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Greenpoint Crash Kills Cyclist At a Former Open Street that Opponents Dismantled

The north Brooklyn intersection where an SUV driver fatally struck a senior cyclist has long been a terrifying crossroad of reckless driving that locals have demanded the city fix.

8:41 PM EDT on June 4, 2023

Firefighters help cyclist Teddy Orzechowski after an SUV driver hit him at Driggs Avenue and Monitor Street on May 12. Photo: Noel Hidalgo

The north Brooklyn intersection where an SUV driver fatally struck a senior cyclist has long been a terrifying crossroad of reckless driving that locals have demanded the city fix, and residents called the elder’s death a preventable consequence of city officials bowing to opponents of safe street infrastructure. 

Bayside resident Teddy Orzechowski, 73, died Wednesday in a hospital nearly three weeks after a motorist struck him at Driggs Avenue and Monitor Street, which is between Public School 110 and McGolrick Park, and local advocates said the Department of Transportation has failed to make the known danger zone safe. 

Orzechowski is the 15th cyclist to die in traffic violence so far this year, the highest number by this point in the year on record, according to Transportation Alternatives.

"I’m so so furious," said Bronwyn Breitner, whose two kids go to that school and who for years has advocated for safer streets in the area. "It’s on DOT to make our streets safe, there will always be opposition for whatever reason."

Breitner's outrage was echoed by area Assembly Member Emily Gallagher.

“The community has tried for a bike lane on this exact street & a play street in front of the school, and all were KILLED by backlash. Blood is on our hands. Shame on us,” the pol wrote on Twitter on Friday. 

There used to be an Open Street on Driggs, between Monitor Street and Meeker Avenue, along with another one on nearby Russell Street, but the safe outdoor spaces faced particularly fierce backlash among some neighbors.

Opponents assaulted a volunteer and vandalized the barricades, before — in a bizarre turn — apparently loading the barriers into the back of an Amazon-branded van one night in 2021 and tossing them into the Newtown Creek. That was the effective death knell for those two open streets, because volunteers couldn't retrieve all the gates or get enough new ones from the city.

Noel Hidalgo, who co-founded the local open streets coalition of volunteers, witnessed the aftermath of the May 12 collision just outside his apartment building and moments after he had crossed the same intersection with his son in a stroller. 

“This death was preventable,” said Hidalgo. “We have been trying from multiple perspectives to get safe streets treatment on both of these streets.”

Parents at P.S. 110 organized to set up a play street outside the school at the corner, according Breitner and the dad of a kindergartner. 

“We know what to do, we need leadership to just be like, ‘Hey we need to make this accessible for everybody, not just cars,’” said Chris Roberti, who chairs the PTA’s Safe Streets Committee.

“On the first day of school, I was like, this is crazy, that intersection is just overflowing with parents and cars,” Roberti said. 

But there too, some residents protested the proposal to keep pupils safe from carnage and the school’s leadership withdrew their request to DOT, he said

Driggs is a hotspot of dangerous driving because it’s the first offshoot for motorists coming off the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway heading into the neighborhood. Monitor runs parallel to McGuinness Boulevard but has fewer traffic lights, encouraging trucks to regularly barrel down the tight streets to get to nearby industrial areas. 

After the demise of the two open streets, activists gave DOT proposals to install more stop signs and daylight intersections, as well as paint a bike lane on Driggs, according to Hidalgo. There are also efforts to flip Monitor between Nassau and Norman avenues, which would discourage trucks cutting through. 

A year ago, DOT proposed installing unprotected bike lanes on Monitor Street and Kingsland Avenue, but the agency has yet to paint them, and Breitner feared that opposition from some businesses in the area might be stalling the project.

"They [DOT] need to stand up to opposition when they know that there are unsafe conditions," she said.

The agency also recently unveiled a proposal to built protected bike paths on McGuinness Boulevard by cutting a car lane in each direction. That so-called “road diet” is a design strategy that DOT credits with reducing crashes that kill or seriously injure by 30 percent, according to agency stats

That overhaul was prompted by activists rallying after beloved P.S. 110 teacher Matthew Jensen was killed by a hit-and-run driver on McGuinness in 2021.

But opponents have mobilized to kill those upgrades too, under the banner “Keep McGuinness Moving,” saying it would “destroy the most efficient and safest way to route commuters in Greenpoint,” according to an online petition.

There's not a lot of green in Greenpoint. Map: DOT
There's not a lot of green in Greenpoint. Map: DOT

Another local DOT project to build bike lanes under the elevated BQE along Meeker Avenue is years behind schedule, which agency officials chalked up to issues with its traffic light contractor.

Greenpoint's protected bike lane network is limited to the edges of the neighborhood, including the frequently-blocked West Street paths.

Those incoming overhauls make it even more urgent for DOT to make the streets nearby safer as well, said Hidalgo.

“If we get the safe streets treatment on McGuinness we need the safe street treatment all around McGolrick Park because otherwise these streets that are being used as rat runs will be increasingly more dangerous,” he said. 

So far, DOT has installed a bike corral at Driggs and Monitor, but they have "future plans for a safety project" on the former avenue, according to an agency spokesperson.

"This was a terrible tragedy involving a vehicle driving on Monitor Street and we are paying close attention to the area," said Scott Gastel in a statement. "We continue to focus our efforts to create safe bike and pedestrian connections in Greenpoint, with Meeker Avenue well underway and work planned on McGuinness Boulevard."

"We have future plans for a safety project on Driggs, but we’ve already made some improvements at the Monitor Street intersection with a bike corral that offers daylighting for enhanced visibility."

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