Traffic Violations Near Midtown Tunnel Create Danger for Pedestrians



The intersection at East 37th street and 2nd Avenue. Photo by Audrey Gibbs

It’s a Monday afternoon near the Midtown Tunnel and drivers are honking at pedestrians, pressuring them to cross the street faster. Cars whiz through the intersection of East 37th Street and 2nd Avenue as drivers attempt to outpace one another into the Midtown Tunnel.

Aside from speeding, the most common traffic violations in the 17th Precinct, which includes Sutton and Beekman Places, Kips Bay, Turtle Bay, Murray Hill and Rose Hill, are disobeying traffic control devices, failing to yield to pedestrians and improper turns. Those violations account for 40% of violations in this area this year through last month, New York Police Department data indicates. All three categories are common areas of complaints from pedestrians who walk near the Midtown Tunnel. Some said drivers running red lights and turning during the walk signal are impeding their quality of life. 

Heather Dewey-Hagborg moved to Midtown in May. She said she struggles to cross the streets leading into and out of the Midtown Tunnel because even with the walk signal present, many drivers keep going. 

“It’s really hard just for me to leave my building,” she said. “Basically, any direction that I walk from where I live, between East 37th and East 38th Street on 1st Avenue, I have to fight between long lines of cars blocking intersections. I’ll end up taking the path of least cars and going way out of my way to get to the grocery store, just to avoid where people are entering the Midtown Tunnel.” 

Moving violations, traffic offenses committed while vehicles are in motion, increased by more than 31% in this area last year compared as to the year before, according to NYPD data. During that time, there were 2,844 moving violations in the precinct, with failure to yield to pedestrians, followed by talking on a cellphone being the most common violations. As of last month there have already been 2,692 moving violations recorded by the NYPD in the 17th precinct. 

“Across 37th street and Second Avenue, you have to really take your life in your hands,” said Dewey-Hagborg.

Citywide, crashes killed 59 people during the first three months of this year, a 44% increase compared to the same time last year and the deadliest start to any year since the city implemented pedestrian safety plan Vision Zero, according to information posted to nonprofit safety group Transportation Alternatives’ website. 

So far this year, there has been one traffic-related pedestrian fatality in the 17th precinct and it occurred at the intersection Dewey-Hagborg is concerned about. In April, an 82-year-old pedestrian was struck and killed by a school bus while crossing 37th street at 2nd Avenue near the Midtown Tunnel, local news reports indicate.

Pedestrian Nelson Rodriguez said he feels in danger at this intersection, because many drivers do not respect the traffic laws. Rodriguez explained that he has to cross the street slower than most because he has a physical disability that impacts his ability to walk. He said a crossing guard previously at the intersection would hold traffic for him but that’s changed as she’s no longer stationed there. 

“I have to hurry up and cross because the lights change so quick,” said Rodriguez. He said he has come close to being hit on multiple occasions. 

The NYPD is aware of the traffic dangers near the Midtown Tunnel. The intersection at East 36th street and 2nd Avenue was listed as one of the 17th precinct’s most dangerous in last year’s state of command data. 

Looking for a solution to the problem, Dewey-Hagborg appealed to Community Board 6 last month asking for the implementation of red-light cameras outside of the tunnel. 

“I think the red light cameras would make such a big difference. There’s a few that are there in the city, you look at the city’s own report and it shows that it’s been enormously helpful,” she said. 

According to the city’s 2021 Red Light Camera Program Review, there are only 15 red light cameras in Manhattan. But also according to the report, since red light cameras were installed at some intersections across the city, traffic violations at those intersections decreased by 84%. 

In response to the Midtown Gazette’s request for comment about whether red light cameras would be installed outside of the Midtown Tunnel, the Department of Transportation pointed to the report, which states in part, “Locations are selected based upon a review of several factors including crash history of the intersection, engineering judgment, and community and elected official requests. Red light cameras generally tend to be sited on or adjacent to major, multi-lane, arterial streets which carry high volumes of vehicles and display a high frequency of red light running violations.”

New York City-based activism groups, including Transportation Alternatives, are pushing to be granted “home rule” over Manhattan streets, which would allow for city-based agencies to control and install more red-light cameras. The cameras are currently controlled and operated by officials in Albany, who are not expected to re-evaluate this program until 2024.

If action is not taken, Transportation Alternatives predicts that 2022 could be even more deadly than last year. This would make 2022 the first year since 1990 that NYC has had four consecutive years of increasing fatalities, according to a post on its website.