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Van Bramer Calls for Traffic Calming After Hit-and-Run Death in Woodside

Luis Bravo's death at the hands of a hit-and-run driver wasn't the first warning sign about the dangers of walking along Broadway between 69th Street and Northern Boulevard in Woodside. In March of last year, Ed Surmenian, who lives at the intersection with 61st Street, said drivers regularly speed down Broadway and contacted Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer to complain.

Woodside resident Marion Molno holds a sign about the hit-and-run death of Luis Bravo. Behind her are Assembly Member Marge Markey, State Senator Michael Gianaris, and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. Photo: Stephen Miller

Van Bramer sent three letters -- one to DOT and two to NYPD -- requesting signal retiming and speeding enforcement [PDF 1, 2].

In her response, DOT's Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy said that changing the signal timing is not "an effective engineering practice to control speed" and that "no signal timing changes are recommended at this time."

"A year and a half later, Luis Bravo is killed right on this corner," Van Bramer said, just days after hosting a press conference in Long Island City to call for changes after a different pedestrian death at Queens Plaza.

Yesterday, Van Bramer was at the intersection of 58th Street and Broadway, urging DOT and NYPD to make the street safer and to track down Bravo's killer. He was joined by State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assembly Member Marge Markey, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White, Rev. Joshua Hollmann of Christ Lutheran Church, and Woodside residents.

NYPD never replied to either of Van Bramer's letters, but elected officials yesterday aimed most of their frustration at DOT. "We are sick and tired of asking for the DOT to do the right thing and protect the people of this city," Gianaris said. "DOT needs to realize it is here to serve the people of this city, not the cars of this city."

"I'm a little tired of their responses to our requests for safety issues," Van Bramer said. "It should not take a young man dying to get traffic calming measures implemented."

Broadway is a four-lane road, with two lanes in each direction. On similar streets, DOT has proposed or implemented road diets that include pedestrian islands and lane reductions. I asked Van Bramer if he wants a similar street design on Broadway. "I'm interested in seeing any configuration that would make it safer for pedestrians," he said.

DOT has proposed adding painted sidewalk extensions on 37th Avenue near Broadway [PDF], but no plan that addresses the entire corridor. In the wake of Bravo's death and Van Bramer's press conference, the agency said it will look at the length of Broadway again. Spokesperson Nicholas Mosquera said in an e-mail that the agency will "[make] use of the most recent data to assess signal timing and intersection controls, and will also look into the feasibility of other traffic calming measures here as well."

In addition to Broadway itself, Van Bramer mentioned a speed hump that Rev. Hollmann had requested two years ago on 58th Street, which is used by children going to and from pre-K. "While we did conduct a speed bump study at this location, it did not meet agency installation guidelines, including observed speeds," Mosquera said.

"The burden of proof is still on residents who still have to prove that their streets are dangerous enough to get traffic calming," TA's White said. "That has to change. We must make these policies the default, the blanket policy, and then look for exceptions, if any."

Van Bramer, who serves on the transportation committee, articulated his philosophy about street safety after a reporter asked whether reports that Bravo was jaywalking justified a crackdown on walking outside the crosswalk. Van Bramer said that all road users should be "exercising caution" but made a distinction between walking and driving. "I think the responsibility and the obligation is on the driver," Van Bramer said. "The person who's walking across the street is not going to kill anybody. The person who's driving a several-ton vehicle is very capable of killing somebody."

Van Bramer mentioned that there were 189 traffic fatalities in the first eight months of 2013, but that NYPD said earlier this week it had made only 20 arrests as a result of crash investigations this year. "That is an abysmally low number when you consider that people died," Van Bramer said. The numbers for hit-and-runs aren't much better: Police investigated 58 hit-and-run crashes last year, but made only 15 arrests.

"Automobiles are being driven recklessly, and too few people are ever caught or prosecuted because of these crimes," Van Bramer said. "Too many people are dying. It needs to end now."

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