STOP RIGHT THERE: Sorry, But A Traffic Light Wouldn’t Have Saved Emur Shavkator

Why would DOT ignore Council Member Mark Treyger's pleas for a traffic light at the deadly intersection? Treyger has a good answer.

Mark Treyger highlighted the ineffectiveness of traffic lights while speaking to Bensonhurst seniors in June. Photo: David Meyer
Mark Treyger highlighted the ineffectiveness of traffic lights while speaking to Bensonhurst seniors in June. Photo: David Meyer

In the aftermath of the vehicular killing of a 3-year-old Emur Shavkator at Bay 25th Street and Benson Avenue in Brooklyn, City Council Members Mark Treyger and Justin Brannan accused the city of inattentiveness to safety concerns in their district.

But the council member’s proposed solution — installing a traffic light — would not have saved Shavkator, who was struck by driver Juanchi Seda as he crossed in the crosswalk alongside his mother, who was also hit and injured.

The intersection merely had a stop sign. But a traffic light would have made it more dangerous by encouraging drivers to speed.

Treyger should know better — and does, as he made clear last June while bashing State Senate Republicans’ plan to substitute the city’s speed camera program with traffic lights.

“Even if you add a traffic light, how many times have you seen someone going faster to beat the light?” Treyger asked the lunch crowd at Moose Lodge Senior Center in Bensonhurst. The seniors in the room raised their hands in the affirmative.

Researchers and transportation professionals agree.

“[On] side street, speeds actually increase,” former Traffic Commissioner Sam Schwartz told Streetsblog in 2011. “When cars see the green light, they may floor it,” he said.

Video still: ABC 7 New York
Video still: ABC 7 New York

DOT’s resistance to installing stop signs and traffic signals has earned it the ire of countless community boards and elected officials, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. Federal guidelines limit them to intersections with heavy pedestrian or automobile volumes — meaning those where a traffic camera is necessary for drivers to cross safely.

But in Schwartz’s time in city government, DOT often caved to politicians’ requests for signals, even if they weren’t warranted. At one point, a study found that crashes increased by 65 percent at intersections where traffic signals were installed, despite federal guidelines advising otherwise.

Shavkator was the fifth pedestrian or cyclist killed on Benson Avenue in Bath Beach since 2013.  Cops arrested his killer, initially identified as Johnny Gonzalez, and charged him with the minor crimes of failure to yield and failure to exercise due care.

But even with good intentions, politicians like Treyger know well that traffic lights and stop signs aren’t a panacea to stop people from ignoring the traffic signals, driving too fast or simply being distracted. Indeed, the NYPD wrote close to 40,000 tickets in just the month of March — roughly 1,320 a day.

The real solutions are systemic: Better enforcement, like automated speed cameras, to prevent and stigmatize reckless driving. Safer streets to keep auto speeds at safe levels. And even labor reforms to take out the financial incentive that encourages commercial drivers like Seda to speed and ignore stop signs.

Treyger and members of Families for Safe Streets will gather at the site of the collision on Sunday at 6:30 p.m. for a vigil honoring Shavkator.

  • ortcutt

    In my neighborhood (where there are lights at every intersection), you get loads of people in cars whipping around corners in order to beat a yellow light. Especially at rush hour.

  • Julisa Cordero

    “But a traffic light would have made it more dangerous by encouraging drivers to speed.”
    Well that’s where enforcement comes in, but Liberals – including our snowflake mayor – are not really into enforcement if any drivers of color need to be spoken to by the police.

  • Joe R.

    We can’t do that, either, because Albany capped the number of speed cameras and the times they’re in operation. Forgot widespread police enforcement of speed limits in the city. The cops chasing down speeders would be more dangerous than the speeders themselves.

    The best answer is uncontrolled intersections or roundabouts. If motorists know they’re not guaranteed the right-of-way by either a green signal or stop signs on the cross street, they’ll be forced to slow down and look at every single uncontrolled intersection. If there are roundabouts instead, the geometry will force them to slow down. Traffic lights really don’t exist for safety. They exist to allow cars to go faster than would otherwise be safely possible.

  • “When cars see the green light, they may floor it,” he said.”

    Because NYC light cycles are so long

  • From riding my bike in Philadelphia, I noticed that the light cycles are significantly longer here. We could probably lessen drivers’ desire to floor it on the green light if we had shorter reds.

  • AMH

    The eighth paragraph doesn’t make a lot of sense. Is it supposed to be:

    DOT’s resistance to installing stop signs lights has earned it the ire of countless community boards and elected officials, but it didn’t come out of nowhere. Federal guidelines limit them to intersections with heavy pedestrian or automobile volumes — meaning those where a traffic camera signal is necessary for drivers to cross safely.

  • Andrew

    The best answer is uncontrolled intersections or roundabouts.

    Are you seriously suggesting that the motorist who failed to wait for a pedestrian at a stop sign would have waited for a pedestrian at an uncontrolled intersection or at a roundabout?

  • Joe R.

    When I look at where the most pedestrian injuries/deaths occur, it seems they’re mostly at intersections with traffic signals, and most of the rest are at intersections with stop signs. Obviously neither one seems to work. It’s time to try something else. The theory with uncontrolled intersections is that motorists generally don’t hit what they can see. They’re forced to look intently at each and every intersection out of pure self-interest (i.e. to avoid colliding with other motorists). When they do that, there’s also a far better chance they’ll see people crossing the street. Not so at traffic signals, where they’re looking up at the signal instead of in front of them.

    The very definition of insanity of doing the same thing while expecting a different result. How many times have we tried stop signs at dangerous intersections? When those didn’t work, we installed traffic signals. Those still failed to work, but there’s nothing “safer” in the minds of the people who decide these things, so the traffic signals stayed. Has the city ever looked at before/after statistics where stop signs and/or traffic signals were installed? My guess is they invariably made things worse, not better.

    The real solution is decreasing motor vehicle density. Failing that, uncontrolled intersections and roundabouts generally work better than traffic signals or stop signs. Look at Europe. Stop signs are practically unheard of. Traffic signals are used much more sparingly. The preference is often just to get cars out of pedestrian-dense areas altogether, which is really the best answer here. No reason NYC can’t follow suit. Lower Manhattan for example should have been pedestrianized years ago.

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