Rose Moura was peddling home on her bicycle one Monday morning, when her usual trek back was derailed by standstill traffic on the corner of Kent Avenue and North 10th Street. A large – some would argue – oversized commercial freight truck had tried to make too tight of a turn onto Kent and got stuck.
Cars, cyclists and pedestrians waited patiently at the blocked juncture as one Good Samaritan attempted to guide the driver back onto a suitable course. In the 20 or so minutes it took, though, the truck had backed up and rolled onto the sidewalk countless times, bulldozing cement barricades and wrecking otherwise erect, functional infrastructure. Moura waited 10 minutes before she decided to ride off in the opposite direction.
“I didn’t have time to watch how that was going to end up,” said Moura, a Williamsburg resident of five years, who’s become fed up with the presence of commercial trucks on residential roads in North Brooklyn.
But as far as that particular truck driver was concerned, she wasn’t breaking any rules. Both Kent Avenue and North 10th Street are commercial truck routes designated by the city’s Department of Transportation. Others that run through North Brooklyn include major arteries like Metropolitan and Manhattan Avenues, McGuinness Boulevard, and Franklin and Commercial Streets.
In fact there are a number of city regulations that not only sanction where trucks can and cannot go, but also limit how large they can actually be. All trucks and commercial vehicles must measure within 55 feet in length bumper-to-bumper.
But trucks as long as 70-feet – or roughly seven stories – have been spotted passing regularly through North Brooklyn on prohibited streets, unimpeded and fearless, looping into oncoming lanes to make turns, clogging roads, and according to residents like Moura, hopping curbs and damaging public and private property. In other parts of the city, these often 40-ton behemoths have been reported fueling similar grievances. Red Hook officials began cracking down on oversized trucks last year, and just last month, a 16-year-old girl was killed by one on the Upper East Side.
“They’re so high up, they look like three-story buildings. They’re scary and dangerous,” Moura said.
That’s precisely why she joins a network of Williamsburg and Greenpoint community members who are speaking out against commercial trucks in their neighborhoods and are seeking ways to ban them completely.
“One time, there was a flurry of blocks that wanted their streets designated as ‘No-Thru Truck Traffic’ because trucks would try to take shortcuts outside of the routes they’re familiar with,” said Assemblyman Joe Lentol. “It saves them time, and time is money.”
The Department of Transportation is primarily responsible for setting and enforcing the truck traffic regulations, but it often seems the job is left to the discretion of local precincts and officials. The department could not be reached before press time to comment on the ongoing presence of oversized commercial trucks in the area.
During his time in office, Lentol has tried to employ a number of directives to deter such poor trucking behavior in his district. About eight years ago, for instance, he instated a dramatic fine increase for oversized, illegally parked or moving commercial freights. He said the maximum penalty for going off route, as it stands now, is $2,000 – up nearly 600 percent from $300.
“The trucking industry fought this,” Lentol said. “But no matter what we made the fines, they’d write it off as a cost of doing business. It’s like anything else in the justice system; it needs enforcement.”
But even Lentol concedes that it’s not reasonable to man every block with police officers. But he does believe that more viable means exist. One would be to encourage companies to deploy smaller trucks. Another would be to spot check certain “hot” locations, like on Humboldt Street, where he says many truck drivers frequently divert to avoid making loops on the approved McGuinness Boulevard. Officers would then issue summonses, or court orders, to any drivers who fail to meet trucking regulations.
“If they don’t have a lawful excuse for taking a certain block, they should be summonsed immediately,” he said. “I’ve seen it too often. I’m not besmirching the industry, but it happens too much. These truckers are always in a hurry.”
From the industry perspective, however, these city regulations and trucking routes don’t make much sense and are seen as placing an unfair burden on trucking companies that can prove detrimental to business.
“These routes are absolutely asinine and obviously put together by someone who’s never worked for a living,” said Bob Haley, owner of Haley Trucking Corp., a nearly 100-year-old business originally operated out of Greenpoint.
“All the routes really do is cause massive congestion by making trucks zigzag all over the place to stay in compliance. When a driver is making a $70 delivery, he can’t spend all day driving in circles just to make that delivery. It’s a lot more efficient for a guy to go from Point A to Point B.”
And he said the battles in court to contest tickets usually aren’t successful either. “You never win with trucking routes. I don’t know why. You just don’t.”
The sole purpose to deliver goods then is made all the more worse. But Haley challenges the communities that are calling for their eradication to imagine a world without truckers. According to the American Trucking Association, the U.S. economy depends on freight trucks to deliver 10 billion tons of virtually every commodity consumed – or nearly 70 percent of all freight transported yearly. This accounts for $671 billion worth of goods.
A 2009 study from the Swedish Association of Road Haulage Companies also found that a mere five days without trucks would cripple communities.
“After the first day, the hospitals would stop receiving supplies, grocery stores would stop receiving food, and after two days, fuel stations would be empty,” Haley said. “By the end of the week, people will be rioting in the streets.”
And given the structure and nature of North Brooklyn, which was once a highly industrial locale and is now a growing commercial epicenter largely dependent on a consistent flow of goods, it seems there’s little to be done to minimize the effects of truck traffic in Greenpoint and Williamsburg — let alone eliminate trucks all together.
“The only thing we can do is to see that they live by the rules. The rules are made to accommodate the trucking industry, commerce and construction, but you have to follow them,” said Lentol. “They can’t have it their own way just because they have a job to do. They’re still in a neighborhood and if they’re going to violate those rules, they’re going to be punished.”