Two years ago, the Bronx Helpers decided to take action about a dangerous intersection in their neighborhood. The team of middle and high-schoolers, participants in a community service group run by the New Settlement Apartments, routinely crossed the street at 172nd and Townsend. They all could recount traffic crashes they’d seen at the corner, with some cars coming dangerously close to hitting their friends. The intersection sits between two schools, an afterschool program, and the students’ homes, but doesn’t even have a visible crosswalk, much less a design prioritizing safety. With another school under construction at Jerome and 172nd, the need for safety is only going to get more urgent.
As part of a program that teaches civic engagement, the Bronx Helpers started to organize. Asking at first for a stop sign at the corner, they collected 1,039 signatures from their neighbors, presented the petition to Bronx Community Board 4, and wrote a letter to the Department of Transportation.
The youth’s impressive organizing didn’t lead to any safety improvements, however. DOT sent them a letter promising to conduct a study on the stop sign and provide the results within 12 weeks. When their request was rejected six months later, the students asked for the details of the study, which DOT refused to provide.
The teens didn’t give up. In December, they teamed up with Transportation Alternatives to add some traffic safety expertise to their efforts. With radar guns and surveys, they tracked unsafe driver behavior in the neighborhood and mapped it against pedestrian volumes.
They also changed their request from a stop sign — which may not actually improve pedestrian safety — to more effective physical traffic calming measures like curb extensions, daylighted intersections, and speed bumps. In March, DOT promised to study a wider array of traffic calming measures in a second 12-week study.
While DOT performs its study, the Bronx Helpers are keeping up the pressure. On May 11, they threw a party for the kids in their neighborhood to raise support for the traffic calming measures. “Safety first, before the worst,” they chanted during a rally at the event, which you can see in the video above.
Hopefully, when DOT’s study comes out, it will recommend a robust set of safety improvements for 172nd and Townsend.