Diana Tarantola asked the tow truck driver where on the receipt she should sign. When he pointed to the line, she sighed.
“I should know how to do this by now,” she said.
Tarantola, of Howard Beach, has some experience with having her vehicle towed. For the second time in seven months, a driver sideswiped it in front of her 96th Street home Sunday. And she isn’t the only one. At least one of her neighbors has had his car hit while parked on the same block in the last few years, and across the street from Tarantola’s house, a tree’s trunk still bears the marks of where a Saab hit it last December.
“Who do I have to annoy to get a stop sign around here?” Tarantola said as the tow truck driver took her car away.
Tarantola and several of her neighbors say 96th Street between 157th and 159th avenues is a disaster waiting to happen. Today it’s parked cars and trees, but she worries something more tragic will occur if nothing is done.
“I have kids and they play on the sidewalk,” she said. “What if there isn’t a car parked here and they get hit? What about my neighbor Danielle when she walks her dog?”
For two blocks between a traffic light at 157th Avenue and a stop sign at 159th Avenue, there is no traffic calming measure on 96th Street. Tarantola said she would like to see a stop sign at 158th Avenue or speed bumps installed.
Her neighbors say the problem is worse during the night when traffic is light, but Tarantola’s car was hit in broad daylight. Indeed, over the course of an hour between 4 and 5 p.m. on Monday, dozens of cars raced down that stretch of road. In one instance a car nearly collided with a U.S. Postal Service vehicle at the intersection of 158th Avenue and 96th Street, where Tarantola and her neighbors want the stop sign.
A car owned by a neighbor farther down the block was also hit in broad daylight at another time.
Ninety-sixth Street is a one-way southbound from 156th through to 165th avenues at Charles Park. It is the first southbound street east of Cross Bay Boulevard, and 157th Avenue is the last east-west route that bisects the entire neighborhood before Shellbank Basin cuts it almost in half. That makes Tarantola’s block a gateway to Old Howard Beach.
“The people who fly down there, I believe they’re mostly residents of this community,” she said. “They get to this street and think they’re free. The cops can’t get them, they can go as fast as they want.”
To make matters worse, 95th Street, the easternmost northbound street in Old Howard Beach, ends at 158th Avenue, forcing traffic bound for Cross Bay to find another route north. Many of those drivers wrongly believe 96th Street a two-way street and some residents closer to 158th Avenue say drivers often go up the wrong way. That led one homeowner to suggest changing the direction of the street to a one-way northbound.
Tarantola, who said she has called the offices of state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) for help, said she would like to see something less drastic.
“A stop sign, a speed bump, something to slow the traffic down before someone, a child, gets killed,” she said.
Rudy S. Giuliani, Ulrich’s chief of staff said the councilman had requested speed bumps, but the DOT said no.
Addabbo said Tuesday he had spoken to Tarantola’s husband about the problem and visited 96th Street to see the speeding cars for himself.
“What they tell me is that they don’t want a speed bump,” he said. “So what we need is a stop sign or traffic light.”
Addabbo pointed the blame on federal traffic safety guidelines, which he says place too much emphasis on statistics, and he noted that a DOT official once told him stop signs were not considered speed control devices, rather used for traffic flow only.
“I never agree with the DOT because they use the federal guidelines that are built on reacting to accidents,” he said. “I’ve always differed on that. What they don’t take into account is the near misses, the screeching of cars slamming on the brakes to prevent a crash. The residents on the block are the only ones who hear that.”
The 106th Precinct should crack down on speeding on 96th Street until the DOT does something to slow the cars down, Addabbo further suggested.
Tarantola was aware of the battles the community and others around it have had with the city Department of Transportation over safety on streets. Residents in Lindenwood are still waiting for the DOT to act at 153rd Avenue and 83rd Street outside PS 207, where schoolchildren and parents cross with no crosswalk and two people were struck by a car in May.
A few blocks from 96th Street, resident Ed Kampermann had asked the DOT to look into a four-way stop or traffic light on 98th Street at 157th and 158th avenues, where two-way stops currently exist. A study was done and the DOT decided to not install four-way stops or traffic lights. Last December — just two and a half weeks before Tarantola’s first accident — a man was killed in a car crash at 98th Street, one block south of where Kampermann requested a stop sign.
But none of that dissuades Tarantola from keeping up the pressure.
“I’m not asking for a limo with champagne to pick me up for work every day,” she said. “All I’m asking for is some common sense.”