Hess In A Mess

There’s no shortage of ideas to fix the hazardous traffic situation at the corner of 45th Street and 10th Avenue, community members say. But the Hess gas station—whose very configuration is at the heart of the problem—is delaying the process, according to critics.

The station, which P.S. 51 students pass on their way to and from school, has no demarcation between the parking lot and the adjoining sidewalk and no signs showing entrances or exits to the station.

Consequently, vehicles enter the station from the wrong side on 10th Avenue and use both the walkway and the curb-cut to access the pumps.

School administrators, Community Board 4, the New York City Department of Transportation, and the New York Police Department have put forth a number of proposals to address the problem.

“Hess,” said Barry Johnson, head of the school’s PTA, “is dragging its feet.” In the past couple of months, Johnson has written several e-mails to the Hess retail manager, Andy Lautenbacher, discussing the situation.

Reacting to what he felt was a lukewarm response from the oil company, Johnson wrote in a November 27 e-mail to Lautenbacher, “I look forward to hearing no later than Friday, November 30, the ideas Hess will execute to improve the safety conditions around the Hess station.”

Not having received a reply to that, on Decemeber 7, he sent a follow-up e-mail asking Lautenbacher of any progress. Johnson wrote, “Just to review, last week, you’d said you’d have something on Friday. It didn’t happen.”

Lautenbacher replied back a few days later: “Here’s the situation. I’ve come up with a plan for some improvements that I believe, will help the conditions at the site. It’s been approved by senior management and I’ve forwarded it to operations for their input. I believe it’ll be O.K. However, I won’t release it till I hear from them.”

Johnson is still waiting to hear back from Hess, but Lorrie Hecker, Hess’s director of communications, responded with the following statement: “While our 10th Avenue Hess station has had an excellent safety record in more than 40 years of operation, we’ve taken seriously the concerns raised by the community.

That’s why we’ve been talking with parents and school officials at P.S. 51 as well as the community board to identify the best ways to address these concerns. This is a collaborative process and Hess is doing its part to find a reasonable solution that is in the best interests of all involved.”

Some of the suggestions for the gas station include creating a solid boundary between the sidewalk and the station’s periphery and directing vehicular flow with “Exit” and “Entrance” signs. Community Board 4 also wants two curb-cuts, 20 feet from the intersections, on each of the three entrances to the station.

Currently, a crossing guard helps students navigate the street in the morning and afternoon and barricades on 45th Street, between 10th and 11th avenues, serve as a deterrent against undisciplined drivers.

The school has also gathered more than 200 petitions from students, urging Hess’s chief executive officer, John Hess, to address this problem.


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