A day after a Flushing woman was killed by a falling tree in Kissena Park, state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) called for the city to end its Million Trees NYC program and focus on inspection and maintenance.
At a Monday press conference, Avella, who is running for borough president, said he is furious with the city’s goal of planting a million trees by 2017 “while there is a clear failure to properly maintain the trees that are currently planted throughout the city.”
According to police, Yingyi Li-Dikov, 30, of Parsons Boulevard, was hit by a 50-foot falling oak tree near Kissena Lake at about 6:24 p.m. while she was sitting on a bench. She was six-months pregnant.
She is survived by her husband, Aleksandar Dikov. This would have been the couple’s first child.
Another woman received minor injuries in the incident and refused treatment.
Li-Dikov suffered injuries to her head and she was pronounced dead on arrival at New York Hospital Queens. Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) said Monday he had contacted the Parks Department and that an investigation was underway.
Avella was joined by Geoffrey Croft, who heads the NYC Park Advocates. Croft noted that another woman was injured by a fallen tree at Grover Cleveland Park in Ridgewood earlier on Sunday.
“I have been saying for a while now that people’s lives are in danger as the result of the current city tree policy,” Avella said. “Unfortunately, I have been proven right, especially these past few months.
“These tragic accidents can no longer be thought of as ‘acts of God’ and must trace back to the city’s lack of regular tree maintenance. How can the mayor want to plant a million trees if the city cannot even take care of the trees it already has?”
This was the 12th tree-related injury from a city tree in the last eight weeks, according to Croft.
“The city allocates a fraction of the funds necessary to properly maintain and inspect its more than 2.6 million trees. How many more people have to be killed or injured before the city begins to take this issue seriously?” Croft asked.
Avella believes by ending the Million Trees program, the money saved could go to fund regular tree maintenance, which the city has neglected due to budget cuts over the last few years.
Mayor Bloomberg initiated the Million Trees NYC program in 2007 to promote cleaner air and a more hospitable environment. To date, the city has planted 757,000 trees.
Beverly McDermott, president of the Kissena Park Civic Association, director of Friends of Kissena Park and a park steward at Kissena, said she had worried about the downed tree for some time. “I’ve been waiting for it to fall,” McDermott said. “The trees in that area were compromised by the tornado of 2010 and Sandy. That tree was ready to come down; it was leaning.”
A licensed pruner, she said Parks needs the proper tools to diagnose tree problems: “You can’t base it just on appearance.”
Kissena Park, which covers 237 acres, includes the remains of a nursery planted by Samuel Bowne Parsons in 1850 that lasted until his death in 1906. At that time, Queens was the horticultural center of the city and Parsons planted 100 varieties of exotic trees.
Some of those unusual trees still remain in the park and are in jeopardy, according to McDermott, because of inadequate care and maintenance. The Parks Department estimates the fallen oak was 70 years old.
Also at the press conference was Carsten Glaeser, an arborist and vice president of the civic, who said the Parks Department has placed its greater share of resources into new tree plantings by its Million Tree program rather than management activities “that would best minimize tree risk to the passing public, especially after storms like Hurricane Sandy.”
The tree was removed Monday afternoon, but not before Glaeser got a look at it, and he said it was hollow.
Arthur Pincus, spokesman for the Parks Department, said the tree is being thoroughly examined to determine more about its condition. He added that there have been six zone inspections this year in Kissena Park, but did not elaborate on the locations or how extensive they were.
Pincus did confirm that his agency is in the process of contracting an independent tree consultant to review all city tree management procedures.
Other elected officials in Queens also responded to the tragedy on Monday, asking for action. Borough President Helen Marshall called for the Parks Department to conduct safety inspection of all trees in Kissena Park.
“We don’t want the kind of tragedy that happened to Ms. Li-Dikov to happen to anyone else anytime, anywhere,” Marshall added.
Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Rockaway Park) said the Kissena Park incident added an increased sense of urgency over the many Sandy-damaged trees in southern Queens and the Rockaways.
“It shouldn’t take a tragedy to get the city to do its job,” Goldfeder said. “This is another example of an incident that could’ve been prevented if the city and the administration put the resources where they needed to go.”
He added that his office has received dozens of calls from residents in his district about trees, most of which were damaged or weakened by Sandy, leaning precariously or falling.
“I’ve gotten calls from people who have reported near misses or trees hitting their cars,” Goldfeder added. “The Parks Department says the trees are alive or will come back, but there are situations where large branches are just hanging there and they can do a lot of damage if they fall.”
Avella pointed out during his press conference that accidents like Sunday’s tragedy are the reason he introduced state legislation that would ensure the city is engaging in proper inspections whenever such incidents occur, so the public is protected and the city can better manage its responsibility for maintaining its tree population.
“This has literally become a life or death situation. If we take better care of our trees, the potential damages to life and property will be significantly reduced,” he added.
According to McDermott, Li-Dikov and her husband had just moved back to Queens from Texas, where he had received National Guard training.
On Monday, the grieving husband, wearing military fatigues, visited the site of the accident with his parents and left flowers. The family emigrated from Bulgaria.
Li-Dikov grew up in China, coming to the United States to finish her education at Ithaca College. She met her future husband while working at the Flushing YMCA.
Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) was working with immigration authorities to make sure the dead woman’s father could enter the country to attend her funeral.
Domenick Rafter contributed to this story.