New York City’s Department of Transportation failed to follow through on a 2004 pledge to build potentially life-saving pedestrian safety improvements along the Third Avenue corridor where a 4-year-old boy was run over and killed last Tuesday.
DOT’s announcement of $4 million in funding for the installation of "median extensions, neckdowns and other traffic-calming" measures recommended by the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming plan was made after the February 9, 2004 deaths of Juan Estrada and Victor Flores. The Park Slope fifth graders were run over and killed by a gravel-filled truck at Third Avenue and 9th Street in circumstances eerily similar and almost exactly three years prior to Tuesday’s tragedy
Last week, 4-year-old James Nyprie Rice was killed at the intersection of Third Avenue and Baltic Street in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn (newspaper stories had him incorrectly named as James Jacaricce). The boy and his 18-year-old aunt were walking in the crosswalk with the pedestrian signal giving them right-of-way when a yellow General Motors Hummer, driven by 48-year-old Ken Williams of Brownsville, made a right turn off of Third Avenue and ran them over, killing the boy and injuring his aunt. Juan Estrada and Victor Flores were also killed by a right-turning truck while walking in the crosswalk with the right-of-way. In both cases the drivers walked away with a summons from police.
As reported Thursday on Streetsblog, the May 2003 final report of the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project had recommended a set of pedestrian safety measures — a "gateway treatment" consisting of "neckdowns" and a "raised crosswalk" for the intersection of Third Avenue and Baltic Street. These particular traffic-calming measures (illustrated at right) are designed specifically to protect neighborhood streets from through-traffic and help prevent the type of "right turn conflict" that killed all three boys.
The pedestrian safety recommendations were never implemented despite a March 19, 2004 announcement by DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall that DOT would make an "immediate review" of the Third Avenue corridor and accelerate "$4 million in funding for capital improvements associated with the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming… from Fiscal Year 2009 to Fiscal Year 2006." These funds, according to the commissioner’s statement would "enable DOT to install median extensions, neckdowns and other traffic-calming initiatives." Fiscal Year 2006 ended on June 30.
The 2004 deaths of Estrada and Flores made the front pages of all of the dailies and Commissioner Weinshall’s commitment to accelerated traffic calming was made following an unusual and emotional joint meeting of City Council’s Transportation, Education and Pubilc Safety Committees. The March 1, 2004 public hearing, which opened with a moment of silence for the two Brooklyn boys, was convened to press DOT for pedestrian safety improvements around city schools and at the location where the two boys died.
Since March 2004 the Department of Transportation has accelerated the planning of its once-moribund Safe Routes to Schools program and provided Downtown Brooklyn and surrounding neighborhoods with a number of spot traffic-calming, pedestrian safety and bicycle infrastructure improvements, many of which are illustrated in this PDF document. At Third Avenue and 9th Street where Estrada and Flores died, DOT "granted to pedestrians" a seven second head start across the intersection ahead of motor vehicles, a traffic-calming measure known as a Leading Pedestrian Interval.
Yet, three years after Commissioner Weinshall’s apparent commitment, DOT has not built neckdowns, median extensions or any other significant, physical pedestrian safety measures along the dangerous Third Avenue corridor.
The three fatalities above aren’t the whole story either. On December 7, 2006 a 6-year-old boy named Andry Vega, was fatally struck at 3rd Avenue and 46th Street in Sunset Park by a truck running a red light.
Though pedestrian fatalities, on the whole, have declined in New York City in recent years, Third Avenue appears to be bucking the trend.