Early Saturday afternoon, about 25 people gathered at the corner of St. Annes Avenue and East 138th Street in the South Bronx, protesting heavy truck traffic and deadly driving in the Mott Haven neighborhood.
A series of pedestrian deaths in recent months and the lack of truck route enforcement from the 40th Precinct — as well as a city-subsidized Fresh Direct distribution center planned for the neighborhood — have many residents concerned about the safety of crossing the street.
On December 13, Ignacio Cubano, 69, was killed in crosswalk at 138th Street and St. Annes Avenue by a semi truck driver. On January 7, an elderly woman was critically injured crossing at the same location. Six days later, a taxi driver ran over a man at 138th Street and Brown Place. Most recently, on April 1, a hit-and-run SUV driver killed two pedestrians on Bruckner Boulevard at 138th Street. On Saturday afternoon, an elderly driver injured four people on the sidewalk near The Hub, a busy commercial area at the north edge of the neighborhood.
At the rally, convened by the environmental justice group South Bronx Unite, participants handed out fliers to people walking along the bustling commercial street. “We walk these grounds with our feet — we hope that we can get safe streets!” the group chanted.
East 138th Street is designated as a local truck route, which means truck drivers should be heading to or from a destination in the neighborhood. But residents say many truck drivers use the street as a through route to Manhattan to avoid traffic on the Major Deegan and the Bruckner Expressway.
In 2012, officers from the 40th Precinct did not write a single ticket for truck route violations, while issuing 2,272 tickets for tinted windows over the same period [PDF]. Responding to a January letter from resident Monxo Lopez, the precinct’s commanding officer, Deputy Inspector Christopher McCormack, said that citations are often issued for tinted windows because officers need to see inside a vehicle during car stops.
At a precinct community council meeting in January, after the two crashes at 138th Street and St. Annes Avenue, McCormack told residents that “most of the victims are elderly, and they are making mistakes,” according to the Mott Haven Herald. In an interview last week with DNAinfo, McCormack noted that some of the victims were not using crosswalks.
“He has a 1950s mentality,” Lopez said on Saturday. “He’s blaming the pedestrians for their own deaths.”
McCormack told DNAinfo that the precinct has increased the number of officers trained to inspect trucks and enforce speeding laws. In January and February of this year (the most recent data available), the precinct has issued four truck route citations and 449 tickets for tinted windows.
Residents say four tickets in two months is not enough truck enforcement. “If they don’t enforce it, who does?” asked Mychal Johnson, a Mott Haven resident who serves on Community Board 1 and is a member of South Bronx Unite. “We want enforcement of the rules, so people aren’t in danger, losing their lives,” he said.
Mott Haven resident Wendy Guevara came upon the protest as she walked down 138th Street with her 11-year-old son Milton. “I’m afraid for him,” she said. “Sometimes they don’t care about the light, they just go.”
“Obviously enforcement is a big issue,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “And this hasn’t gotten any attention.”
Streetsblog has emailed a request for comment to McCormack. We’ll let you know if we hear back.
Mark-Viverito, whose district includes East Harlem and Mott Haven, added that in addition to pressing for more police enforcement, she will be meeting with DOT Borough Commissioner Constance Moran this week to discuss truck traffic. After 7-year-old Amar Diarrassouba was killed by a truck driver in East Harlem in February, Mark-Viverito sent letters to DOT and NYPD raising questions about illegal oversize trucks, many of which lack required safety mirrors. Her office has not received replies to those letters.
Saturday’s protest came as Fresh Direct is proposing to relocate its distribution center to Mott Haven from Long Island City, subsidized by $127.8 million from the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Empire State Development Corporation. South Bronx Unite has filed suit against Fresh Direct, in part over concerns that increased truck traffic will have negative impacts on the neighborhood, which already suffers from some of the city’s highest asthma rates.
At the end of Saturday’s protest, the group marched down the sidewalk on 138th Street, chanting, “No more trucks! No more trucks!” Leo Rabera, whose tractor-trailer was double-parked on the street outside a grocery for a delivery, blew his horn as the group passed. “I drive very carefully,” Rabera said, adding that he often makes deliveries to the neighborhood. “There are a lot of kids.”