Driving the wrong way down the street

Can New Yorkers drive the wrong way down one-way streets with impunity?

I’ve certainly seen this happen many times. One very frequent place it happens is the south side of Delancey Street, alongside the Williamsburg Bridge between Clinton and Ridge. There’s a lot of free on-street parking on that block, and evidently quite a few of those cars want to go back over the bridge to Brooklyn. In order to do so legally, they need to drive down Delancey to Willett, down Willett to Grand, up Grand to Norfolk, and then finally turn from Norfolk back onto Delancey and over the bridge. If they’re OK driving the wrong way up Delancey, however, they just cruise back to Clinton and make a U-turn straight onto the bridge. This happens all the time.

You also see cars driving the wrong way down Great Jones Street, between Lafayette and Bowery, although not all the way. The reason is that cars pull in to the car park on Great Jones and Lafayette, whose owners also run the smaller car park on Great Jones between Lafayette and Bowery. Rather than drive all the way around via 4th Street, they move cars from the bigger car park into the smaller by simply driving the wrong way down Great Jones.

And then there are the more one-off occurrences. Once, I was biking down Grand Street between Thompson and West Broadway when a car started coming down the street at me, driving west, the wrong way. It was on the other side of the street from me, but I was still startled, and ended up foolishly getting a few bruises when I tried to brake with my left hand (the front wheel) while signalling to the driver with my right hand that he was going the wrong way. Of course it turns out he was well aware of that: he’d just seen a parking spot on Grand, and didn’t want to risk it being gone if he drove around on Watts and Thompson to get there legally.

All of these examples, while being illegal, are not particularly unsafe. But sometimes you hear of something really egregious — and there’s a magnificent example on Streetsblog today.

At 5:52 pm, a heavy-duty truck, probably in the 20,000-lb class, made an illegal left turn from Hudson Street onto Duane Street in lower Manhattan and drove west, the wrong way, on east-bound Duane Street to Greenwich Street. I estimate its speed to have been 20-22 mph. At the T-intersection of Duane with Greenwich, the truck slowed only enough to negotiate a left turn. This block of Duane Street, where I live, is heavily pedestrianized, and in fact pedestrians had to scatter to avoid being struck in the striped crosswalk running from the southeast corner of the T-intersection to the northeast corner.

The crazy thing about this is that it actually makes no sense. Apparently the truck was “fleeing a traffic jam” on Hudson Street — which means that it was trying to go north. But Greenwich Street goes south — which means the truck would have been better off going east, the right way, on Duane over to northbound Church. Alternatively, if he was trying to get to the West Side Highway, he could have just stayed on Hudson a few more blocks until he got to N Moore, and then taken N Moore all the way over. As it is, he probably had to take Greenwich south to Chambers and then Chambers over to West Street, which I can’t imagine saved him much if any time.

In any case, the good news is that there was a pair of traffic cops standing right there, on the corner of Duane and Greenwich, who saw the whole thing. What are the chances? Well, it doesn’t really matter, because the bad news is that they did absolutely nothing about it. When Streetsblog reader Charles Komanoff wrote to the NYPD asking, essentially, “WTF???,” he was told that the traffic cops “were assigned to enforce parking regulations and were not trained to issue moving violation summonses.”

In other words, New Yorkers can drive the wrong way down one-way streets, even if they’re passing traffic cops, with impunity — the only thing they have to worry about, it would seem, is traffic cops in cars or on motorbikes, who are presumably “trained to issue moving violation summonses”. And people complain about cyclists behaving badly.

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One Response to Driving the wrong way down the street

  1. Lance Knobel says:

    A clear contrast to Berkeley. Here the serial offenders going the wrong way on one-way streets are 30-year old skateboarders.

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