by Barrett Seaman
When it was launched last September, Irvington’s ambitious traffic-calming campaign was marked by a barrage of signs featuring the village’s bearded, somnolent mascot, Rip Van Winkle, urging drivers to Slow Down; police handed out pamphlets on Broadway, and squad cars began lurking in the shadows near popular speeding zones. The plan was to post more signage around town, paint speed limits on the roads themselves, add crosswalks, promote safe walking zones for kids, earn a reputation as a speed trap and, in the words of one of the Slow Down Irvington leaders, former trustee Walter Montgomery, “create a different driving culture in Irvington.”
The initial fanfare began to fade, however, as autumn turned to winter and winter to spring.
Enforcement efforts seemed less visible. Speed limit signs became crusted with winter detritus. Promotional banners languished in storerooms. For nine months, State Department of Transportation red tape slowed the process of approving a simple crosswalk on Broadway, a state road, and an order for solar-powered radar monitors that tell drivers how fast they’re going got delayed.
The concept didn’t die, though. Indeed, the Slow Down idea went viral, locally. The neighboring villages of Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Ardsley, Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown have since launched their own Slow Down campaigns, modeled after Irvington’s, under the banner of Slow Down Rivertowns. Over the course of the summer, the various municipalities have been stepping up enforcement and increasing the visibility of the message.
Signage is proliferating (causing some residents to complain of the clutter); Irvington is highlighting crosswalks with fresh paint, while its police department continues to interview candidates for an additional headcount that will allow them to dedicate one officer to focus on traffic. Tarrytown has had one such slot for several years and is hoping to add another.
Under the title of “Special Assignment Officer,” 26-year veteran Jose Ojito, plays that role in Tarrytown. While his mandate includes enforcement of various village ordinances, permits and licenses, his primary job is traffic enforcement. In his role as traffic enforcer, Ojito works his way around the village, plants himself near speed signs and radar installations and areas where traffic tends to get heavy and fast—like to and from the train station at rush hours. The Miller Park area is one; another is Highland Avenue heading out towards the Tarrytown Lakes.
The squad car he drives is known as the “Ghost Car,” because it has no flashing lights on top or other telltale signs of a patrol car. The word “police” is stenciled on the front and sides but in faded letters that do not reflect at night, giving it a semi-clandestine aura. Other villages utilize “ghost cars” as well.
To support Ojito in his role, Tarrytown deploys collection boxes that are placed on poles to count cars and speeds. “The Lieutenant (Deputy Chief John Barbelet) will let me know to concentrate on a certain area,” explained Ojito. They have a Jamar Traxpro speed tracker that identifies high-traffic areas where speed is an issue, letting the department know where to send Ojito. He hands out as many as ten citations a day during his five-day shift and averages about 100-a-month. “My wife calls me the ticket Nazi,” he laughed. Some in Tarrytown have other names for him.
Dobbs Ferry too has planted “Slow Down” signs around the village and has been handing out palm cards to commuters. They are increasing use of a radar “speed trailer” and earlier this summer received two more of the smaller, solar-powered monitors. “So far,” said Police Chief Betsy Gelardi, the campaign “has met with tremendous approval.”
Meanwhile back in Irvington, under the prodding of the original traffic calming proponents, the campaign is gearing up again. Former Trustee Walter Montgomery volunteered for—and accepted the role of Traffic Ombudsman, becoming the link that connects the various governmental entities responsible for getting things done. So far, so good. “Anecdotal reports suggest that driver behavior has begun to change, if only glacially,” he said. “Within the last few weeks, the police-enforcement presence has intensified.”
Neighboring municipalities recognize the pioneering role Irvington has played. Said Dobbs Ferry Police Chief Gelardi, who makes her home in Irvington, “They should be very proud of themselves.”