DOT Isn’t Ready to Talk About Grand/Clinton Street Gridlock

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In a recent letter to the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT), local elected officials praised the city’s commitment to “present finding of an ongoing study” of Lower East Side traffic gridlock at a May community board meeting. Turns out, DOT planners will not be appearing at next month’s meeting of Community Board 3’s transportation committee. They have told CB3 that the study of congestion around Clinton and Grand streets is not yet ready. It’s possible the meeting could occur in June, but it’s not a sure thing.

Meanwhile, CB3 and the Lower East Side Partnership will be moving forward with a public visioning session on transportation issues in the clogged blocks adjacent to the Williamsburg Bridge. It will take place May 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at Seward Park High School.

The planning meeting will be focused on the area between Delancey Street and Grand Street, which is seeing unprecedented real estate development. The big Essex Crossing project is, of course, having an enormous impact in the neighborhood. Also, the Gotham Organization is planning a large project on the site of the fire-ravaged Beth Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue. And the Grand Street Guild is looking to build two new 15-story towers. The visioning session is meant to inform a master plan that the LES Partnership will develop in collaboration with the community board and other local stakeholders.

DOT launched a traffic study in June of last year, but in December, city officials said the initial results were “inconclusive.” They have continued to look at potential solutions to the bottleneck leading to the Williamsburg Bridge. Elected officials have urged the city to implement a plan now, before the looming L Train shutdown, when gridlock near the bridge is sure to worsen.

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More Pleas For Action to Alleviate Grand/Clinton Street Gridlock

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Another push is underway for solutions from the city to alleviate the traffic bottleneck at Clinton and Grand streets.

Last week, State Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou and other elected officials sent a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) pleading for action.  In the letter to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Police Commissioner James O’Neill, the local reps said:

We write to echo our constituents’ frustration about the ongoing traffic issues at the Grand and Clinton Streets intersection on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Constituents continue to contact our offices about the vehicle gridlock in this area, along with quality of life concerns, such as noise, that stem from this traffic. It is critical that your agencies work swiftly with the community to find solutions to this ongoing traffic problem.

In June of last year, the Transportation Department agreed to begin a traffic study in the area. In December, the agency said the initial results were “inconclusive,” but that traffic planners were continuing to evaluate possible solutions. In the recent letter, the elected officials indicated that DOT has agreed to present its latest findings and to lay out recommendations at the May meeting of Community Board 3’s transportation committee. They urged the city to implement changes before the looming L Train shutdown and the opening of Essex Crossing, when congestion is expected to worsen.

Back in February, Commissioner O’Neil responded to an earlier plea from Niou for more traffic agents, especially during the weekends when gridlock approaching the Williamsburg Bridge is especially bad. The commissioner said the NYPD conducted a site survey, which “determined that the intermittent congestion is due to a construction project encompassing a three block radius around Grand Street and Delancey Street, and by motorists using Clinton Street as the primary access point to the Williamsburg Bridge.” As O’Neill noted, an electronic sign was placed on Grand Street at the end of January notifying motorists of alternative routes to the bridge. He also said traffic agents were being assigned to the area between 11 a.m.-7 p.m. on weekends.

You can read both letters below. We are also embedding a DOT presentation from a traffic town hall sponsored by Grand Street Democrats earlier this year.

We’ll let you know when the date and location of the May community board meeting is published. Separately, CB3 and the Lower East Side Partnership are setting up a public visioning session to discuss broader transportation issues in the immediate area. Details about that meeting have not yet been announced.

 

Grand/Clinton Street Traffic – Letter from Elected Officials by The Lo-Down on Scribd

Clinton/Grand Street Traffic Concerns by The Lo-Down on Scribd

No Relief in Sight For Grand/Clinton Street Gridlock Months After Traffic Study Was Ordered

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Six months after the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) announced it was conducting a study of the congested intersection at Grand Street and Clinton Street, the results of the agency’s analysis remain a mystery and no concrete solutions for fixing the Lower East Side trouble spot are on the horizon.

For several years, local residents have been complaining about gridlock and dangerous conditions for pedestrians, as well as honking from impatient drivers at all hours of the day and night. Cars waiting to access the Williamsburg Bridge are frequently backed up on Clinton Street all the way to East Broadway and on Grand Street to FDR Drive. In response to requests from Community Board 3 and local elected officials, DOT acknowledged on June 1 that a traffic study was underway. But the results of the study have not been made public, no meaningful changes are imminent and locals are becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress.

One night last week, DOT officials, police officers from the 7th Precinct and local community leaders gathered on the northeast corner of Grand and Clinton to talk about potential solutions. The Lo-Down was invited to attend the hastily organized meeting by Karen Blatt, a member of Community Board 3 and a leader of the Grand Gridlock Coalition (#GrandGridlock on Twitter), a neighborhood group pushing for action from the city. But upon arriving on Wednesday evening, we were asked to leave (reporters were not welcome, we were told).

 

On Friday, a DOT spokesperson said the Grand/Clinton Street study has, in fact, been completed, but that it was inconclusive. The spokesperson said the agency is entering what was described as – a new phase with new considerations – and was continuing a dialogue with the community board. If this explanation sounds vague to you, it struck us the same way. We have asked for clarification and will update this story if we learn more. The Lo-Down has also filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request for the traffic study.

This coming Wednesday evening, DOT’s Manhattan Borough Commissioner, Luis Sanchez, is scheduled to appear at the 7th Precinct’s community council meeting (7:30 p.m.) to answer questions about the troublesome intersection from local residents. According to Community Affairs Officer Umberto Guardino, Sanchez was invited to attend because there have been a lot of questions during the past couple of public meetings that officers are unable to answer. While the police department is responsible for enforcement, traffic management is within DOT’s purview.

Clinton Street near Grand Street.  March 2017.

Clinton Street near Grand Street. March 2017.

Following a string of fatal accidents on Delancey Street, the city made several changes in 2012,  including opening Clinton Street to the Williamsburg Bridge. The changes resulted in a bottleneck at the Grand Street/Clinton Street intersection. Over the past few years, DOT has tinkered with signal timings, added signage and the police department has placed traffic agents at the intersection. But these moves have done little to improve the situation.

In April of this year, local residents successfully lobbied Community Board 3 for a resolution that urged DOT to address the problem. In September, the residents delivered a petition with more than one-thousand signatures to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg that read, in part, “We trust that the DOT will take (our) concerns into consideration and will propose a resolution that improves safety and quality of life in our community.”

One resident who attended last week’s Grand Street site visit, Matt Marello, said it was mostly an opportunity for locals to offer up potential solutions. Among the ideas floated by community members:

  • Turning Clinton Street between Grand Street and East Broadway into a southbound only block.
  • Routing Grand Street traffic through Suffolk Street to Delancey Street.
  • Allowing vehicles from FDR Drive to access the Williamsburg Bridge via Delancey Street (a u-turn would be necessary to accommodate this change).
  • Allowing cars to turn left from southbound Essex Street onto Delancey Street to reach the Williamsburg Bridge; currently they must continue past Delancey to Broome Street and Norfolk Street.

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This past Tuesday evening, we caught up with Karen Blatt as she was headed to the Grand/Clinton Street traffic meeting. She told us, “There has been no action, no communication and no collaboration. If (DOT) did conduct a study, they should have shared their findings, especially if they were unable to optimize the network. It’s ok for DOT to ask for help if they can’t fix the problem. We have lot’s of ideas and we want to help.”

In 2015, the city installed a two-way protected bike lane on Clinton Street and later added a mid-block crosswalk on the block between Grand Street and East Broadway (at that time, Blatt was chair of CB3’s transportation committee). In a recent letter to DOT, she and other members of the Grand Gridlock Coalition wrote, “We applaud the pedestrian and cyclist safety measures that DOT has installed in the last few years, but these safety measures have inadvertently led to an intolerable level of traffic congestion, noise pollution and unsafe conditions.”

Clinton Street

There was a ribbon cutting on Clinton Street last year to inaugurate a new crosswalk and traffic signal.

The problems on Clinton Street have been made worse by the ongoing construction at Essex Crossing. The developers blocked off the sidewalk on the west side of Clinton while a 15-story building at 145 Clinton St. was being built. As a result, pedestrians spilled out into the bike lane. While the sidewalk was recently reopened, work will soon begin on Site 4 of Essex Crossing, located on the west side of Clinton Street between Delancey and Broome streets. This means pedestrians will once again likely be forced out into the street.

There are other long-range concerns about the impact of the Essex Crossing development project on congestion in the immediate area. The building located at the intersection of Clinton and Grand streets includes a 30,000 square foot Trader Joe’s and a 22,500 square foot Target store. There’s a commercial loading dock for those stores on Clinton Street. Just one block away, NYU Langone will be opening a large medical center in another Essex Crossing building, and a publicly accessible park will border the congested Clinton Street thoroughfare. The new businesses and local amenities are sure to add significantly more pedestrian traffic and more vehicular traffic to an already overburdened area.

For their part, the Essex Crossing developers say they’ve been in constant contact with DOT, the police department and the community board about construction-related traffic issues and about traffic management once the first buildings officially open next summer and fall.

Wednesday’s 7th Precinct meeting takes place at 7:30 p.m. at the station house, 19 Pitt St. Another community meeting devoted to the Clinton/Grand Street traffic issue is in-the-works. It’s being planned by Grand Street Democrats, a local political club. We’ll let you know when there are more details about that.

Clinton Street near Grand Street. File photo.

Clinton Street near Grand Street. File photo.