City Covers Up Failure After Cyclist Death, With Hastily Made Repairs After Months of 311 Complaints

The city covered over a sunken part of 40th Drive in Queens on Friday — but only after a cyclist was killed after failing into the depressed roadway. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The city covered over a sunken part of 40th Drive in Queens on Friday — but only after a cyclist was killed after failing into the depressed roadway. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

It’s a cover-up.

how sb covered the cyclist potholdThe caved-in pavement on 40th Drive in Elmhurst that knocked 77-year-old Lin Wen-Chiang off his bike late on Thursday night, causing his death, has been hastily patched by city workers — a fast and shoddy repair that is quite in contrast to months of failure by multiple city agencies to fix a longstanding problem with the pavement and the water supply under it.

Streetsblog saw the still-molten pavement material on the block between 94th and 95th on Sunday. A resident of the block confirmed that city workers made the repair shortly after Wen-Chiang fell off his bike, causing fatal head wounds, after encountering a broken patch of pavement long known to city officials.

The resident, who declined to give his name, did not know that someone had died on the block, which is between 94th and 95th streets.

“I can’t believe it,” he said. “I’m speechless.”

The resident said he and his neighbors had filed many 311 reports to inform the city of the broken, caved-in pavement that caused Wen-Chiang’s death, but the roadway was never properly repaired, he said.

That much is clear.

In October, 2019, the pavement in front of 94-22 40th Drive (just before the “BUMP” marking) appeared clear and safe in this Google photo:

October, 2019. Photo: Google
October, 2019. Photo: Google

By October 2021, this is what that same stretch looked like:

The cyclist may have hit this road defect, which Google photographed in October. Photo: Google
The cyclist hit this road defect, which has been there since at least October, 2021, but probably much longer. Photo: Google

There were eight complaints to the Department of Transportation since the first photo was taken. Going through them one by one will demonstrate the city’s failure to keep the roadway safe for cyclists:

  • Jan. 12, 2021: A resident complains of a cave-in on the street. The DOT responded, “The Department of Transportation inspected and has requested the Department of Environmental Protection address the issue. The condition will be re-inspected in 60 days.” Before the DEP could even inspect the problem…
  • Jan. 24, 2021: A resident calls 311 and calls the cave-in a “pothole.” The DOT responded: “The Department of Transportation inspected this complaint and repaired the problem.” It must not have been properly fixed, because …
  • May 16, 2021 and May 17, 2021: The city receives back-to-back complaints that the allegedly fixed pothole has become a “cave-in.” The agency said, “The Department of Transportation inspected and has requested the Department of Environmental Protection address the issue. The condition will be re-inspected in 60 days.” It’s unclear if DEP addressed the issue because ..
  • Sept. 16, 2021: A resident complains of a cave-in on the street. DOT responded, “The Department of Transportation inspected and has requested the Department of Environmental Protection address the issue. The condition will be re-inspected in 60 days.” It’s unclear what happened because…
  • Oct. 29, 2021: A resident complains of another cave-in. DOT responded, “The Department of Transportation inspected and has requested the Department of Environmental Protection address the issue. The condition will be re-inspected in 60 days.” It’s unclear what happened, because …
  • Feb. 18, 2022: A resident complains of a “failed street repair” on the block. The DOT said, “The Department of Transportation will inspect the condition and will determine the next action.”
Lin Wen-Chiang lived here on 43rd Avenue in Corona. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Lin Wen-Chiang lived here on 43rd Avenue in Corona. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

That promise of an inspection came six days before the death of Lin Wen-Chiang. The 311 report is still marked “in progress,” so it’s clear that the DOT did not repair the damage – again — in time to save his life.

That repair came shortly after Wen-Chiang’s death, apparently done by the Department of Environmental Protection, because the metal plate that now covers the sinkhole has the initials DEP on it. The still-wet paving material wasn’t even properly leveled, creating a new hazard.

The DEP is well familiar with the block, however. Since March, 2020, the agency has received 14 complaints about the water system underneath 40th Drive, the most recent on Jan. 7, 2022.

A man who answered the door at Wen-Chiang’s building in nearby Corona declined to discuss the man, but said Wen-Chiang had no family in the states, but was active in a nearby church, though he refused to say which one.

The Department of Transportation did not respond to our questions last week and again on Sunday about why the roadway remained in disrepair on Thursday night, after multiple 311 complaints before the cyclist’s death. Agency spokesman Vin Barone said, “This is a tragedy and an investigation is underway.”

The Department of Environmental Protection did not respond until Monday night. Spokesman Ed Timbers issued the following statement:

DEP responded to each Corrective Action Request (referral from 311 through DOT) for this location, evaluated the city’s subsurface water and sewer infrastructure and found it to be working properly on each occasion, including after the incident. DEP and DOT are working together to determine the root cause of the roadway depression.

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