Lehman Campus crosswalk: Vehicles race through red lights on school days

Data show that a vehicle runs a red light every 2.8 minutes during peak crossing times.

A FedEx van ran a red light in the main crosswalk in front of the school on the afternoon of May 27. During the 30-minute observation that afternoon, nine vehicles, including a city bus, ran the red light. (Katie Ordaz)

If you think vehicles routinely run red lights at the crosswalk in front of Lehman Campus,  it’s not your imagination.

An investigation by Bronx River News reveals that a vehicle runs a red light at the Tremont Avenue crosswalk in front of the campus about every 2.8 minutes.

Using a counter, camera and a watch, reporters and photographers kept track of vehicles running red lights before and after school for a total of 100 minutes. Data, photos and video were collected on April 27, May 20, May 27 and June 2. The pattern proved consistent: No matter the day or time, a car was sure to run a red light within several minutes. Take May 27 for instance. From 2:05 p.m. to 2:35 p.m. the traffic was lighter than usual. But that didn’t keep vehicles from running red lights: Two bicycles and a scooter ran the light followed by three cars. Then, believe it or not, a FedEx van, a New York City transit bus and an Access-a-Ride van ran the light. 

Parents dropping off students also made the crossing dangerous: They routinely parked and  turned around in the crosswalk, forcing students and staff to walk around their vehicles. 

“Sometimes I feel unsafe crossing the street because  the cars stop directly on the crosswalk and  the cars in the front by the light do U-turns while the students are crossing,’’ said Janice Hernandez, a student at Bronx River High School. “I think sometimes they (drivers) consider students crossing but most of the time, they don’t because they run red lights and it’s just a dangerous street to cross in the morning.’’

Mr. Maass, the campus manager in charge of school safety, found the red light data compelling enough to take action.  After seeing the school newspaper’s data, he made an official request for a red light camera in front of the campus to “ensure the safety and security’’ of the Lehman campus family. However, the Department of Transportation denied the request because of a limit on the number of red light cameras in New York City. If the limit increases, the department said it will reconsider the request, Mr. Maass explained. 

The wait may be long: New York State currently controls how many red light cameras are allowed in New York City. According to Transportation Alternatives, a city organization that promotes traffic safety for pedestrians and bikers, the city has 13,250 intersections with traffic lights but only 150 of those intersections have red light cameras.  

Red light cameras have proven helpful in improving pedestrian safety but they aren’t perfect,  said Mr. Gersh Kuntzman, the editor-in-chief at StreetsblogNYC.org, an organization that works to make streets safer for pedestrians and drivers. Unlike speeding tickets, red light camera tickets don’t add points to your license, he explained. And so some people just pay the $50 fine and keep running red lights.

Laila Algazaly, a student at Bronx River High School, thinks speed is part of the problem. She said some drivers know they “need to slow down’’ because there is a school and many students around. Even so, she said “They mostly continue to drive faster, especially in the morning.’’

Joel Dibiasi, a student at Pelham Lab High School on the Lehman Campus, knows firsthand the dangers of being hit by a car when crossing a street. Even though his accident this school year only bruised his foot and happened away from campus, he remains wary when crossing any street.  More time is needed to cross in front of the school, he said, adding that the police also need to put in more effort to enforce traffic laws.

Cars routinely use the crosswalk in front of Lehman campus as a parking lot, a drop-off spot and a turnaround. (Arleth Vargas)

Although  Mr. Maass thinks the time given for people to cross at the crosswalk is reasonable, he said people need to be more mindful of the countdown clock. And they need to remember that even if the crosswalk light says it’s OK to walk, it may not be.  When Mr. Maass crosses a street, for example, he doesn’t exclusively rely on the crosswalk signal; rather he makes sure he feels safe for himself. “The problem,’’ he said, “is that people are not paying attention.’’

Even those who pay attention can have close calls: Consider the too-close-for-comfort experience of Ms. Pena, an English teacher at Bronx River High School, on June 22. On Tuesday as I was walking into the school at about 10 a.m., a white pick-up truck ran the red light and nearly hit me,’’ she said. “Then, I witnessed the same truck run the next red light with complete disregard for pedestrians with the right-of-way.’’

High-traffic areas near the school also worry the school community. “The light in front of school isn’t the only problem in the area,” explained Ms. Dolan, a history teacher at Bronx River High School. “The main light in Westchester Square is constantly being run by cars. They also block traffic going through a red light and getting stuck in the middle of the intersection. This has made the square incredibly dangerous for pedestrians.’’

Arleth Vargas, Adriana Sadiku and Katie Ordaz contributed to this report. 

Note:. When school resumes in the fall, the  Bronx River News staff  plans to continue its investigation on traffic safety in the school community.