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High-tech way to ‘catch a truck’

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Illegal truck traffic has long been a bane of North Brooklyn residents, who have grown accustomed to the sight, sound and smell of trucks barreling down streets not equipped to handle them. But a pair of pilot technologies recently rolled out in the neighborhood by the Department of Transportation (DOT) – at the behest of local Assemblymember Joseph Lentol – seek to give teeth to efforts to catch both off-route trucks and overweight ones. The first technology was designed to assess the feasibility of catching off-route trucks using mounted cameras. One of the two cameras in the study was pointed south at the intersection of Kingsland Avenue and Norman Avenue, which is not a truck route but is frequently used as one because the stretch of Kingsland Avenue north of Norman Avenue is one. During the study period, which spanned from March to April of 2007, cameras turned up an average of 49 off-route trucks per hour. “I was shocked to see the results of the cameras – on any given day, there are quite literally hundreds if not thousands of trucks using streets that should not have any!” said Lentol, who has long urged the DOT to address illegal truck traffic. (The other camera in the study – mounted at Engert Avenue between McGuinness Boulevard and Meeker Avenue – turned up a negligible number of truck violations.) Some of the trucks caught on camera, however, may not be illegally off-route. Trucks are allowed to go off-route if they are making a delivery on that street, though they are required to take the shortest distance possible to their destination. But according to Lentol spokeswoman Amy Cleary, “If trucks are legitimately making a delivery, they can send in a delivery receipt or some other form of documentation to make the ticket voidable” if the DOT permanently adopts this technology. The second pilot technology, designed to combat overweight trucks, calls for the placement of a “weigh-in-motion” device, a censor that weighs passing vehicles. When a vehicle is determined to exceed maximum weight standards, the censor triggers a camera, which then snaps a picture of the overweight vehicle. The technology is similar to “red-light cameras” used in New York and many other cities. If the DOT were to eventually implement the WIM censors – which are currently used in other parts of the country, including in Connecticut – it would represent a drastic efficiency improvement in catching overweight trucks. Currently, police officers search for visual cues such as smoking breaks, pull trucks over individually and use a static scale to weigh each suspected truck. “With WIM, you can better assess a truck’s weight and take the guesswork out of it,” said DOT spokesman Seth Solomonow. Teresa Toro, chair of the Transportation Committee of Community Board 1, said, “The precincts do sweeps, but very rarely. It’s very time and space consuming – it’s not practical.” Solomonow would not divulge the exact location of where the WIM censor would be placed, only that it will be in Greenpoint. He said that the WIM pilot program will cost around $90,000, while the two cameras used in the first program cost “a few thousand.” This second pilot technology will be tested starting in May; the test period will last around two months. Cleary, Lentol’s spokeswoman, said that if the WIM technology proves successful, the assemblyman plans on introducing state legislation. In order for any traffic enforcement measure to be implemented, it needs to be introduced in the form of state legislation. According to Lentol, “Large trucks barreling down narrow streets where our children play is downright dangerous.” “Also, those streets quite simply are not built to handle that kind of weight. Every time a truck goes down them, it puts the infrastructure of the street in jeopardy.” Toro said that truck traffic is “our biggest traffic-related issue that remains the elephant in the room when it comes to having the NYPD and DOT.” Toro added that Nassau, Maspeth, Morgan and Bushwick avenues “aren’t truck routes but are routinely used by trucks.” She said that despite Lentol’s best efforts, illegal truck traffic and particularly overweight trucks “is a region-wide failure that requires a region-wide, not just city-wide, solution.” “These trucks don’t get dropped into the city from the heavens. They’re coming through New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Generally, there’s not enough enforcement on any level.”

Updated 6:57 pm, October 10, 2011
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