Out-Of-Town Drivers Cited for Aggressive Driving on Greenwich Ave during RTM SOMR Testimony on Restoring Officers to Directing Traffic

A Sense of the Meeting Resolution to keep police directing traffic on Greenwich Avenue failed to pass on Monday night at a Representative Town meeting.

Still, SOMR supporters said they were happy that it generated a community conversation.

“Resolved that it is the sense of the meeting that the Greenwich Police be returned to their traditional role directing traffic on Greenwich Avenue.”

Sense of the Meeting Resolution

About 40 people signed up to speak, mostly in favor of the SOMR to restore police to intersections to direct traffic.

Greenwich Police Chief James Heavey said as a Greenwich native he took the SOMR personally.

“A vote for this SOMR is a vote of no confidence in your police leadership,” he said. “Greenwich isn’t a great town because a policeman stands in a little white circle.”

Heavey said deployment of officers was not etched in stone, and a no vote on the SOMR would give Greenwich Police the confidence to make those decisions.

Also, Heavey noted that when he first joined the force, there were 176 officers, and that in the last three years it shrunk further, from 155 to 152 officers.

He said it was unfortunate he had been made to feel “like an adversary” of the people supporting the SOMR.

Traffic on Greenwich Avenue at dusk approaching the intersection of Havemeyer and Arch Street Photo: Leslie Yager

Heavey also said while police had been directing traffic on Greenwich Avenue for 90 years, officers were still “on the Avenue,” and it was more effective and efficient to have them redeployed to electric bicycle units and the ORCA plainclothes unit.

Heavey said it might be possible to install computerized traffic lights, and that a study is being done by the DPW into traffic patterns.

Further, he said while the officers assigned to the intersection at Havemeyer had been removed, the bicycle officers jump in and direct traffic when necessary.

“We recognize that the more traffic enforcement that is done, the less accidents there are,” he said, adding, “DWIs have increased considerably.”

Officer Robert Smurlo who is assigned to the bike unit, said 19 years ago when he started with the department, he directed traffic.

“Since the bike unit has been established, we are able to cover much more ground and do more actual policing,” he said, adding that bike units can respond quickly and patrol more areas, including back alleys and parking lots.

Officer directing traffic at the intersection of Havemeyer, Arch and Greenwich Avenue.

Smurlo said officers directing traffic had limited interaction with the public and merchants.

“We’re not able to leave our posts, which means if we see something, we have to call it in,” he recalled. “Doing that wastes precious time.”

Captain Mark Zuccerella said officers on electric bicycles have the ability to address motor vehicle violations in between the intersections and on adjacent streets.

“There are actually a lot of accidents that happen on Liberty Way – more than sometimes on Greenwich Avenue when people are looking for parking,” he said.

Rendering of Greenwich Ave at Elm Street with bump outs.

First Selectman Fred Camillo said that when police were assigned to directing traffic, the worked 7 hours a day, and went off duty at 4pm on weekdays, with no weekend duty.

He described officers directing traffic as “a terrible waste of great talent.”

“The bump outs will be a 24/7 public safety enhancement,” Camillo added. “The bump outs will not only provide an aesthetic enhancement, but will prove enhanced security.”

Several people supporting the SOMR said they had witnessed out-of-town drivers, new to Greenwich since the pandemic, driving too fast, including through intersections.

Several said they’d seen an increase in the number of cars driving the wrong way up the Avenue.

There were also references to anticipated addition of pedestrians when new multi family housing is built.

There are 30 units approved for the corner of Havemeyer and Milbank, and dozens in a 6-110 workforce housing pre application at the site of the Honda dealership on Mason.

Residents also pointed to the revival of skateboarding on the Avenue as another reason to restore police at intersections.

Meg Critchell, a 10 year resident with three young children, said she had moved to town from New York City and that the police directing traffic made her comfortable allowing her children to visit Greenwich Ave.

“I often walk downtown and have been frustrated and disappointed by the cars that have been coming into the corners and cruising down the Avenue at crazy speeds. People don’t know who should go first, who should cross the street. Are we letting handicapped, children or elderly go? Let along the cars I’ve seen driving the wrong way up the Avenue. …Traffic has picked up and there’s more and more out-of-towners.”

Traffic on Greenwich Avenue approaching Lewis Street, where police directing traffic were removed a few years ago. Photo: Leslie Yager

Laura Darrin said that with the influx of out-of-towners she’d witnessed in the past few weeks families crossing in the middle of the block, two cars driving up the Avenue the wrong way and “all sorts of snarls from due to parking spaces.”

Bill Lewis, who lives downtown, said he didn’t think bicycle officers could assist pedestrians crossing the street safely, and that officers were not being redeployed from directing traffic to the ORCA unit, because that unit was established back in 2018, while police were still directing traffic on the Ave.

After some testified SOMR supporters were “micromanaging” the police department, there was pushback.

Brian Raney said, “This is about telling our police commissioner, Mr. Camillo, the scope and nature of police department services we’d like. You can’t negotiate if you’re not part of the conversation. And so far the conversation has been between Chief Heavey and Mr. Camillo, who are both against this.”

Tyler Pratt, a Greenwich native, agreed.

“We’re having so many people coming in from New York, and they’re driving way too fast and aggressively – driving like they’re living in Manhattan and not obeying the law,” Pratt said.

Alyssa Keleshian also cited New Yorkers’ driving habits as a reason to restore police to directing traffic. “They brought the rat race mentality with them. They’re less courteous, less cautious and don’t know how to navigate our three-way intersections.”

“This item has sparked community discussion we hoped it would,” said Ed Dadakis. “There are letters, op-eds, concerns raised by merchants, and an online petition signed by 1,600 declaring their support for police directing Greenwich Avenue traffic.”

Mr. Dadakis said RTM members represented Greenwich residents.

“We are the voices for those in our districts. We don’t represent the powerful or politicians,” Dadakis said. “Regardless of how many bump outs we build, regardless of how many cops are riding bikes, this plan leaves pedestrians to fend for themselves.”

West Elm Street resident Dan Quigley, who is RTC chair, disagreed, saying he had not witnessed the speeding and aggressive driving described by others. “This sounds like the most dangerous place on earth. Crossing Greenwich Ave sounds more like crossing a race track on the Indy 500 than our main street.”

Sam Romeo, chair of the Housing Authority board, also downplayed the aggressive driving, saying he had complete confidence in Chief Heavey, and was familiar with the intersection at Elm Street.

“Originally I thought it would be a problem,” he said. “But after monitoring it closely, I see no problem with removing the officers and having a better deployment of resources.”

Peter Malkin said said that as an 87-year-old, he’d been finding it difficult to cross Greenwich Avenue.

“Just yesterday we saw someone crossing on the north side of (Elm Street),” he said. “He got half way across and a car from New York went zooming by and didn’t stop (at the intersection).”

After almost two hours of testimony, and a failed vote to amend the SOMR to include possible hiring of non-officers to direct traffic after the pandemic ends, there was a vote on the original SOMR.

Officer Nick Carl on duty on his e-bike on Greenwich Ave. Jan 22, 2021 Photo: Leslie Yager

The vote was 81 in favor, 127 opposed and 7 abstentions.

The motion failed.

See also:

Greenwich Police Bicycle Unit: Offering a Nimble Response and Directing Traffic During Peak Times