Uptown truck facility slammed

Manhattan_Times_News.png By Gregg McQueen

It’s a trucking nightmare.

Uptown residents and elected officials are riled up over a city-owned site that the Department of Transportation (DOT) recently transformed into a maintenance truck lot.

The lot, located at 672 West 158th Street near the West Side Highway, was previously the home of “Safety City,” a fenced-in replication of city intersections used to teach school children about traffic safety.

Locals say that the site was repurposed by DOT in March as a truck parking facility, which is disturbing nearby residents with noise and fumes as early as 4:30 a.m.

“The trucks start up early in the morning,” said Henry Brockington, who lives next to the lot. “There’s fumes, noise, traffic, everything is worse since they started putting trucks in here.”

April Ellis, who lives across the street, said she is concerned for her two young sons due to increased truck traffic.

“It’s a very heavily-trafficked street as it is,” said Ellis, who voiced concern that the trucks endanger families attempting to access a nearby park. “To add to that, I think it’s too much.”

“[It’s] disrupting local life in the midst of a densely populated area,” said City Councilmember Mark Levine at a May 23 press conference next to the lot.

In February, Levine and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer first stood at the site, then used as Safety City, and called on the de Blasio administration to use the lot to build affordable housing.

They said Safety City was “dramatically underused” and suggested that as many as 200 low-income families could be housed at the site.

At the time, DOT responded that Safety City was “a critical tool” in “carrying out the agency’s core mission” and educating more than 6,000 children annually on pedestrian safety.

On May 23, Levine and Brewer ripped the agency for changing the use of the site after insisting that Safety City was too important for the lot to be repurposed for affordable housing.

“The DOT told us, in no uncertain terms, it had to be used for training, they told us they needed every square inch of this property,” Levine said. “This is unacceptable, and we are here to call out DOT for this disingenuous policy making.”

“This was really sneaky. Very, very sneaky, and really wrong of a city agency,” remarked Brewer.

She suggested that the repurposing was a response by DOT to complaints that the site was underused, and chided the agency for not listening to resident concerns.

“You need to have a discussion about what the community wants. You may agree or disagree, but you sure need to have a conversation,” Brewer stated.

“The whole issue of not having community input is very, very important,” said Leonora Nelson, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1954. “We cannot continue to feel that we’re being left outside of the loop.”

In an email to Manhattan Times, DOT spokeswoman Alana Morales explained that the 158th Street lot was repurposed due to a priority need involving pedestrian ramp repairs, and said that elected officials and the Community Board were informed of the change.

“The trucks start up early in the morning,” said Henry Brockington, who lives next to the lot.

“It is now a facility to base DOT crews that help install Vision Zero Street Improvement Projects (SIPs) and perform critical pedestrian ramp upgrades,” Morales wrote. “Crews set out to conduct this vital safety work early in the day and we are taking measures to mitigate noise resulting from these mobilizations.”

“Our SIP work is making an impact with fatalities on a continued decline and 2017 being the safest year on record,” Morales added. “Our pedestrian ramp repair efforts are highly prioritized in the upcoming budget with well over $100 million in annual funding and hundreds of additional employees allocated for this work, which will include assessing over 300,000 pedestrian ramp locations across our complex street network.”

During the press conference, the DOT lot contained several parked trucks but displayed little activity, which Levine dubbed “a show” staged by the DOT to make the site seem less intrusive for the media.

“This is far fewer trucks than usual. They knew about this press conference. They tried to make it look low-impact,” he said. “No show during a press conference is going to fool the community.”

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