The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York

 

Bedford police ratchet up enforcement in light of Route 35 crashes


By JOHN ROCHE


A recent spate of accidents along the Bedford stretch of Route 35 has led the town’s police department to step up traffic enforcement initiatives on that busy roadway launched earlier this year.

A string of collisions over the past month on the section of Route 35 between Woods Bridge Road and Route 22, and at the Interstate 684 intersection in particular, as well as an increase in accidents along Route 35 compared to last year, has only underscored the Bedford Police Department’s position that the road merits heightened focus.

“There are a number of factors at work that contribute to that portion of Route 35 being a ‘hotspot,’” said Bedford’s top cop, Chief William Hayes. “You’re looking at a high volume of traffic and usage, a significant number of turns resulting in intersecting or merging vehicles, heavy commercial traffic and commuter traffic, as well as a major interstate highway, a parkway and a state road virtually coming together. Add in other elements like speed and distracted driving, for instance, and you have a recipe for accidents and other problems.”

In September, a school bus transporting 19 John Jay High School students to campus was struck by another vehicle on Route 35 near Route 22.

Accidents along the stretch of Route 35 running through Bedford are up slightly so far this year compared to the same period in 2010, according to Lieutenant Jeff Dickan, who is coordinating the heightened police presence and enforcement on the roadway. There have been 54 accidents on the Bedford stretch of Route 35 through the first nine months of 2011, Lt. Dickan said, compared to 43 in that same time period last year.

“We’re not looking at a significant increase in accidents, but Route 35 remains a very busy area for us, and therefore an area of targeted enforcement,” Lt. Dickan said. “There is not one cause for accidents on that road, nor is there a single reason for the recent string of accidents there. It’s really a mix of factors at work simultaneously.”

The fact that Route 35 is the only east-west corridor traversing Westchester north of I-287 contributes to the high amount of traffic on the road day and night, as well as in higher volume during rush hour periods, both Chief Hayes and Lt. Dickan pointed out. Speeding is a problem along Route 35 because motorists coming off I-684, for instance, are used to traveling at highway speed. The fact that the Bedford portion is sandwiched between straight stretches for the most part from western Westchester to the Connecticut border also contributes to driving over the speed limit.

Traffic safety concerns along Route 35 are nothing new, and the issue has risen to the forefront at times over the past decade, usually following serious accidents or fatalities.

In the past month, there have been several major accidents on the Bedford portion of the road. On Oct. 3, there was a serious three-car accident on Route 35 near Holly Branch Road, after which a 63-year-old Waccabuc man was transported to Westchester Medical Center in serious condition.

In September, a school bus transporting 19 John Jay High School students to campus was struck by another vehicle on Route 35 near Route 22. A 2010 BMW, traveling westbound on Route 35, attempted to make a left-hand turn onto southbound Route 22, but failed to yield the right of way to a 2000 Nissan, which struck the BMW. The BMW flipped over, striking the school bus and a fourth vehicle. The students were taken to local hospitals as a precaution, but no injuries were reported, according to police.

The two major components of the Bedford Police Department’s heightened efforts on Route 35 are specific elements of a townwide traffic safety initiative launched in March and the Selective Traffic Enforcement Program, or STEP, which is funded through the state via a grant.

“Through the STEP program and funding, since this summer, we’ve been able to assign extra patrols on the Route 35 corridor to key in on speeding, unsafe passing, DWI, running red lights, texting or talking on cell phones while driving and other similar potentially hazardous actions behind the wheel,” Lt. Dickan said. “Much of that has been on Friday nights, and it’s been effective. But the unfortunate truth is that like any police department, we can’t be everywhere all the time, and we have other responsibilities besides traffic enforcement. So unsafe driving practices continue despite our best efforts with the resources we have.”

During STEP patrols on Route 35 on Friday nights alone over a two-month period, 63 summonses were issued for traffic violations.

A considerable amount of attention has been aimed at Route 35 as part of the traffic safety initiative throughout Bedford that was implemented eight months ago. A key part of that initiative was to designate Sergeant Melvin Padilla as the department’s traffic safety coordinator, with the objective of tracking accident data and traffic complaints in order to prioritize enforcement.

The department will continue to employ a more proactive approach when it comes to traffic safety, and use data-driven tracking just as it does with crime and quality of life issues, according to Chief Hayes. “With resources being more limited than in years past, it is especially important that we come up with strategies to direct our efforts where they are most needed in order to maintain a low accident rate,” he said.

The Bedford police will also seek ways to work on traffic safety on Route 35 and around town with other agencies, including the New York State Police, the Westchester County Traffic Safety Board and the state Department of Transportation, the chief said.

Speeding is a rampant problem throughout Bedford, and not just on major arteries such as routes 35, 117 or 172, Lt. Dickan pointed out. “About 85 to 90 percent of the traffic complaints we deal with are about speeding,” he said. “Through September, this year we’ve written 740 speeding tickets, and that’s just our department. The state troopers and Westchester County Police have certainly issued additional speeding tickets in Bedford.”

The Bedford police have issued a total of slightly under 2,500 moving violations through September this year.

Townwide, accidents are up this year, with 430 reported through September compared to 410 during that same period in 2010. But there were 455 accidents throughout Bedford in the first nine months of 2009. “Regardless if there has been a year-to-year increase or decrease, reducing accidents and increasing safety is always a top priority for this department,” Lt. Dickan said. “From Chief Hayes right down through the ranks, we’re always trying to stay on top of this, and always looking at ways we can make the roads of Bedford safer.”

While there have not been any vehicular-related fatalities this year or last year, injuries from car accidents were up this year compared to last year, Lt. Dickan said. There were 54 injuries from traffic accidents in Bedford in the first nine months of 2010 compared to 90 in that same period this year.   

There are troubling figures within the data, according to police, particularly regarding distracted driving and failure to wear seat belts. “This year, we’ve written over 260 tickets for unlawfully operating a cell phone while driving,” Lt. Dickan said. “We’ve also issued over 300 tickets for not wearing seat belts through September. The fact that those are not only illegal but very dangerous practices has been given widespread attention and been the focus of lots of public education and outreach, and yet there are lots of people still taking those risks.”

Town Supervisor Lee Roberts said that traffic safety is always a concern, and commended the efforts of the Bedford Police Department in cracking down on those who break the law behind the wheel.

Ms. Roberts has also repeatedly urged Bedford residents to do their part in slowing down and driving more safely. “It’s incumbent upon each of us to be cognizant of how fast we’re driving and to be aware of our surroundings,” she said. “I think it really falls to each of us to drive more safely and slowly, to follow all traffic laws and make Bedford a safer place.”


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October 14, 2011