An Accident Waiting To Happen?

On a typical weekday, try walking down the sidewalk facing the Hess gas station at the corner of West 45th Street and 10th Avenue—a route commonly taken by students of neighboring P.S. 51—and chances are you’ll have a hard time crossing the street, even with fully functional walk signals.

The reason? Cars hog a space meant for people.

For several years now, critics say, foot traffic passing through the block-wide lot between 44th and 45th streets, which houses the gas station, has been threatened by unruly drivers. Motorists zip in and out of the station at high speeds, running counter to traffic and barrel over the narrow sidewalk.

Now, proposals for alleviating the situation are on the table, but community members say the gas station is holding up the process.

“This situation is patently unsafe,” said Barry Johnson, head of the school’s PTA, “with nearly 90 percent of the school’s student using the crosswalk.”

Hess didn’t return calls for comment by press time.

To ascertain the gravity of the situation, representatives from Community Board 4, the New York City Department of Transportation, the Taxi and Limousine Commission, the Hess management team, and the New York Police Department paid two visits to the site.

The crux of the problem, they determined, was the station’s layout. There’s no demarcation between the gas station’s parking lot and the adjoining sidewalk and no signs showing either 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.

In a letter to the Department of Transportation, the board pointed out the “terribly dangerous conditions created by the combination of the very large Hess station configuration and the high volume of taxis.”

“This is very scary,” said Christine Berthet, co-chair of the board’s Transportation Planning Committee.

Some of the measures in place to regulate traffic at present are “inadequate,” according to Johnson. Each morning (between 7:45 a.m. and 8:15 a.m.) and afternoon (between 2:20 p.m. and 2:45 p.m.), a crossing guard helps kids navigate the street.

The police also put up barricades on 45th Street between 10th and 11th avenues to serve as a deterrent against undisciplined drivers. “But we need a permanent solution,” Johnson said.

The board is currently working with both the Department of Transportation and the top brass at the oil company to hammer out a plan that’ll ensure a safer foot route to and from P.S. 51, the oldest public school in Hell’s Kitchen.

The board has asked transportation officials to install a speed hump before the school on West 45th Street between 10th and 11th avenues to discourage speeding.

It’s also proposed that Hess create a solid boundary between the sidewalk and the station’s periphery and a systematic vehicular flow around the gas station.

This can be done by putting up markings along the station’s perimeter such as “Exit,” “Entrance,” “Wrong Way” and “Slow, Children at Play.” The board also wants two curb-cuts 20 feet from the intersections on each of the three entrances to the station.

In keeping with the city’s green initiative, the board has recommended creating a border between the sidewalk and the station by planting of a row of trees and shrubs. But some say these recommendations are being held up by Hess, which Johnson says “is dragging its feet.”

Reacting to what he felt was a lukewarm response from the company, Johnson wrote in a November 27 e-mail to Hess’s retail manager, Andy 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 December 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, saying: “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. In the meantime, the school has gathered more than 200 petitions from students to Hess’s chief executive officer, John Hess, asking him to address this problem.

“The message to the children and the parents at P.S. 51 is clear—that Hess places profit before safety, “said Johnson.

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