auto-related. Given its role in connecting high volumes of cars across the borough and the perception that this is not a pedestrian area, the decision to keep a higher speed limit initially seems to make some sense.

Nevertheless, the amount of pedestrian activity in the area is not insignificant. Granted, these are not Midtown crowds, impatiently trying to squeeze past oblivious tourists, but there is a steady trickle of people walking through the area and waiting for the buses. Cyclists periodically pass through as well. The pedestrians and cyclists here are largely less affluent residents who live and/or work in the surrounding working-class neighborhoods. Subjecting them to dangerous traffic is clearly an equity issue.

The crash map on the Vision Zero website shows a consistent volume of crashes along Tremont, including a pedestrian fatality in 2014 within sight of the location where the bus stop sign was still lying across the sidewalk this afternoon
This curve should be taken at a slower
speed, but raising the speed limit
encourages drivers to speed up instead

Part of the reason the vehicles have had a legacy of crashing into the fixed objects here is the combination of speed and curves. There are a couple of bends in Tremont that drivers should take at slower speeds. Advisory speeds have long been posted in advance of these curves, suggesting that drivers should slow down to 20 mph. This was a normal, albeit ineffective approach, when the citywide speed limit was set at 30 mph. However, the signage is now sending mixed messages.

Posting a regulatory speed limit that is higher than the citywide limit directly communicates that higher speeds are appropriate on this section of street, and clearly encourages drivers to speed up. Just as they begin to gain speed, suggesting that they really ought to slow down instead is inconsistent. Moreover, the regulatory limit effectively prevents prosecuting drivers who recklessly take the curves too fast, since the unsafe behavior has been officially condoned.

The poor pedestrian conditions caused by excessive speed are compounded by sidewalk parking, which sometimes increases pedestrian exposure to traffic and generally contributes to the pervasive sense that this entire landscape belongs to cars and people really should not be trying to walk here. A couple car dealerships along this stretch park their cars on the sidewalk as a convenient display location. Not only do these illegally parked cars force pedestrians to weave their way through, it often forces them close to the curb, where they are at greater risk of being struck by any speeding cars that lose control or any loose objects that come flying off a passing truck. Even though this sidewalk parking is a daily activity, the NYPD never takes any enforcement action. Despite what the law actually says, our law enforcement officers consistently allow certain businesses to deprive neighborhood residents of the right to comfortably walk down the sidewalks here and in many other working-class neighborhoods throughout the city.
A car dealership uses the sidewalk to display cars for sale, creating an obstacle course for people trying to walk and a general sense of lawlessness where pedestrians are not protected

Heading westbound, there is a 30 mph speed limit sign in advance of Morris Park Avenue. I was unable to locate a sign further west that reduced the speed back to 25 mph, so vehicles traveling into the much busier areas to the west may continue to travel at the higher rate of speed, whether that is intended or not.

Crossing the street and walking to the bus stop can be uncomfortable and dangerous, even for people without disabilities 
The signal lights indicate you can walk.
The posts they are mounted on indicate it may not be a good idea...
The 30 mph speed is again advertised on the approach to the busier intersections with White Plains and Unionport Roads
The closely-spaced intersections with White Plains Road and Unionport Road have much more vehicular and pedestrian activity, since it is the connection between neighborhoods across the railroad tracks. It is also a primary gateway into the large, much denser Parkchester community. My initial impression is that posting the higher speed limit in advance of these intersections may contribute to red light running. I think this plays out in two ways: 1) Inattentive drivers traveling at a faster speed are more likely to feel they cannot stop once they realize the light is changing, and run the red light, and 2) the attitude that higher speeds are important to get where they are going on this street is being reinforced, contributing to the temptation to avoid the long red light at signals that give considerable green time to cross traffic.

This barren pedestrian island at Rosedale Avenue has done a good job or organizing and legitimizing parking, while providing relatively safe space for pedestrians 
The expanse of empty pavement and surrounding demolition derby atmosphere makes it a really sad place. If the street were made safer and more comfortable, this might become attractive as a location for vendors. Regardless, adding some planting would help to improve the conditions for those who walk through or work here and could reduce some of the excessive stormwater runoff from the extensive expanse of pavement
The section east of Unionport Road along the edge of Parkchester may require a full redesign to ever become a more suitable pedestrian environment. They way the divided roadway creates highway-like conditions, changing regulatory signs would be insufficient to effectively limit speeds. There is potential for something much better here after some comprehensive planning and commitment of real capital funds. Depending on the widths of the parking and travel lanes and the median divider, there may be opportunities for protected bike lanes and/or dedicated bus lanes.
The necessity for so many Parkchester residents and customers from other parts of The Bronx visiting Parkchester to cross the near highway conditions to get to the bus contributes to the high car utilization rates here. Redesigning this section would not only improve the safety for those who already rely on walking and transit, it would make these options easier for the many who currently choose to drive

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