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After Fatal Hit-and-Run, Queens CB 1 Calls on DOT to Redesign 21st Street

A hit-and-run driver killed a 45-year-old man earlier this month at this on 21st Street in Astoria, where advocates have been calling for traffic-calming for over two years. Image: Google Maps

A hit-and-run driver killed 45-year-old Sean Crume earlier this month on 21st Street in Astoria, where advocates have been calling for traffic-calming for over two years. Image: Google Maps

Queens Community Board 1 endorsed a resolution late last night asking DOT for a “comprehensive redesign of the entire length of 21st Street along Complete Street principles.”

The vote comes after a hit-and-run driver killed 45-year-old Sean Crume walking across 21st Street at 30th Road, where there is no signalized crossing, earlier this month. It was the fourth fatality on 21st Street since 2009, according to Vision Zero View.

The resolution was nearly delayed to next month, according to advocates who attended last night, but the board ultimately passed it at around 10:30 p.m.

With wide lanes and lots of car traffic traveling between the BQE and the free Queensboro Bridge, 21st Street ranks in the bottom third of Queens’ streets in terms of safety, according to DOT [PDF].

Volunteers with Transportation Alternatives’ Queens Committee have been pushing for traffic calming on 21st Street for two and a half years. The campaign has collected 1,600 signatures and 37 letters of support from local organizations and businesses.

DOT responded last year with meager safety improvements: some painted curb extensions and a few tweaks to signals and lane striping, but no major changes to the basic geometry of the street. Agency officials maintained that high rush hour traffic volumes precluded narrowing the roadway and adding bike lanes or pedestrian islands.

Local advocates weren’t satisfied. “We haven’t stopped campaigning,” said TA Queens member Angela Stach. “We have been trying to push our council members to go back to the city and ask for more.”

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Hit-and-Run Driver Kills 45-Year-Old Man Crossing 21st Street in Astoria

A hit-and-run driver killed a 45-year-old man last night at this intersection in Astoria, where there is neither a crosswalk nor a traffic signal. Image: Google Maps

DOT rejected a road diet on 21st Street last year, citing high traffic volumes. Image: Google Maps

Update: The victim in this crash was identified as Sean Crume, age 45, according to NYPD.

A hit-and-run driver killed a man walking across 21st Street in Astoria last night.

The crash occurred just before 11 p.m. at the intersection of 21st Street and 30th Road, where there’s an unmarked crosswalk with no traffic signal. The driver continued for half a block with the victim on the hood of the car before slamming the brakes and fleeing the scene, leaving the man lying in the road, according to PIX 11.

Police arrived at the scene at 10:56 p.m. in response to a 911 call. The victim was found lying in the street severely injured and rushed to Elmhurst Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

A police spokesperson told Streetsblog that NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad believes the suspect was driving a “dark colored sedan” heading southbound on 21st Street. No arrests have been made.

Responding to pressure from local residents and elected officials, DOT made some meager safety improvements to 21st Street last year. The agency held off on a more substantial redesign of 21st Street that would have reduced the number of general traffic lanes, citing high traffic volumes. The street is a favorite cut-through route for drivers heading to the free Queensboro Bridge.

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DOT Proposes East-West Bike Route on 31st Ave in Queens

DOT's proposed 31st Avenue bike lane would connect the East River waterfront to the Flushing Bay Promenade. Image: DOT

In line with a proposal made last year by the Queens Bike Initiative, DOT’s 31st Avenue plan would create a bike route between the East River waterfront and the Flushing Bay Promenade [PDF]. Image: DOT

Last summer, a group of Queens residents began organizing as the Queens Bike Initiative. Their mission: to push the city to build bike connections linking their neighborhoods in northern Queens to the borough’s parks. Nine months later, DOT has presented a plan to stripe a bike route on 31st Avenue [PDF], which the Queens Bike Initiative is lauding as the first step toward realizing their greater vision.

Between new bike lanes in Astoria, the second phase of the Queens Boulevard bike lane coming to Elmhurst and Corona, and the protected lane on 111th Street, the Queens bike network is set to grow significantly this year. Still, there are few east-west bike routes, especially in the northern part of the borough.

Last week at Queens Community Board 1, DOT presented the first phase of an east-west route that will eventually connect Socrates Sculpture Park to the Flushing Bay Promenade. This phase consists of painted bike lanes and sharrows on 31st Avenue, from Vernon Boulevard to the BQE, and will be completed this year. DOT does not a have a timeline for the next leg of the route, which is located in Community District 3.

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Queens CB 1 Votes for Protected Bike Lanes By Astoria Park

On Shore Boulevard, DOT plans to calm traffic and alleviate conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians by repurposing the north-bound car lane as a two-way protected bike lane [PDF]. Image: DOT

By a vote of 33 to 1 last night, Queens Community Board 1 endorsed DOT’s plan for traffic-calming on the streets around Astoria Park.

Local electeds requested traffic-calming in the area after a hit-and-run driver killed 21-year-old Betty DiBiaso at the intersection of 19th Street and Ditmars Boulevard, at the park’s northeast corner.

The DOT redesign will add two-way protected bike lanes on sections of Hoyt Avenue North, 20th Avenue, and Shore Boulevard [PDF], with the agency planning to address pedestrian crossings on 19th Street, the park’s eastern border, in the near future.

On Shore Boulevard, which separates the park from the East River waterfront, the northbound travel lane will be repurposed as a protected bike lane, and DOT will create safer pedestrian crossings between the park and the water.

In a statement commending the board’s vote, Council Member Costa Constantinides said the redesign “will bring greater traffic sanity to the streets around the jewel of our neighborhood, Astoria Park,” and that more must be done to improve safety on nearby streets.

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DOT’s Astoria Park Safety Plan Calls for 3 Protected Bike Lanes

DOT wants to turn Shore Boulevard into a one-way street with a protected bike lane. Image: DOT

DOT wants to convert a motor vehicle lane on Shore Boulevard into a two-way protected bike lane [PDF]. Image: DOT

Last June, a hit-and-run driver killed 21-year-old Betty DiBiaso at the intersection of 19th Street and Ditmars Boulevard, next to Astoria Park. The loss of DiBiaso prompted a neighborhood-wide discussion about the need to improve street safety around one of Queens’ most visited parks, and on Tuesday night DOT showed Queens Community Board 2 its proposals for the area [PDF].

Despite all the pedestrian and bike traffic, streets near the park lack basic traffic-calming features and safe access for people walking or biking. Since 2009, more than a hundred people have been injured on streets around the park.

The plan DOT showed Tuesday calls for major changes to sections of Shore Boulevard, 20th Avenue, and Hoyt Avenue, with new two-way protected bike lanes on those streets. Separately, DOT is studying a number of other possible improvements for the area, including daylighting intersections and improving pedestrian crossings around the park’s borders and adding speed bumps by the intersection where DiBiaso was killed.

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Richard Brown: Homicide Conviction for Driver Who Killed Betty DiBiaso

Queens DA Richard Brown secured a homicide plea from the hit-and-run driver who killed Betty DiBiaso. DiBiaso photo via GoFundMe

Queens DA Richard Brown secured a homicide plea from the hit-and-run driver who killed Betty DiBiaso. DiBiaso photo via GoFundMe

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown won a homicide conviction against a hit-and-run driver who killed a woman near Astoria Park last summer.

Betty Jean DiBiaso was leaving the park at around 12:26 a.m. on June 27 when Nicholas Colleran, 24, ran a stop sign and hit her with a Chevrolet sedan as she crossed Ditmars Boulevard at 19th Street in a marked crosswalk, according to a statement from Brown’s office. DiBiaso was 21 years old.

Colleran’s damaged car was found the same day, and he turned himself in at the 114th Precinct on June 28. “Colleran stated to police that he had consumed two beers prior to driving and had hit Ms. DiBiasio,” and “was unable to produce a valid driver’s license,” according to Brown’s office.

Yesterday Brown announced that Colleran pled guilty to criminally negligent homicide and failure to yield.

“This case is yet another example of how deadly motor vehicles can be and the consequences of ignoring traffic regulations,” Brown said in the statement. “Driving is a privilege, not a right, and extreme caution should be exercised at all times in order to prevent lives from being senselessly destroyed.”

Acting Supreme Court Justice Dorothy Chin-Brandt sentenced Colleran “to the maximum under the law — an indeterminate term of one and one-third years to four years in prison,” the statement said.

DiBiaso’s death intensified the push to get the city to calm traffic in the area of the park, with backing from City Council Member Costa Constantinides, the Astoria Park Alliance, and other citizen groups. In October Constantinides and Assembly Member Aravella Simotas hosted a public workshop to gather input on potential safety fixes.

Astoria Park is separated from the East River by Shore Boulevard, which acts as a barrier between park users and the waterfront. In August Simotas and the Alliance called on DOT to make Shore Boulevard car-free between Astoria Park South and Ditmars Boulevard. DOT rejected the car-free proposal earlier this month.

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Residents Tell DOT Their Ideas for Safer Streets By Astoria Park

Nearly 60 neighborhood residents came out for a public meeting on Wednesday night to brainstorm ways to calm traffic around Astoria Park in Queens.

Council Member Costa Constantinides organized the meeting in response to the June 27 hit-and-run death of 21-year-old Betty DiBiaso at the intersection of Ditmars Boulevard and 19th Street, at the park’s northeast corner. State Assembly Member Aravella Simotas and DOT also sponsored the event, which was held at Astoria’s Bohemian Hall.

Following DiBiaso’s death, local electeds and community groups pressed the city to make significant safety improvements in and around the park. In the last six years, several people have been killed while walking in the vicinity, and traffic crashes have caused about 100 injuries.

With maps provided by DOT, attendees split into smaller groups to discuss how to make the streets around the park safer. Among the ideas discussed were installing bike lanes, daylighting intersections, and adding speed bumps, speed cameras, and signalized crossings around the park. The proposal to turn Shore Boulevard, which divides the park at its edge along the East River, into a car-free street also came up.

“Everything is on the table,” Constantinides said. “We’re looking for a complete plan that touches all the streets around the park.”

Simotas is on the record supporting a car-free Shore Boulevard. She said the meeting led to “a substantive conversation about improving traffic safety conditions on the streets around Astoria Park,” with “a wide range of opinions expressed on how best to achieve the goals of a safer and more accessible park.”

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Simotas Calls on DOT to Make Astoria Park’s Shore Boulevard Car-Free

Assembly Member Aravella Simotas wants Astoria Park to be New York’s next car-free park.

Assembly Member Aravella Simotas

Assembly Member Aravella Simotas

In a letter sent to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg this week [PDF], Simotas urged the agency to make Shore Boulevard between Astoria Park South and Ditmars Boulevard a car-free space. Shore Boulevard runs along the East River within Astoria Park, and it’s one of the streets park advocates and Council Member Costa Constantinides have prioritized for traffic calming in the wake of the hit-and-run death of 21-year-old Betty Jean DiBiaso.

With her declaration of support for a fully car-free Shore Boulevard, Simotas is taking the next step.

The boulevard is often busy with families enjoying the waterfront, especially on weekends. It’s also a gathering spot for motorcyclists and can attract drag racers.

“One of the great things about Astoria Park is the access it provides to the waterfront,” Simotas said in a press release. “With cars racing up and down Shore Boulevard, families are forced to cross a hazardous barrier in order to fully enjoy this green space.”

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After Hit-and-Run Death, Neighbors Press DOT to Tame Traffic in Astoria Park

Outside of the occasional special event, Shore Boulevard in Astoria Park is dedicated to cars. Photo: Green Shores NYC

Only during the occasional special event do people have priority on Shore Boulevard in Astoria Park. Photo: Green Shores NYC

Park advocates, a local civic association, and Council Member Costa Constantinides are calling on DOT to implement traffic calming around Astoria Park after a hit-and-run driver killed a woman just outside the park last month. The effort could grow much larger than changes to the intersection where the crash occurred: Pressure is mounting for DOT to reimagine the way motorists drive around — and through — the popular Queens park.

Betty Jean DiBiaso, 21, was leaving Astoria Park at about 12:30 a.m. on June 27 when she crossed Ditmars Boulevard at 19th Street. Then Nicholas Colleran, 24, struck her with his Chevrolet Impala and kept going. He later turned himself in to police, but only after filing a report that his car had been stolen, according to WNBC. He now faces charges for falsely reporting an incident, failing to stop at a stop sign, leaving the scene of a crash, and unlicensed driving.

Two days after DiBiaso’s death, reports the Queens Chronicle, the Old Astoria Neighborhood Association passed a resolution asking DOT to install traffic calming on Ditmars Boulevard between Shore Boulevard and 21st Street, an area including the intersection where DiBiaso was killed.

Council Member Costa Constantinides also launched a petition gathering support for traffic calming in the area. “This isn’t about one traffic light or one speed bump,” Constantinides said. “This is about coming up with a real comprehensive plan for the streets that surround Astoria Park.”

One street of particular concern: Shore Boulevard, which runs along the water’s edge through the western side of the park. “Astoria Park was founded in order to give people access to the waterfront, so having barriers to the waterfront, especially something that has the potential for danger like a street, it’s a challenge to the original concept of the park itself,” said Martha Lopez-Gilpin, co-chair of the Astoria Park Alliance.

“Crossing the street, it’s a little bit like playing frogger. It’s not relaxing,” said Katie Ellman, president of waterfront advocacy group Green Shores NYC. “It’s a city street that goes through the park and disconnects the park from its waterfront.”

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Queens Residents Launch Campaign for Bike Lanes Connecting Parks

Getting to nearby parks from Jackson Heights is much faster by bike than it is by transit. Now, a group of local residents wants safer ways to make the journey. Map: Queens Bike Initiative

Getting to nearby parks from Jackson Heights is much faster by bike than it is by transit. Local residents are mobilizing for street redesigns to help them safely bike to green spaces. Map: Queens Bike Initiative

Northern Queens residents who want to safely bicycle to nearby parks are trying to convince the city to install new bike lanes in neighborhoods from Astoria to Corona.

It all started with a post by Sergio Peçanha to a Jackson Heights neighborhood forum about two weeks ago. With Travers Park and the adjacent 78th Street play street set for reconstruction soon, Peçanha wanted to bicycle with his kids to other parks instead.

He found there weren’t many options nearby. In fact, advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks says Jackson Heights fails to meet virtually every metric the city sets for park access [PDF]. So Peçanha turned to his neighbors on the forum. “If we had bike paths connecting our neighborhood to parks in Northern Queens,” he wrote, “it could be a huge improvement for the neighborhood.”

Soon, other local residents joined and began calling their campaign the Queens Bike Initiative. “We’ve been doing everything through email. We’re excited to get on the ground,” said Alexia Tate, a Jackson Heights mom who began bicycling a year ago and teaches music classes throughout Queens. She heard about the effort through a parents’ forum.

“It’s growing by the minute,” said James McIntyre, a bike commuter who is moving to Jackson Heights from Brooklyn and works in affordable housing financing. “We want to make it as inclusive as possible.”

The advocates would like to see new greenways and protected bike lanes running as far west as the waterfront in Astoria and Long Island City and as far east as Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The paths could connect residents in Steinway, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and other neighborhoods to nearby parks and provide a safe way to make trips that take a long time by subway or bus.

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