As Vision Zero meetings pick up speed around the city, residents of Maspeth gathered Monday evening in IS 73 to voice their traffic safety concerns.
Discussions of Vision Zero — Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious initiative that strives to eliminate all traffic-related deaths by 2024 — had particular meaning in Maspeth, where just weeks ago a city Sanitation worker was crushed and killed by a street sweeper.
Vision Zero’s approach is rooted in rallying city agencies to listen to the public’s concerns and improve safety through three key approaches: street redesign, law enforcement and traffic safety education.
City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) kicked off the meeting by mentioning an accident that occurred just right around the corner from IS 73 on Grand Avenue at 71st Street last September, in which five young students were injured when what Crowley described as an “out of control” driver hit the gas pedal instead of the break.
“A lot of times when these crashes happen it’s because people are in a rush,” she added.
Crowley also mentioned the death of 68-year-old Angela Hurtado, who was struck by an SUV making an illegal turn while crossing Grand Avenue in January.
Crowley’s district, which contains parts of the Long Island Expressway and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, also includes high-traffic and at times dangerous streets like Woodhaven and Queens boulevards and Fresh Pond Road. There are “too many dangerous intersections,” she said.
Joining Crowley were representatives from agencies that comprise New York City’s Vision Zero task force: the Department of Transportation, the NYPD, the New York City Taxi & Limousine Commission, Transportation Alternatives and the Department of Education’s Office of Pupil Transportation.
“When people decide to run red lights, to fail to yield, to speed, those are all decisions that people are making and we think that we can work to have them make safer decisions,” said DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Dalila Hall. “Even if you do make a bad decision, you shouldn’t have to die for it.”
Hall explained that the DOT views every crash as preventable, and is working on targeting hot spots to implement changes like putting up signs.
While the DOT focuses on education, Capt. Christopher Manson of the 104th Precinct explained they’ve been cracking down on moving violations like running stop signs, texting while driving and improper turns since the beginning of the year, which has resulted in what Manson calls “substantial” improvement.
This year, the number of pedestrians struck by vehicles is 26 percent less than it was at this time last year. He also noted his precinct’s crackdown on speeders. This time last year, 79 people were caught speeding; this year, they’ve already caught 258.
The meeting’s focus quickly shifted from showing the community what’s been done to hearing frustration about problems that haven’t yet been solved.
A man named Bill, who lives on 56th Drive, said that many drivers use his narrow residential street as a shortcut to the Long Island Expressway; a couple of weeks ago, a truck that was too tall took down his cable wires.
It was one among many examples that people had of big vehicles like trucks and buses that congest the neighborhood during rush hour, and also speed through the neighborhood en route to busier streets like Queens and Northern boulevards, exasperating residents.
One resident said he believes the hills in the neighborhood make speed and acceleration an issue, and called on the agencies to find better ways to slow people down.
Despite the panel’s encouragement to the crowd, Bill Kregler, member of Community Education Council 24, shared his skepticism of the initiative. “I’m not against Vision Zero,” he said, adding that he simply doesn’t think it’s realistic.
Throughout the meeting, Crowley underscored that despite constituents’ anger, many of their long-awaited solutions can be achieved with Vision Zero. “Now we have a mayor that says this is a priority,” she said. “I understand your frustration. I share your frustration.”