Plan Urged Safety Measures for Intersection Where Boy Died

The May 2003 final report of the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project recommended pedestrian safety measures designed specifically to prevent the kind of collision that killed a four-year-old boy in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn on Tuesday afternoon.

A graphic from the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project final plan showing pedestrian safety recommendations for Third Avenue and Baltic Street

The five-year, $1.2 million, Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project recommended "neckdowns" and a "raised crosswalk" at Third Avenue and Baltic Street, the intersection where four-year-old James Jacaricce and his 18-year-old Aunt Ta-Nayin St. John were run over by a bright yellow General Motors Hummer driven by Ken Williams, a 48-year-old Brownsville resident (Click here to download that section of the Traffic Calming plan).

The boy and his caretaker were on their way home from the Police Athletic League nursery school at the Warren Street Houses when they were hit by Williams’ SUV. They were walking in the crosswalk with the pedestrian signal giving them right-of-way when Williams, traveling northbound on Third Avenue, made a right turn and hit them, killing the boy and injuring his aunt. Police told the Daily News "The guy didn’t realize he hit them because the vehicle rides very
high." There is a car wash on the southeast corner of Third and Baltic. It is set back from the street and was closed for the day when the crash occurred. Apparently, the only thing impeding Williams’ sightline was his own vehicle.

Looking up Baltic Street from Third Avenue

While it is impossible to know definitively if Tuesday’s crash could have been prevented, the pedestrian safety measures recommended nearly four years ago in the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project are designed specifically to prevent the type of "right-turn conflict" that resulted in the four-year-old’s death. The community-driven plan, created by the international consulting firm Arup, urged New York City’s Department of Transportation to install neckdowns and a raised crosswalk at Baltic Street where vehicles from busy, fast-moving, truck-heavy Third Avenue turn onto the quieter, more residential street. A raised crosswalk makes pedestrians more visible to drivers as they walk across the street. Neckdowns make it more difficult for drivers to execute fast, careless turns into the crosswalk while pedestrians are crossing.

The recommendations were never implemented by the Department of Transportation despite widespread community support for the plan. DOT has not yet responded to questions about why the safety measures were never implemented.

Tuesday’s crash is reminiscent of the deaths Juan Estrada and Victor Flores, fifth-graders at P.S. 124 in Park
Slope, who were crushed to death by a right-turning, gravel-filled landscaping truck as they crossed Third Avenue at 9th Street, on February 9, 2004, nearly three years ago to the day of James Jacaricce’s death.

  • P

    Wow, that’s really tragic. When will the DOT learn that all of the studies and deliberations have a cost in human lives?

  • Dear DOT,

    Why are you letting so many of us be killed, while communities cry for change?

    New York

  • brent

    In light of this information, I believe the family of James Jacaricce have a legitimate case for a lawsuit against the DOT. If the DOT is unwilling to respond to community feedback to make streets safer, they should have to contend with financial disincentives.

  • Yeah, where are the lawyers? Instead of suing the driver’s insurance, the City should be another target since they design the roads.

  • What a shame that millions of dollars would go to the victims of these kinds of crashes rather than the traffic calming improvements that would help prevent them in the first place.

  • Still, penalizing the city for every death and injury would sure create a good incentive for this type of investment, Aaron. Plus much of the money to make these investments is available with Federal or State dollars.

    Bloomberg is one of the most proactive public health mayors in NYC’s history, willing to take political risks to ban smoking in bars and transfats in restaurants. What about the streets? Traffic safety is about as basic a public health service government is charged with. Even libertarians agree that there should be traffic signals…

  • P

    Does anyone know what the DOT’s objections are- aside from a general reluctance to implement traffic calming measures? Were they waiting on Atlantic Yards to shape up?

  • P,
    See the post from last week with the quote from Staten Island DOT:

    “That’s just not what we do here. If there’s a speeding problem you can ask NYPD to step up enforcement, but our job is to keep traffic moving efficiently, not to do studies on pedestrian safety.”

    Pedestrians are “interference” in DOT analysis of street functioning. This comes right from the top, Dr. No, Mike Primeggia. Until he and his like-minded cronies have retired (come on 2009, get here faster!) or they’re ousted by the next commissioner, this won’t change.

  • P

    Good point, EN. I guess sometimes it’s just best to listen to their own words.

    BTW- the spam protection is giving me some much needed practice on my addition today. Perhaps future additions could include traffic trivia questions- that’ll foil the bots!

  • In referring to the deaths of Juan Estrada and Victor Flores three years ago and less than a mile away, Aaron modestly omitted mention of the searing expose of NYCDOT, “Auto Asphyxiation,” that he published in NY Press in March 2004. His exceptional reporting on this week’s outrageous tragedy doubtless is informed by that experience.

    All traffic deaths are awful but some are more iconic than others. This one — 4-yr-old boy, chaperoned by his teenage aunt, crossing legally in the crosswalk, mowed down by a Hummer, where an ignored DOT study had sketched improvements, etc. — is as iconic as they come.

    I don’t presume to know precisely how to galvanize a community and city response that can hold officials (and GM) accountable. I do offer to show up at any rallies etc. and otherwise follow the leadership we can muster.

  • Thanks, Charlie. Here is a piece of that old NY Press story (sadly, it still seems to be relevant) and I’ll follow up some more tomorrow as well on the homepage:

    In 1997, the neighborhoods surrounding downtown Brooklyn got fed up enough to take to the streets. No wild-eyed anarchists, these: In a series of early morning protests, doctors, lawyers and stroller-pushing mothers put their bodies in front of rush hour traffic to demand that the city do something about the vehicular chaos. In the midst of a reelection campaign, Mayor Giuliani was compelled to respond. The protests began what would become known as the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project (DBTC).

    Traffic calming is said to have started in the Dutch city of Delft in the late 1960s when a band of residents, sick of vehicles cutting through their neighborhood, grabbed shovels and pick-axes and reconfigured their street into a serpentine pattern that forced motorists to drive more slowly. Today, it’s an engineering specialty.

    But the DOT’s drive to maximize capacity conflicts with the concept of traffic calming. Over the course of the DBTC’s five-year study, DOT engineers steadily dragged their feet and undermined the community’s wishes and Arup’s recommendations. For example, on Hicks St., known to locals as the “fifth lane of the BQE,” when Arup said raised crosswalks had to be four inches tall to be effective, DOT insisted they only be two inches. When, as expected, the shorter raised crosswalks proved worse than useless, DOT deemed them a failure and eliminated them from further consideration.

    In June 2003, the stakeholders involved in the DBTC gathered at Brooklyn Borough Hall for the presentation of Arup’s final recommendations. After the consultant’s lengthy presentation, DOT Deputy Commissioner for Traffic Operations Mike Primeggia announced that the agency would not implement any of the recommendations from the Arup’s 130-page report until 2009–at the earliest.

    Sandy Balboza, president of the Atlantic Avenue Betterment Association recalls: “Primeggia told us that before they’d do anything, DOT needed to re-study every one of the plan’s suggestions. Well, we just spent five years and $1.2 million studying it.” To throw a bone to the community, DOT promised to fast-track a set of 30 traffic-signal timing, bike-lane and parking improvements.

    DOT was too “timid and conservative” says Community Board 6’s Hammerman. “The whole point of hiring a consultant was to have them think outside the box. But DOT grabbed the Traffic Calming Plan and put it right back in.”

    Kaehny believes that “DOT never wanted to be at the table. They were forced to do this by city hall. Once Giuliani was gone, it was revenge of the traffic engineers.”

    For its part, DOT says: “DBTC is ongoing. We’re evaluating the suggestions of the consultants. We don’t know when the final report will be issued.” If, as DOT claims, pedestrian safety is its “primary focus,” the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project was a perfect opportunity to prove it.

    “They could have hit it out of the park,” Kaehny says. “They didn’t even swing at it. That’s the power of DOT.”

  • What’s baffling is the lack of leadership from any direction on transportation issues in government unless it has a huge $$$ amount from the MTA or Feds attached to it. Big public works projects are only part of the picture.

    Quinn didn’t even mention transportation AT ALL in here state of the city address today. What a pity. Housing and health care and all the other issues are important too, but not one mention of transportation from the Speaker? It shows that transportation advocates really need to turn up the volume.

  • Mayors Transpo

    The Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming project was the last hurrah of the Mayor’s Office of Transportation. For a time this office kept an eye on the DOT and was a back channel to the mayor for politicians, business leaders and neighborhood groups concerned about transportation issues.

    MOT forced the DOT to come to the table at Brooklyn Borough Hall. Bloomberg dissolved the office and with it went much of the internal momentum for implementing the recommendations in the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming plan.

    The firm Arup was selected jointly by community groups and DOT, and was well known for leading London’s traffic calming. Not so long ago, Brooklyn was poised to have traffic calming as good as any big city in the world.

  • ABG

    Thanks for making those connections, Aaron. Now what can we do with this to make it less likely that little kids will get killed like this in the future?

    I think it’d be too extreme to send out a press release saying “The Blood of James Jacaricce is On Mike Primeggia’s Hands,” but is it possible to make enough of a connection that his name is completely withdrawn from consideration for DOT Commissioner, or even get him fired? Maybe even make it a litmus test for the next Commissioner that they’re not getting the job if they’d oppose basic traffic calming measures like this?

  • John

    I would be interested to know the degree to which “I didn’t see them because my truck rides high” is used as excuse in SUV-predestrian incidents. While traffic slowing measures are certainly needed in many places, the problem will never go away as long as people choose to drive vehicles that are too large to operate safely in city envronments.

  • P

    I would be interested to know the degree to which “I didn’t see them because my truck rides high” is used as excuse in SUV-predestrian incidents.

    Which brings to mind drivers who ride low in the seat of their cars- what’s their visibility of the road like?


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