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DOT Takes ‘Dim’ View of Traffic Light

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When is a traffic light not a traffic light? When you can’t see it. Anyone driving along Avenue O toward the intersection at Bedford Avenue won’t see a green light. At least from a distance. That is because the NYC Department of Transportation has dimmed the green light using levered slats to try to calm traffic, arguing that if drivers can’t see the ‘go’ signal from a distance, they won’t try to rush the lights. But a local residents’ group has cried foul, saying that the modified traffic light is useless – and does not slow the speed of traffic. “Dimming the light is not going to cure the problem,” said Stephen Epstein, president of the East 26th Street-Avenue O Block Association. “That has been done just to placate people.” Epstein says that the dimmed lights are harder to see, especially for senior citizens with vision problems such as glaucoma. But he also says that he is concerned for all drivers. “My concern is not just for elderly people, but for people in general,” said Epstein. “You do not rectify a problem by creating another problem.” DOT maintains that it dimmed the lights because residents complained about the speed of traffic along that stretch of Avenue O. In February 2005, DOT representatives met with staff from Councilmember Michael C. Nelson’s office, members of staff from the nearby New York Community Hospital at 2525 Kings Highway, and officers from the local precinct. “The green signal at Avenue O and Bedford Avenue was louvered, effectively reducing the distance from which the signal is visible, thereby discouraging drivers from “rushing” towards the light,” DOT borough commissioner Lori Ardito wrote in a letter. In addition, the department installed a 25 mile-per-hour speed zone near the intersection, and has promised to paint new street markings to improve the road layout and slow traffic. The police department also has committed to focus more resources to enforce the local speed limit, according to Ardito. The commissioner claimed the benefits of these changes may not be immediately apparent, saying that it takes time for people to adjust to the new system. “The desired effects from these modifications may not be immediately apparent as it usually takes motorists anywhere from three to six months to become familiar with such improvements,” Ardito said. But Epstein maintains that reducing the intensity of the green light contravenes the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, published in 2003 by the Federal Highways Administration. “It is my belief that the dimming of these green traffic signals is a violation of federal regulations,” Epstein said. Epstein also says one green traffic signal is obscured by tree foliage during the late spring and summer, so the light is only visible within a few yards from Bedford Avenue. “The green lights cannot be clearly seen unless the driver is within a few yards of the traffic light between East 26th Street and Bedford Avenue,” Epstein said. He also says that lights on the other side are obscured by large trucks turning into the hospital. Epstein says that he wants the Department of Transportation to use their professional expertise to fully review the traffic control systems before there is a fatal accident. “I want action that is going to be fast,” said Epstein. “And I want responsible action.”

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