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Locals Have Been Begging for Safer Street Where Trucker Killed Citi Bike Rider

5:00 PM EST on January 6, 2023

Someone installed a bouquet near the crash site on 24th Avenue, seen a day after the crash. Photo: Cristina Furlong

Astoria residents and politicians have for nearly four years been demanding that the city improve safety on 24th Avenue, where a woman on a Citi Bike was killed by a cement truck driver on Thursday.

The trucker fatally struck 62-year-old Tamara Chuchi Kao while making a right turn from 24th Avenue to 29th Street — making Kao the fourth cyclist to die in the western Queens neighborhood in less than three years, according local officials.

"The time has passed — we know that this is a dangerous thoroughfare," said Julie Huntington, an activist with the group Families for Safe Streets. "It’s completely unacceptable."

Huntington has been part of a chorus of residents and pols in the area begging the city to make 24th Avenue safer since at least 2019. Since then, there have been 183 reported crashes on 24th Avenue — nearly one a week — injuring 52 people, including three cyclists, eight pedestrians, and 41 people in cars. (The NYPD stopped responding to non-injury crashes in 2020, reducing the number of reported crashes, though the number of injuries remained consistent.)

The city designates 24th Avenue (in green) a truck route. Map: DOT
The city designates 24th Avenue (in green) a truck route. Map: DOT
The city designates 24th Avenue (in green) a truck route. Map: DOT

The two-way thoroughfare is a DOT-designated truck route and motorists often use 29th Street to get onto the the RFK Bridge, the I-278 corridor, and Astoria Boulevard — and Huntington accused the city of putting highway traffic over lives.

"We’ve been asking for safety improvements in this area and we’re just not getting them because access to the BQE is being prioritized," she said.

Both cross streets of the crash location have no bike lanes whatsoever, and nearly nine out of 10 cyclist fatalities in the city happen on roads lacking dedicated space for cyclists.

Less than 1.5 percent of the streets in Council District 22, which is represented by Tiffany Cabán, have protected paths for cyclists, and in the area north of the bridge the green-painted lanes are reduced to only around the edges of the neighborhood on Shore Boulevard and 20th Avenue.

"We’ve been up in Astoria many times to have vigils and put up ghost bikes," said Laura Shepard, a Queens organizer with Transportation Alternatives. "It’s really enraging and heartbreaking that so soon in the new year we have to do it again."

Restaurant delivery worker Mariano Canales died on a scooter just a few blocks away in a crash with a minivan driver at the intersection 24th Avenue and 33rd Street in September 2020.

That prompted activists and then-Councilmember Costa Constantinides to call on the Department of Transportation to study safety improvements for 24th Avenue, with the pol saying at the time the roadway "begs city intervention."

The former lawmaker had already urged DOT officials a year earlier to consider moving trucks elsewhere, saying the heavy haulers barreling down 24th Avenue had posed a "serious safety risk" to the neighborhood "for generations." Longer big rigs also routinely get stuck making the tight turn at 29th street toward the highway — the same intersection as Thursday's fatal crash.

Council Member Cabán called Thursday's crash "devastating" and added that she was in touch with city agencies. But the freshman pol did not respond to a follow-up request about her predecessor's push for safer streets.

DOT spokesman Vin Barone called the crash “a terrible tragedy" and promised changes.

"This agency is committed to ending senseless traffic violence on our streets and, in addition to taking immediate action at this crash location, we plan to discuss new potential protected bike lanes in Astoria with residents this year,” he said.

According to the agency, the intersection will soon get leading pedestrian interval light timing, which have proven to be safer.

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