By Lillian Rizzo
Police Officer Hyder stood, out of breath and sweating, in the middle of the intersection at Delancey and Essex Streets. Occasionally a driver would roll down her window and shout at him.
“Tell this guy to move up already!” said an angry blonde woman in a green jeep. In the middle of the intersection with three honking cars behind her, she was attempting to turn towards the Williamsburg Bridge before the light changed.
This isn’t just typical for a Saturday afternoon—it is typical for this intersection, which is right before the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge.
Currently labeled one of the “deadliest” streets in the city, Delancey Street is a thoroughfare that cuts through the lower East Side and is now known for recent fatalities and over 500 car accidents in the last 12 years. The chaos, which usually ensues on weekends and rush hours, has built up over the years as more people populate the lower East Side and more cyclists use the bridge.
This May a pedestrian was crushed to death by a private sanitation truck at the crosswalk of Delancey and Essex Streets. Months later in August, a bicyclist was hit and killed by a semi-tractor trailer at Delancey and Chrystie Streets.
These fatalities spurred local politicians, Community Board 3, the Department of Transportation and the Police Department to put together the Delancey Street Safety Working Group.
“I believe it is one of the more dangerous streets in the five boroughs,” said Senator Daniel Squadron.
According to numbers obtained from the DOT, from 2005 to 2009 there was an average of nine pedestrian injuries per year just at the intersection of Essex and Delancey. From 2005 to 2010 there were two deaths at the intersection.
Squadron and Council Member Margaret Chin are two politicians leading the safety group, which is scheduled to meet once a month to create solutions for Delancey. So far they’ve met once in early September.
The lower East Side Business Improvement District joined the safety group after merchants felt the dangerous Delancey was hurting business. The biggest complaint for merchants is the lack of foot traffic Delancey’s congestion causes, said Tim Laughlin, the director of policy, planning and operations.
“Delancey represents a crossing between two halves of our community,” said Laughlin. Due to the heavy traffic patrons are less likely to cross the street and end up sticking to one side of the neighborhood.
Following the last death the DOT added countdown signals for the crosswalks. Barricades at the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge have also been added to guide cyclists away from traffic and towards the divider where they can cross to a side street.
“The crosswalk [signals] aren’t that long,” said Michelle Brick, 32, a volunteer for CreativeTime, standing near Essex Street handing out fliers. “When I was crossing it wasn’t enough time.”
The countdown clocks allow 30 seconds to cross before the light turns red but it doesn’t give most people enough time to walk across. Many people stop at the median traffic island.
“They are fairly new, I think it’s great but I don’t know if it has any adverse effect,” said head traffic Police Officer Wong of the 7 Precinct, which monitors the intersections at Essex and Allen Streets. “We would like to think it’s helping and it should.”
But pedestrians aren’t the only people faced with a problem at Delancey; cyclists are among the concerns for the safety group. Currently there are barricades that enclose the bike path from the Williamsburg Bridge, but once cyclists want to enter Delancey they are hit with the same problem.
“There’s a light here and I just go in with the traffic,” said Erik Bergrin, 28, a costume designer from Williamsburg. Bergrin rides his bike into the lower East Side daily. He says he has no problem coming off the bridge through the barricades but once he hits the light he doesn’t veer off to a side street, he stays on Delancey.
“I used to not wait for the light and go through traffic. Then I got hit by a [side view] mirror,” said Bergrin. “I was fine but it shocked me into submission. I don’t do that anymore.”
The safety group is meant to bring together all parts of the community in hopes of figuring out the best solution to make Delancey safer in the long term—countdown clocks and barricades are noted by all parties as a “short term solution.”
“There’s no bike lane here either. But bike lanes in New York only help some of the time,” said Bergrin as he pulled on a hat before peddling over the bridge. “There’s always cars parked in them or people hanging out there.”
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