DOT Pledged Ped Safety Fixes by 2006 on Deadly Third Ave

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.

  • Charlie D.

    “In both cases the drivers walked away with a summons from police.”

    This just astounds me. Why are there no serious consequences?! Compare that with a recent incident of a dump truck driver/off-duty police officer running into and killing a little girl on her bicycle just outside of Boston:

    “An off-duty Mansfield police officer pleaded innocent Tuesday to motor vehicle homicide and other charges related to a Dec. 2 accident in which a 10-year-old Foxboro girl was killed while riding a bicycle near her home.”

  • The Hummer is an anti-community/human atrocity that should be outlawed from any community that cares about its well-being. This last killing was on Baltic Street which we live on. I know where it happened. I am so appalled by the arrogance of people who drive these oversized vehicles. What can we do about it?

  • someguy

    …and just keep working to make it socially laughable to drive one of ’em.

  • Steve

    As pointed out here previously, we’d probably see a lot fewer Hummers in Brooklyn (and perhaps also in Manhattan) if the weight restrictions on the Brooklyn Bridge and the midtown section of the FDR were enforced:

  • Thought you just reported that NYC fatalities increased in 2006 three days ago?

    If true, reversal or leveling of the trend is something that warrants more attention from city advocates.

  • tony

    My elderly uncle was killed by a speeding driver on 3rd Ave & 20th Street. His body was flung 30 feet in the air as his brother, my dad, watched helplessly. The driver didn’t have a license or registration on him and the police let him leave the scene. Later the police found that the driver had more than 18 suspended licenses! Why would the city suspend it more than once and not take any better action? The driver walked, my uncle lingered for a week in Lutheran Medical Center and died on the operating table of a heart attack. My dad never recovered from watching his brother killed before his eyes. He survived World War II in the Pacific but was cut down by an American on 3rd Avenue. Iris Weinshal, the commissioner, should be prosecuted. But instead, the family will merely have a better law suit and all of us victims will pay thru taxes for our politicians errors. tony

  • Charlie D.

    What recourse does someone have if someone commits a crime and the police don’t charge that person? For example, it seems in many cases the police don’t charge a driver with vehicular homicide when they run over someone. The victim’s family can sue the driver, but that is just for civil damages, right? Can they also sue the city or state for neglecting to press criminal charges?

  • brent

    In earlier discussions relating to this topic I had mentioned that in light of the fact that the DOT had a previous commitment to improve safety on Third Ave and did not act, the family of James Nyprie may have a valid civil case against them. It was commented that this would be an unfortunate setback for an already fiscally challenged agency. I agree. However, if such a case were judged in favor of the plaintiff, it would set a precedent once and for all that the DOT is indeed responsible for pedestrian safety. We do not currently have this resolve. If the case were lost, the public, including advocates and activists, would know that the DOT is categorically not responsible. Then we could really question the local government; Who is responsible for street safety? Why are they not doing their job?

  • Chuck

    …and where is Marty Markowitz on this?

  • nobody in particular

    Where is Marty Markowitz on *anything* of substance?

  • Steve

    Brent, it would be extremely difficult to establish that the DOT’s failure to put in the promised claming devices was the cause of the collision, especially since there is a ticket stating that this guy failed to yield to pedestrians in the cross walk. DOT would argue, even with the neck-down/bulbout, the guy still would have failed to yield.

    There are only a very few situations in which courts have regulated prosecutorial discretion, but they are few. Most courts would take the view that, since the Brooklyn D.A. is elected, it is voters, not courts, that should force a change in prosecutorial priorities. To mount a legal challenge you would need to analogize what’s going on with drivers who kill in New York to systematic failures to prosecute crimes against blacks in the Jim Crow South. Not impossible (and the analogy is actually quite apt), but very hard and expensive to make such a case.

  • ddartley

    How respectful–the City didn’t just give the two Brooklyn boys a moment of silence; they gave them three years of silence.

  • Happy Camper

    This sounds familiar doesn’t it ?
    In ancient civilizations, one had to make a human sacrifice for the Gods to listen to them .
    Human sacrifice to God Bloomberg and God Weinshall always gets their attention .

    And we think other countries are barabaric !

  • anonymous

    Is it possible to start guerrilla traffic calming measures? Seriously, how much would it cost to hire a dump truck with some asphalt and put in some speed bumps? Just put in some big, high speed bumps and if the city tears ’em out, put ’em back in.

    You’ve got 3 people dead at this intersection, and still nothing happens. Seems to me like it’s long past time for some non-violent civil protest. Our streets should not be death zones.

  • ddartley

    Anonymous: in previous discussions here on that subject, I was a little zealous in warning about possible dangers of “homemade traffic calming.” But now, all I’d say to anyone considering doing something themselves is please try not to do anything that could cause a car to lose control, and also be aware that you’re asking for legal consequences (which is often admirable anyway).

    I do think the “mental speed bumps” discussed earlier on streetsblog are the best kind of “homemade traffic calming” (since they’re mainly visual, not physical, and therefore don’t create the kind of hazards I was screaming about).

  • JK

    Despite its long and tortured history, Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming remains the only large scale, funded and community board approved set of traffic calming and pedestrian safety measures in New York City. If you check out the project links you will find tens, maybe hundreds of neckdowns and other calming devices in the community board approved “Action Items” section of the plan. The local electeds should be very concerned that this funded and approved project is nowhere to be seen, while children are being killed.


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