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 W. 15th St., 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 W. 15th St. 100 and 200 Block Association. “But the trucks aren’t being deterred, so I really think it needs more sustained enforcement.”
Chelsea’s 10th Precinct has been directing its highway safety officers to “pay more attention” to the rogue truckers, who often use W. 15th St., between Sixth and Eighth Aves., as a shortcut to bypass congestion on the legal route of 14th St.
The precinct’s 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 W. 15th St. 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 Dec. 25, the precinct wrote 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 roughly 25 miles of roadway, which includes other frequently used truck shortcuts like W. 19th and W. 22nd Sts.
And the 13th Precinct — which borders the 10th Precinct at the corner of W. 15th St. and Seventh Ave., and so splits coverage of the 100 and 200 blocks — wrote only 50 illegal truck tickets for the whole year, up to Dec. 25, according to police. That’s an average of just slightly more than four tickets per month throughout that entire precinct, which also covers the Flatiron District, Kips Bay and Stuyvesant Town.
When W. 15th St. resident Janet Charleston heard those statistics, she expressed the same frustrations felt by Bulbach and many other neighbors.
“The problem is still getting worse and worse, and that number of tickets definitely isn’t enough,” said Charleston. The total of 129 illegal truck tickets between the two precincts “could’ve been given out on 15th St. alone,” she said.
She explained that, among other incidents, she has been woken up between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. 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 Dec. 18, after which the committee drafted a letter calling on both the 10th and 13th Precincts to step up enforcement.
That letter — which still needs to be approved at the C.B. 4 full board meeting on Jan. 6 — 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 the city’s Department of Transportation, which allegedly lets many ticketed truckers off the hook.
Bulbach said he was recently told by Captain David Miller, 10th Precinct commanding officer, that many tickets his officers had written were being dismissed by the courts, because of “waivers” granted by D.O.T. 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 recent construction projects along his street.
A D.O.T. spokesperson denied granting exceptions for trucks in that manner, though he said the agency does, in fact, issue waivers for “exceptional cases,” such as Hurricane Sandy reconstruction projects.
Meanwhile, at press time, it was still unclear whom Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio will choose to replace current D.O.T. Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Khan has been criticized by some — alongside outgoing Mayor Bloomberg — for the agency’s having a poor relationship with local communities in recent years.
De Blasio has, in fact, asked some current commissioners to stay on for a while after he takes office Jan. 1, according to the Daily News. However, de Blasio’s team didn’t specify which commissioners would be asked to continue, and which would soon be replaced.
But the transition team has told at least some city agencies that a decision on new leadership is not imminent, the News reported.
In November, it was reported that Margaret Forgione, D.O.T.’s Manhattan borough commissioner, was a top candidate being considered for D.O.T. chief, along with First Deputy Commissioner Lori Ardito.
Last week, one high-level political insider told this newspaper Forgione is still rumored to be the frontrunner.