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Street Improvements Alone Won’t Prevent the Next Curb-Jump Crash

A child who was struck by a curb-jumping motorist near a Maspeth school last Thursday died two days later. Parents this week vented to Council Member Elizabeth Crowley and DOT about unsafe conditions in the area. No charges have been filed against the driver by NYPD or Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, and after immediately declaring the crash an "accident," Crowley has had nothing to say about the investigation.

Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, left, and Queens DOT commissioner Dalila Hall, second from right, met with parents this week to discuss reckless driving near schools on Grand Avenue in Maspeth. Photo: The Forum

Michael Gomez, 13, died at Elmhurst Hospital on Saturday. Reports published in the immediate aftermath of the crash indicated Gomez had a "swollen arm" after he and four other students were struck when Francis Aung Lu drove a Honda SUV onto the sidewalk at Grand Avenue and 71st Street, near Frank Sansivieri Intermediate School.

No official cause of death has been released, but media outlets including the Post and the Daily News cited anonymous sources who said Gomez died from an asthma attack. The Times-Ledger reported yesterday that "a spokeswoman for the city medical examiner could only say that the death at Elmhurst Hospital was being investigated." Streetsblog has a message in with the medical examiner's office.

Bajram Kacic, 11, suffered a leg injury from the crash. Angie Peña, 13, was hospitalized in critical condition. Marina Abadir, 14, suffered head trauma, multiple spine fractures, and had surgery on both elbows. Ashley Khan, 13, who with Abadir was pinned under the vehicle, had fractures to her pelvis and legs, among other injuries.

A group of parents met with Crowley and Queens DOT commissioner Dalila Hall on Monday. From the Forum:

The legislator, parents and civic leaders said they would like to see speed limits reduced from about 69th to 80th streets along Grand Avenue -- where a city study found about 98 percent of vehicles speed -- to accommodate students at IS 73, PS 58 and Maspeth High School.

“Between these three buildings, there’s close to 4,000 students here,” said Joann Berger, the PTA president for IS 73 and president of the Presidents’ Council for District 24. “There are a lot  -- a lot -- of kids walking around here in the morning and afternoon.”

Parents want a DOT "slow zone," truck restrictions in the hours before school starts, and crossing guards, the Forum reports. “We’re afraid for our children’s lives,” said Maryann Johnson, president of the PTA at PS 58.

Parents said reckless drivers are a major problem near area schools. "It’s not just kids being kids," said Johnson, as quoted by the Times-Ledger. "It’s drivers being bad drivers."

"The rules need to be enforced," Johnson said. "Drivers should slow down and be more respectful."

She said children in the local schools participate in a classroom education program offered through the American Automobile Association. Students learn about the importance of wearing seatbelts and safely crossing the street.

"We need something similar for parents," she said.

Hall said DOT would consider the possibility of installing a 20 miles per hour slow zone and other measures. A spokesperson for Crowley said 70th Street should be made one-way, the Forum reported, a change that Hall said DOT has approved but not yet implemented.

Officers from the 104th Precinct issued 95 speeding citations this year as of August, and ticketed 110 motorists for speeding in 2012.

On Wednesday, volunteers from Transportation Alternatives handed out flyers on Grand Avenue to alert pedestrians and motorists to dangerous conditions.

Lower speed limits and other traffic-calming measures near schools will of course make kids safer. But it's incongruous for Crowley to focus exclusively on engineering when this crash could have happened on a well-designed street. To prevent future injuries and deaths, it is also imperative that motorists be held accountable, and it's up to electeds to make that happen. The public should know whether law enforcement is thoroughly checking the driver's story against available evidence, yet over a week later it is still unknown whether cell phone records or EDR data have been examined.

Some media outlets are reporting as fact the driver's account of the crash -- that he "accidentally" applied the accelerator rather than the brake as he attempted to park, before mounting the curb, hitting a parking meter, five people and a street sign. NYPD and the press continue to emphasize that Lu is "fully cooperating" with police. No media account that we have seen has questioned the relevance of this detail or why NYPD, while purportedly investigating the crash, would essentially advocate for Lu in the press.

City Council Member Mark Weprin is exploring the possibility of legislation that would make it a crime to drive on a New York City sidewalk. Aside from Crowley, no other elected or mayoral candidate that we know of has said anything publicly about this crash.

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