The death of a 74-year-old man who was killed while crossing a busy street in Queens has renewed calls by activists and lawmakers for more pedestrian protections.
A black BMW struck and killed Be Tran at the intersection of Myrtle Ave and Seneca Ave on Sunday, August 14th, in what the NYPD described as a hit-and-run. Lawmakers on Wednesday stood beside members of the Ridgewood Tenants Union and traffic safety advocate group Transportation Alternatives to call on the city Department of Transportation to install new signals in the area to keep pedestrians safe along the heavily trafficked streets.
“The city has it backwards,” State Sen. Michael Gianaris from Queens said of the city’s process for identifying dangerous intersections. “They study an intersection and they score it, and part of the score is how many crashes have there been, how many people have been killed and how many people have been injured. So they have to wait until that happens to get the score high enough to realize that an intersection needs protection.”
Activists rallied near Seneca Avenue and Hancock Street, an intersection one block away from Sunday’s fatal crash. They said residents have been calling on the DOT to install a traffic signal there, and Gianaris said he reached out to the department one year ago himself to no avail.
“Our communities know best which intersections are dangerous. They've lived in these neighborhoods. They walk the streets. They ride their bicycles down the streets,” he said. “But for DOT, that's not good enough. They have to see that people have been heard. They have to see that people have died.”
A spokesman for the Department of Transportation said the city had enacted more than 20 traffic control approvals in Ridgewood over recent years. The department will also be meeting with lawmakers to discuss the area further, spokesman Scott Gastel told Gothamist.
“The circumstances of this tragedy are terrible, and we join the community in mourning the loss of Mr. Tran following this hit and run," he said. "We will study this Ridgewood intersection for potential safety improvements.”
Adrian King, the owner of the Kings Juice Bar on Seneca Avenue and Hancock Street was at the scene of the accident on Sunday. For more than a year, King has been trying to get the city to install a traffic signal at the intersection where he said he’s seen enough accidents outside his window to know it’s badly needed.
He said Tran’s death on Sunday stayed with him as a reminder that it could happen to anybody, which requires more vigilance from the community writ large.
“What happened on Sunday was a tragedy. I witnessed it myself,” he said outside of his juice bar on Wednesday. “It could happen to any one of us, doesn't matter, me, you anybody. So please pay attention. Look out for each other. At the corner say hello, be vigilant.”
The incident came just days after another driver who was accused of trying to evade police during a traffic stop at the nearby intersection of Wyckoff Avenue and Decatur Street struck three pedestrians, including a 2-year-old child and its mother, who both sustained several injuries, officials said.
“We know what works and we need to take action immediately,” said Kathy Price, an organizer with Transportation Alternatives. “We need to rely on street design and infrastructure to affect change.”
The Ridgewood Tenants Union has been focusing on quality-of-life issues impacted by a changing landscape in the Queens community, including gentrification, members said. They said they feared that demographic shifts and more development could lead to more dangerous roadways there.
“We deserve safe streets in our community,” said Maritza Namuche, a member of the Ridgewood Tenants Union. “The government of our city is doing too little to enforce traffic laws and we, the people who elected you, are waiting to see you work for us.”
The city recorded 60 pedestrian deaths and 4,563 injuries citywide as of July 31st, according to the Vision Zero data tracker.
This story has been updated to include comment from the Department of Transportation.