The architecture critic for The New York Times recently called Essex Crossing the "anti-Hudson Yards," and praised the six-acre, $1.9 billion Lower East Side development for its thoughtful and inclusive design. Gothamist has published raves of the new Essex Street Market and subterranean Market Line. But Essex Crossing's eastern edge is a slapstick free-for-all, a Vision Zero nightmare, where drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians all compete for the same street space.
The sidewalk on the east side of Clinton between Delancey and Broome has been closed for two years to accommodate construction of The Artisan, a 26-story residential/commercial building. That means pedestrians and cyclists crossing the south side of Delancey Street to Clinton Street are immediately confronted with a two-way bike lane.
New Yorkers on foot are supposed to huddle under the scaffolding to wait for the light to change to then cross Clinton to get on the east side of the street where there is a sidewalk, but the current scaffolding shed prevents pedestrians from seeing oncoming cyclists or people heading the opposite direction, hurriedly trying to cross Delancey. Many pedestrians heading south take their chances in the bike lane, where cyclists are forced to swerve around them, sometimes into the path of a single northbound lane of vehicular traffic, jockeying to make it onto the Williamsburg Bridge. Around 600 cars an hour turn onto Delancey from Clinton, day and night, according to a recent Department of Transportation analysis. Here's the scene looking south:
One block up, the sidewalk returns on the west side, but loading docks on both sides of the street to service the Rite Aid, Target, and Trader Joe's (their largest store on the east coast) ensure that several times a day, tractor-trailers block the entirety of Clinton Street to shimmy into their loading docks.
Taxis and for-hire vehicles pull into the bike lane to pick up and drop off passengers, then drive through it to get back into the line of northbound traffic, adding another element of danger.
From 2015 through November of this year, the stretch of Clinton between Grand and Delancey Street has seen 22 crashes, resulting in eight pedestrians, six cyclists, and nine motorists being injured, according to NYC Crash Mapper. Those figures don't appear to account for a crash that happened late last month, when a delivery cyclist allegedly struck a pedestrian walking in the bike lane. After paramedics told us that the pedestrian would survive, the delivery cyclist got back on his bike, and the street again filled with people, cyclists, and cars.
"I don’t find it safe. Not at all," said Diana Hernandez, who was crossing Delancey Street with her 2-year-old son Lucas. "I feel like drivers are doing whatever they want, they’re not stopping. They’re going an inappropriate speed," Hernandez said. "We all are trying to share the road, trying to get wherever we have to get to safely, but how can we if it’s never really safe?"
Tiffani Butler, a Bushwick resident, described her first time walking on Clinton Street as a harrowing experience.
"I just came from Trader Joe’s grocery shopping, and I just saw that there were people walking in the middle of the street. So I said, OK, I guess there’s no sidewalk or anything," Butler said. "I kept having to look around at my surroundings to make sure that I wasn’t going to get run over by a car or a bike."
On a recent evening, a white Jeep with Pennsylvania plates was parked in the bike lane, right in front of the entrance to The Rollins, a luxury rental building atop the Trader Joe's and Target. After more than ten minutes, a woman emerged from the building and opened the driver's side door.
"I didn't park, this is not my car," the woman said, as she got behind the wheel and drove away. "It's not."
The next night, the same car was parked in the same bike lane again. The license plate shows that the car has been ticketed nine times in 2019 alone, and has around $200 in outstanding fines.
In 2012, 12-year-old Dashane Santana was killed by a minivan driver while she was crossing Delancey Street at Clinton Street, leading Councilmember Margaret Chin and other elected officials to push for safety improvements along the corridor, including more pedestrian space and more time for people to cross Delancey.
In a statement, Chin called Clinton Street south of Delancey "a tragedy waiting to happen."
“For years, the usage of Clinton Street as a short cut to the Williamsburg Bridge traffic has been the source of contention for our community," Chin said. "Ever since construction closed off one sidewalk, pedestrians, cyclists and cars are given no choice but to sardine on a shared street without real protections." Chin added, "Telling residents to simply wait until the end of construction is unacceptable. We need the Department of Transportation to step in to proactively propose solutions to safeguard residents during construction.”
Traffic heading to the Williamsburg Bridge from Clinton Street was supposed to be limited to HOV-3 restrictions during the L train shutdown, but the full shutdown never happened, and HOV restrictions for the bridge were scrapped.
The Department of Transportation has not yet responded to our questions.
A spokesperson for Delancey Street Associates, the developer for The Artisan, said that the sidewalk closure "is in compliance with all DOT rules and regulations. We expect the sidewalk to be reopened by summer."
Tonight, Community Board 3's transportation committee is scheduled to meet with DOT representatives to address the traffic on Clinton, Grand, and East Broadway. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at 269 Henry Street.
The weekend after Thanksgiving, a Christmas tree stand popped up on the west side of Clinton and Grand. "The cars will honk at walking people, they will force their way into the crosswalk," said Charlie, one of the tree sellers, who is from Montreal. "Delivery trucks are always in the bike lane. It’s just bad for everyone. Damn, New Yorkers have no patience!"
[UPDATE / 2:00 p.m.] A DOT spokesperson sent us this statement:
"DOT immediately inspected yesterday and determined that the contractor is in compliance with the permit, which allows full closure of the west sidewalk. Under the current permit, the contractor is required to install signage directing pedestrians to the east sidewalk. We will reach out to the contractor to have those signs upgraded to be more visible to pedestrians, and as construction continues we will continue to monitor the site for potential safety improvements."