The death of 22-year-old Meilan Jin, who was hit by a city bus while crossing at Northern Boulevard and Union Street last week, draws attention to that dangerous intersection, which three years ago had the highest pedestrian accident rate in Queens.
Jin, who worked at a nail salon in Westchester, was hit by an out-of-service Q44 bus traveling southbound on Union Street at 8:15 a.m. on Feb. 22. The bus made a wide right turn onto westbound Northern Boulevard, striking and killing Jin.
One eyewitness said that she saw the bus barreling down the street beforeit hitt the victim. The bus driver, who did not realize she had struck a pedestrian, was stopped by police four blocks away. The investigation continues.
The busy downtown intersection is often filled with traffic and pedestrians. Flushing High School is situated on one corner and shops and businesses on the other three.
Statistics show that there were 92 pedestrian accidents and car crashes there between 1995 and 2009. The worst year was 2006 with 11 injuries. There was one fatality in 1998.
In the summer of 2010, the Department of Transportation implemented new traffic patterns in downtown Flushing to decrease traffic jams and to improve the safety of motorists and pedestrians. One of the major changes was to outlaw left turns from northbound Union Street onto westbound Northern Boulevard.
Maura McCarthy, borough DOT commissioner, recently released findings of the project, with the report noting that the Union-Northern intersection has “experienced significant safety improvements.”
The number of total crashes and crashes with injuries decreased by approximately 12 percent and 22 percent, respectively, compared with the average of the previous three years. Vehicle occupant injuries and total injuries decreased by approximately 33 percent and 29 percent, respectively, also compared with the previous three years.
But there is just so much a municipality can do. At a meeting of Community Board 7’s district cabinet last Thursday, the issue of pedestrian safety was raised. Attending were representatives from several city agencies.
Many said accidents were often the fault of pedestrians, who do not pay attention to their surroundings. But Detective Kevin O’Donnell of the 109th Precinct said it is always the responsibility of the driver to yield to pedestrians, even if they are in the wrong. The officer noted that the NYPD issues between 70 and 100 summonses a month to drivers at that location.
He acknowledged, though, that many pedestrians are on the phone or listening to music through earphones and are not paying attention to traffic.
Gene Kelty, chairman of CB 7, said he has witnessed students texting, listening on “head sets” and running in front of cars. “They are arrogant,” Kelty said.
Several said that Flushing High School students cross the street in large groups, often disobeying the traffic signal and not paying attention to vehicles.
Chrissy Voskerichian, president of the 109th Precinct Community Council, said she will recommend that officers be assigned to the intersection to keep students moving before and after school.
Others suggested that the DOT work with administrators at Flushing High School to stress to students the importance of safely crossing streets. Dalila Hall, a DOT representative, said there have been efforts to work with the school, but added, in response to an attendee’s question, that her agency does not have a DVD program on the subject.
CB 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman added that pedestrians wearing dark clothing at night make it difficult for drivers to see them. “It’s scary,” Bitterman said.
It was then announced that there had been another pedestrian accident earlier that morning at 1 a.m. A 78-year-old woman was hit on Roosevelt Avenue and Main Street and suffered head injuries.
O’Donnell pointed out that the Roosevelt-Main intersection is the no. 1 accident site in Queens and Northern-Union is no. 2.