It’s been four years since the Village of Hastings began studying traffic on James and High streets in an effort to determine the reason so many cars use that southern corridor. Last month, Sam Schwartz Consulting, the Village’s traffic engineers, submitted the results of a new survey to measure the success of posted rules designed to discourage motorists from using those narrow residential roads to get to Broadway (Route 9).
At a Sept. 29 public forum, held on Zoom, Steven Wong of Sam Schwartz said the signs prohibiting left turns onto James Street during the 7-9 a.m. rush had impeded drivers from taking that route. He also noted that stop signs installed on High Street were further deterrents, as was a temporary prohibition of the U-turn on Broadway between Windsor Road and Devon Way. However, the engineers recommended against adopting the U-turn ban, as it had the unwanted effect of making it difficult for some residents to access their homes.
The study, conducted with the traffic analytics firm StreetLight, attempted to count southbound commuters to Executive Boulevard during the morning rush (7- 9 a.m.) who were rejecting the parkways in favor of local streets. StreetLight recorded the location of smartphones in cars that had location services enabled on any app, logging them as they moved from three possible origin points, to one common midpoint, to two destinations. It didn’t analyze where every car taking the High Street/James Street shortcut came from or went to, just the ones that passed through the origins, midpoint, and end points.
The origin points were southbound on the Saw Mill River Parkway north of Clarence Avenue; westbound on Jackson Avenue east of Saw Mill River Road (Route 9A); and south on Saw Mill River Road north of Jackson Avenue. The two destination points were Broadway at Executive Boulevard, capturing trips from the west, and Executive Boulevard and Truman Avenue, capturing trips from the east (via Tompkins and Nepperhan Avenue). The midpoint was the intersection of High and James streets.
Since StreetLight has data going back multiple years, the study included a baseline, pre-pandemic period from March 2019 to February 2020, before the left-turn restrictions were enacted; March 2020 to October 2020, when just the temporary left-turn restrictions were in force; November 2020 to February 2021, as left-turn restrictions continued and all-way stop signs were added on High Street at Rose, James, and Hudson streets; and March through April 2021, when a U-turn restriction was in effect on Broadway at Devon Way.
The study found that traffic declined significantly during the first few months of the Covid lockdown, but rebounded during the following months, surpassing pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2020.
Wong said that pre-pandemic, “There were 62 vehicles that had cut through the village. With the temporary left-turn restrictions in place, that dropped to 11 vehicles on average during the a.m. peak period, so a reduction of 82 percent. With the stop signs it decreased even more; an average two extra vehicles were reduced. And then with the U-turn restrictions on Broadway, it was reduced even more.”
Sandy Selikson of High Street said she had counted 451 cars on a recent morning between 7 and 9 a.m. “It’s inconceivable you would go ahead with the [no-lef- turn] law based on 62 cars,” she said.
Wong explained there was no way of knowing where those 451 cars originated. “The 62 cars, we know the origination points and that they ended on Executive Boulevard. This study is very focused on those trips only. So yes, there are other vehicles going down High Street and James Street... It could be that someone’s coming from Jackson Avenue and going to the train station through High Street. That trip would not be captured because it’s not ending at the destination point.”
Trustee Georgia Lopez suggested that the StreetLight study be regarded “as a microcosm for the overall traffic reduction.”
“I think we can probably assume, with the no-left-turn restrictions in place, overall reduction was probably true, even for cars that weren’t tracked through our study.” she said.
Shashi Nivarthi of High Street, who works for a data collection firm, said, “My concern is the board of trustees are trying to extrapolate from this and pass a no left turn on James.” He wondered what the board would do if it turned out that that action was just “kicking the can down the street” to High Street. Trustee Morgen Fleisig said, “There are only so many through streets in this village. This is a network problem, and we have demonstrated very clearly that the number of vehicles entering into this part of the system has been reduced.” Fleisig said Hastings could do another StreetLight study on High Street if traffic diverted from James Street appeared to be using High Street.
Multiple callers pointed out other possible reasons why data from only 62 motorists was captured by the study: other cars might have ended up at the medical offices on Broadway, or at St. John’s Riverside Hospital, both on North Broadway in Yonkers. Or they might have exited the Saw Mill River Parkway farther north, taking local roads from the Cliff Street or Lawrence Avenue exit. Wong conceded that the study focused on a few of the most likely routes. Lopez added that StreetLight had limited the number of origin and destination points that could be included in a single study.
Some callers to the Zoom meeting stated that even if the reduction of traffic couldn’t be quantified precisely, it was a start. Mohini Shapero-Arditi of James Street said, “I think the study shows really well what a reduction in overall commuter traffic could be like for the southern corridor.” She said motorist behavior on James Street had reached a new low lately, with drivers “swearing, yelling, and getting into fights,” using private driveways to pass other cars, and going into the opposing lane to pass.
Many mentioned that enforcement of any new traffic patterns would be essential. Police Chief David Dosin said he would like to attend a future village board meeting to discuss some of the points made by residents.