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.
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.
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.”
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.