The Bay Ridge 500 — Fourth Avenue a racetrack south of Gowanus Expressway underpass

Ridge racers: Reporter Will Bredderman found that Fourth Avenue drivers push the pedal to the medal south of the Gowanus Expressway underpass.
Photo by Arthur De Gaeta

The Gowanus Expressway underpass is a green light for motorists heading into Bay Ridge on Fourth Avenue to put their foot on the gas, an investigation by this paper found — and some residents argue it’s time for police to put the brakes on the roadway’s rubber-burners.

Using a standard radar gun, we clocked cars hurtling down the thoroughfare into the Ridge at astounding speeds — far faster than drivers dared go in the same direction through Sunset Park — and city Department of Transportation numbers show a spike in accidents immediately over the neighborhood line.

Of 28 drivers facing a green light that we speed-gunned on the Ridge side of the expressway during a 15-minute span in the afternoon, 20 of them broke the 30 mile-per-hour limit — with one leadfoot hitting an incredible 68 miles per hour.

While the majority of motorists hewed close to the legal limit, we caught other speed freaks racing through the neighborhood at 42, 51, and 54 miles an hour. Repeating the experiment at night, we clocked 17 of 23 drivers breaking the law, the hottest wheeler barreling by at 52 miles an hour and six others beating 40. Mid-morning, 12 of 21 drivers in the south-bound lanes were going more than 30 miles an hour, with two zipping past at more than 40.

A car striking a pedestrian at 40 miles an hour has a 70 percent chance of killing him — compared to only a 20 percent chance for those hit at 30 — according to the city Department of Transportation.

The Bay Ridge numbers contrast starkly with those from the Sunset Park side of the underpass. Just over the neighborhood line, we caught only 15 out of 32 vehicles headed toward Bay Ridge over the speed limit at mid-afternoon, with the fastest driver going 47 miles an hour and just one other breaking 40. At night, 16 of 26 were over the limit, with one car racing at 48 miles an hour and the rest below 40. And in the morning, 14 out of 32 cars were driving at illegal speeds, with just one 46-mile-an-hour scofflaw over the lethal line.

And city numbers show that accidents are far more common on the Ridge side of the underpass.

There were 139 accidents along the first five blocks of Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge between 2006 and 2010 — 62 alone at 65th Street, a one-way thoroughfare where cars pointed toward Sunset turn left to head to the Bay Ridge Towers, leaving them vulnerable to Bay Ridge-bound vehicles in the opposite lanes. There were 95 crashes on Fourth Avenue between 59th and 64th streets in Sunset Park in the same time span. Another 17 traffic-related injuries occurred beneath the underpass itself.

Some Ridgites say drivers burning up the corridor are giving them the sweats.

“That’s the scariest street for me,” said Stefania Vasquenz, one of the founders of Bay Ridge Advocates for Keeping Everybody Safe, a pro-traffic-control group. “It seems people treat it like a highway.”

Community Board 10 district manager Josephine Beckmann said Fourth Avenue speed demons are a longtime concern for the neighborhood panel.

But both Vasquenz and Beckmann suggested that stronger speed-limit enforcement by the 68th Police Precinct might help.
“I think we need more police presence on Fourth Avenue. They would make so much money off speeding tickets just sitting there,” Vasquenz said.

A police source said it was customary for the precinct to have at least one vehicle patrolling Fourth Avenue to handle moving violations. But according to car-critic group Transportation Alternatives, the 68th Precinct issued just 63 speeding tickets in all of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights in 2012 — compared to 180 speeding tickets issued by Sunset Park’s 72nd Precinct. By contrast, the 68th Precinct cited 624 vehicles for window tint violations last year, and 603 for faulty brake lights.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.

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