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De Blasio, Vacca, Trottenberg Rebuff Opponents of East Tremont Safety Plan

A leader of the Throggs Neck Merchants Association tried to thwart DOT's safety plan for East Tremont Avenue at a town hall in the Bronx last night and was firmly rebuffed by Mayor de Blasio, Council Member Jimmy Vacca, and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. After the exchange, Raisa Jimenez, whose son Giovianni Nin was killed by a hit-and-run driver on East Tremont earlier this year, made an emotional plea to prevent the further loss of life.

East Tremont Avenue between Williamsbridge Road and Bruckner Boulevard is an exceptionally dangerous 1.1-mile stretch where hundreds of people were injured between 2009 and 2013, according to DOT. Angel Figueroa, 74, was struck and killed at the intersection of Puritan Avenue in 2013.

The DOT plan would convert the two-way street from four lanes to two, with a center turn lane and pedestrian islands [PDF]. Community Board 10 voted against the project when DOT first proposed it last year, and the agency set it aside. On June 11, Nin, 26, was struck and killed on East Tremont, and Vacca prodded DOT to proceed with the redesign.

Last night John Cerini of the Throggs Neck Merchants Association attacked de Blasio and Vacca for moving ahead with the project. You can watch the entire exchange -- about nine minutes -- in the video above.

"We voted for you. You represent us," Cerini told de Blasio. "We're not in England, we're not a monarchy. We're not asking you to be our king and make decisions for us... Our community board voted against this." He asked opponents of the project to identify themselves, and nearly 50 hands went up.

"I think you're misreading the Constitution a little here," said de Blasio. "We are elected with the point of saying to people what we intend to do, and I certainly talked about Vision Zero and what it would mean for this city to protect people, because we were losing hundreds of people per year."

"In this democracy, you elect officials to, yes, listen, but also to use our judgment in the final analysis," he continued. "We think this will save lives and protect people. That is our sacred obligation."

Vacca wasn't having it either. "Almost a year and half has passed. And the board voted no and never came forth with a suggestion as to what to do," he said over Cerini's interruptions. "Let me tell you, you can yell at me and everything else: What I'm doing, I feel, and what I'm supporting, is for the safety of the people I represent."

Trottenberg told Cerini that East Tremont Avenue is one of the most dangerous corridors in the city, citing Nin's death. The room erupted, with one opponent shouting: "He got hit in the middle of the night!"

Nin's mother Raisa Jimenez, who was sitting just feet from Cerini, stood up and showed the crowd a photo of her son. "I'll never see this smile again," she said through tears. "But please, help me not to see another mother like this."

After the forum, Jimenez told Streetsblog that she decided to come and speak out for the changes because she did not want more people to get killed. "I'm dealing with my pain, and I'm okay with it," she said, "but I don't want [anybody] else to go through what I'm going through."

Jimenez lives in the Bronx and drives to Brooklyn every day for work. She said that if a safer street means a longer commute, so be it. "I don't need to rush myself. What I do is I go to bed early and I wake up earlier," she said. Jimenez said that when she stood up, she "wanted to open up everyone's heart."

DOT has said the project will be implemented by the end of the summer.

Meanwhile, Jimenez said, the driver who killed her son has still not been identified by NYPD.

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