“I almost got hit there once,” says 10-year-old Izabell Bokestad. “I was standing at the end of the Octagon’s sidewalk, about to cross to the path between the tennis courts and softball field. That’s when I saw a car driving really fast.”
The Octagon resident is describing a sharp turn inside the Octagon’s parking lot – though it may be more accurate to call it Octagon Road. In addition to its two dozen short-term parking spaces, the area is the only vehicular artery connecting the picnic area at Octagon Park, the Bright Horizons nursery school, Dayspring church, and a water tunnel construction site – part of the largest capital construction project in New York City history – to the outside world. It also contains a heavily trafficked bus stop used by Coler Hospital staff and patients, as well as Octagon residents.
The sharp curve is one of several problem spots at the north end of the Island which residents say are contributing to unsafe traffic conditions — for both drivers and pedestrians. Many residents have reported seeing cars brazenly speed on upper Main Street and the Coler access road, as well as feign ignorance of area stop signs. Limited development, lighter pedestrian flow, and decreased Public Safety presence seem to have given drivers the impression that the Island is unpopulated north of Manhattan Park.
Residents must routinely dash across the street to catch the bus without any crosswalk.
“In the Island’s center, there’s more people and Public Safety vehicles, and guards are stationed on the crosswalks, stopping cars,” says Octagon resident Abhijat Saraswat. “Drivers know there is the potential they’re being watched. Here, I feel like people say, ‘Whatever, it’s just one building,’ and they kinda just do whatever they want.”
Keith Milkie, another Octagon resident, agrees, “People up here are definitely going faster than the speed limit. From the fire department onward, you can really race as fast as you want. It’s a straight shot. But there are people around up here – runners, kids on bikes, people walking dogs.”
The Coler Access Road
One spot that routinely causes trouble, according to residents, is the stop sign ahead of Main Street’s intersection with the Coler Hospital access road, where cars routinely fail to stop. This creates a hazard when southbound Q102 and Red buses, which need a wide turning radius, turn south from Coler onto Main Street. Northbound cars caught in the crosshairs of a turning bus are forced to reverse. But there’s often no room, because heavy traffic quickly builds up behind them. Magnifying the danger, speeding cars must brake abruptly when confronted with a sudden traffic jam at the intersection.
Two stop signs (circled in red) are often ignored as cars speed enthuse areas. Also, the roadway leading to Color's front entrance is too narrow and lacks a shoulder; stop signs at either end are also ignored.
Coler employees and visitors continuing on to the hospital’s main entrance then often fly through another stop sign and crosswalk on the Octagon’s north side. “Everyone blows that stop sign,” said Josh Rickard, a newer Octagon tenant. The problem has improved only slightly since Public Safety repainted the crosswalk, part of a recent campaign to restore all street crossings on the Island.
Making matters worse, the Coler access road, which runs along the Octagon’s northern side, is extremely narrow and has no shoulders. Island firebrand Frank Farance says he has measured its width (which came in at just 18 feet) and found the road did not meet the standards (22 feet) of the Federal Highway Administration, the guidelines followed by New York State. People stepping off the sidewalk for a moment to let a stroller pass or clean up dog waste are at risk of being hit by speeding cars.
“There should be a sign with the speed limit,” says Octagon resident Christophe Avril, who says he has witnessed the speeding cars. “Almost every day you will see people in wheelchairs on this road.”
The Octagon Bus Stop
Another pedestrian hazard lies between the Octagon’s front entrance and the Red Bus stop out front. Swarms of people cross from the bus into the building all day long. Residents assume they are crossing a parking lot, but are really venturing into a thoroughfare with careless drivers zooming to and from the destinations around the Octagon’s southern corner.
There is no crosswalk, and visibility is poor, especially when a second bus has arrived behind the one they are exiting.
There’s no clear place for residents to cross (and cars to stop) betweeen the Octagon entrance and the bus stop.
“I’m always nervous in that parking lot,” says Octagon resident and mother Joanna Sawruk. “The children aren’t paying attention and neither are the cars. Many families live in the Octagon, and there are always mothers crossing with strollers. Yet there are many instances of cars going to the church parking lot very fast. In the morning, kids open the [Octagon] door and run to the bus. It’s hard to manage them. I’m always looking out for cars, and I insist on holding my son’s hand.”
The Octagon’s management company, the Bozzuto Group, declined to comment for this story.
Missing Octagon Sidewalk
One of the most curious and sloppy design flaws of the Octagon’s exterior lies in the sidewalk bordering its southern tower. After spanning the building’s eastern side, opposite the outdoor tennis courts, the walkway inexplicably terminates. Around the corner, landscaping takes its place, denying pedestrians a secure pathway. Anyone walking to the Manhattan-side promenade, Octagon Park and playground, Dayspring church, or Bright Horizons childcare center has no option but to walk in the road for about 25 yards – where the sidewalk mysteriously resumes by the building’s service entrance. This puts them directly in the traffic flow of trucks and cars heading to the construction site, church, park, and the Octagon’s service entrance – and smack in the blind spot of inbound traffic which rarely observes the stop sign at the building’s corner.
A missing sidewalk along the Octagon’s south side means that pedestrians – many pushing strollers – must walk in the street to get to the daycare center and playground at the back of the building.
“I don’t know why there’s no sidewalk. It’s an accident waiting to happen,” said Sawruk. “I’m afraid every time I cross to water our plot in the building’s garden or drop off scraps in the Octagon’s compost bins.” Though the space carries two-way traffic, it lacks double yellow lines – keeping pedestrians and drivers off-guard and exposing the former to even more danger.
“When cars come out of the church parking lot or construction site, they take over the full road, acting like it’s a one-way or something,” says 10-year-old Bokestad. “You feel unsafe when they’re that close to you.”
There’s no crosswalk at the end of the popular shortcut next to Pony Field (circled) and the view of inbound traffic is blocked. There’s also no sidewalk along much of the south side (bracketed), which means pedestrians must walk in the street.
The area also poses a danger to the many Octagon tenants who walk home along Main Street – including children returning from school – and use a convenient footpath which cuts between Pony Field and the outdoor tennis courts, taking them to an entrance in the Octagon’s southern building. At the end of the path, where they must cross the Octagon roadway, there’s no crosswalk, and although inbound traffic has a stop sign, most cars drive right through it. Adding to the danger, a concrete structure followed by shrubs creates a blind intersection, blocking the view of inbound traffic.
In response to our interview request, Ted Timbers, director of communications for the NYC Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which runs the water tunnel construction site nearby, told The WIRE, “To help ensure public safety on Roosevelt Island, DEP employees and contractors are being reminded to follow all traffic safety rules. In addition, a separate access road to be opened next week will connect construction workers directly to the DEP work site from Main Street.” However, one Octagon resident reports seeing a DEP truck fail to observe the stop sign at the corner of The Octagon’s southern building en route to the worksite as recently as December 7.
In May, the Roosevelt Island Residents Association (RIRA) brought concerns about the Island’s traffic hazards to RIOC. As a member of RIRA’s Public Safety Committee, I conducted a walk-through of the trouble spots with RIOC Public Safety Chief Jack McManus.
According to the committee’s chairperson, Erin Feely-Nahem, “RIRA is in the final stages of sending a comprehensive report to RIOC of our recommendations for solving Island-wide traffic safety issues. In addition to covering the north’s trouble spots, our report includes issues of fading traffic markings on the helix ramp and inside Motorgate, incorrect markings and lighting problems on central Main Street, a dangerous intersection on Loop Road, and the growing headache of idling cars blocking buses from turning onto West Road. We look forward to working together with RIOC to improve our Island’s traffic safety.”
In a written statement, RIOC General Counsel Jacqueline Flug told The WIRE, “Safety is always of paramount importance to RIOC. RIOC is aware of speeding incidents on the Island. RIOC’s Public Safety Department and Engineering Department are currently reviewing means by which we can effectively and comprehensively combat this problem.” RIOC says it is considering the use of radar guns and stricter enforcement, though no final decision has been made.
In the meantime, residents have plenty of their own suggestions for making the north end of the Island safer. All residents we spoke to felt that speed bumps would be the most effective way to compel cars to slow down and observe both stop signs and crosswalks.
“They would force people to slow down and stop,” says Sawruk. “It’s the only thing that would make a difference.” She also thinks installing convex mirrors would make the perilous corner inside the Octagon complex safer. “Not only would they allow cars to see oncoming traffic hidden in their blind spot, but it also makes drivers think, ‘Oh, there could be something coming that way.’ And for pedestrians, they can actually look in the mirror and be aware if there’s a car coming. Whether the car is aware or not, at least pedestrians can take action.”
Residents also advocated for additional crosswalks and “children crossing” signs within the Octagon’s roadway to alert drivers that they are sharing the roadways with pedestrians.
“It says ‘stop’ there on the street [at the building’s hazardous southern corner], but normally drivers don’t really pay attention to that,” says Bokestad. “A crosswalk would make it clearer.” Avril would also like to see a stop sign placed there for outgoing traffic.
Sawruk, meanwhile, believes a crosswalk is needed between the curb cuts of The Octagon’s front entrance and the end of the bus-stop sidewalk to make drivers aware of exiting bus passengers. “That would really help a lot,” she says.
As for the Coler access road, Farance has an inventive idea for widening the stretch between the Octagon and the hairpin turn by the seawall: remove the zig-zagging sidewalk on the Coler side of the road. “You could widen the road that way and add shoulders to better protect pedestrians,” says Farance.
Wheelchair equipped patients could use the easier-to-navigate, straight sidewalk on The Octagon side, and a crosswalk could be painted at the precarious turn near the seawall. This would give people a more secure way to cross the access road closer to the hospital’s parking lot and entrance.
Octagon dweller Alessandro Monetti believes Public Safety should be a more visible presence up by Coler Hospital and the Octagon. His dog Rudy was hit by a speeding car last July.
“He broke free of his leash and ended up in the middle of the street,” says Monetti. “He was hit by a car coming up really fast, which ended up hitting the dog and running. The driver never stopped. Luckily the dog was OK. He injured one of his legs, but now he’s OK. But it could have been a lot worse.”
After the accident, Monetti went to Public Safety’s headquarters to report it. He had hoped a traffic camera might have captured some of the driver’s identifying information, but was disappointed to learn there are none stationed on that stretch of Main Street.
Monetti believes officers or a camera should be stationed on upper Main Street to keep reckless drivers from escaping justice.
Unless countermeasures are enacted to break the “anything goes” mentality of drivers at the Island’s north, say residents, more pedestrians and animals are likely to share Rudy’s fate – or worse. It’s only a matter of time before our community’s luck finally runs out.