A Sign of the Times

The following letter was published in this week’s issue of the Gazette, with an editor’s note stating “this letter was submitted prior to the signs being taken down. There has been no announcement from the village as to whether the signs will be reinstated.”

To the editor:
Jacoby got juice! 

Within hours of the special “No Thru Traffic” signs going up on Jacoby Street, lots of other Croton residents wanted to know when their street is going to get the same treatment. One resident quipped that the village should just put up a big “No Thru Traffic” sign next to each “Welcome to Croton” sign.

Jacoby Sign.jpg

In accord with the new Municipal Building custom of non-transparency and keeping Croton residents in the dark, there was scant outreach or even explanation. 

Rumor passed along from the in-crowd has it that this is an attempt by Croton to block commuters from Cortlandt and Yorktown avoiding lights by taking a shortcut to the GW Bridge….oops, I mean a shortcut to the Metro-North station. And while Croton is not going to face the organized opposition our counterparts around Ft Lee faced, there is both a legal and a moral aspect to closing a public roadway.

There are alternative methods for dealing with traffic volume and speed. 

Converting public roads to private drives is not a first-line defense, partially because of the dubious legality: some police departments around the country quietly avoid giving tickets to violators due to the illegal nature of the signs. There are exceedingly rare cases in New York (such as Forest Hills Gardens) where there are roadways having attributes of both private and public use.  Jacoby Street is not Forest Hills Gardens.

In accord with the new Municipal Building custom of non-transparency and keeping Croton residents in the dark, there was scant outreach or even explanation.

Municipalities defend unenforceable signs by saying that they are effective because most drivers do not know that the signs are not enforceable. Another justification is that even if the signs are not enforced that the car GPS companies will avoid such roads in computing directions. But justifications don’t address the legality of the Village of Croton converting a public road into a private drive.

Presumably, the Croton Police Department intends to start issuing violations under NY Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) 1110(a) for failure to obey a traffic control device (TCD). The problem is that VTL 1680 directs the NYS Dept of Transportation to regulate TCDs: the Village of Croton cannot make its own rules.

The starting point is to determine if Jacoby Street’s TCDs are recognized in the National Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). If it is not, then the only other option is if the sign is in the NY Supplement promulgated by Albany. Signs are assigned a numeric designation in both the federal manual and the NY supplement, such as R-123 or NYR-123.

From what I can see, the Jacoby Street signs are not in the MUTCD, although in June 2017 the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices submitted a formal request to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA is the part of the US Dept of Transportation responsible for MUTCD) seeking to change the regulations in section 2B.39, specifically including “No Thru Traffic” signs.

But until the FHWA allows signs such as the ones on Jacoby Street, the only other option is to rely on the NY Supplement. From what I can see, there are six allowable selective exclusion signs under NY supplement to 2B.39 including signs prohibiting riding a horse or snowmobile down the street, but “No Thru Traffic” is not one of the signs allowed.

I don’t think many Cortlandt or Yorktown residents are getting to the train station by horse or snowmobile, but those who are doing so may be kept off Jacoby Street by lawful signage. Drivers in passenger cars are another matter. I assume that parents traveling to/from CET are not going to be ticketed, although the positioning of the “No Thru Traffic” signs would indicate that parents coming from the north would fall afoul of the TCD.

This is not a new issue for municipal governments. Florida has many wealthy people and retirees who want privacy, so many municipalities put up “No Thru Traffic” signs and started issuing tickets. The matter got so contentious that in 2004 the Florida Attorney General issued an Opinion stating that not only were the signs impermissible due to non-compliance with the MUTCD but she also noted that municipalities could not limit the use of public roadways to residents and their invitees.

I understand that I am missing something here, because obviously for the Village of Croton to order TCDs the village would use a reputable vendor and would specify a TCD numeric designation as found in the MUTCD or the NY Supplement. 

Given the well-known dispute over the legality of municipalities restricting traffic on public roads and reluctance of some police chiefs to enforce the TCDs, no doubt this was discussed and cleared with the Croton Police Chief and Croton Village Attorney long before the signs were purchased. But those discussions did not take place in a transparent setting; something that should have been done given the nature of the issue.

It would help if there were a wee bit more transparency in our Croton village government so that residents are not reduced to speculating on Facebook or in the pages of The Gazette. Moreover, NY differs from Florida in that NY VTL 1680(c) prohibits the Village of Croton from even purchasing a non-compliant sign, let alone erecting it on public roadway. Since the Board of Trustees doesn’t involve the public in decision-making, the discussion as to whether the Jacoby Street signs are compliant was done in secret.

We are where we are, but I believe that before the Village of Croton spends even more taxpayer money putting up “No Thru Traffic” signs, we should wait for the drivers who get ticketed coming down from Cortlandt and Yorktown to have their tickets adjudicated by Justice Watkins.

There are two distinct bases for fighting a Jacoby Street ticket: the NY VTL and also the larger question of restricting access to a public roadway. If the Croton Village Court finds that the tickets are invalid as a matter of law on either basis, then the Village of Croton should take down the signs. 

Either the signs are enforceable or they are not, and Croton should not play clever games like they do in Florida. When the Croton Police Department enforces the signs, it should do so at all times and regardless of the driver’s residence—not just when Cortlandt and Yorktown commuters are driving on Jacoby Street.

Paul Steinberg