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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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Eyes on the Street: Vernon Boulevard Gets Bike Lane Barriers

New concrete barriers are being added to Vernon Boulevard in Queens. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

New concrete barriers are being added to Vernon Boulevard in Queens. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Biking in western Queens is getting a welcome upgrade.

The two-way bike lane on Vernon Boulevard has not had any type of protection from traffic since it was installed in 2013. The lane was frequently obstructed by drivers who used it as a parking spot.

Now, DOT is installing barriers along the bikeway to keep cars out. The project received the most votes on Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer’s participatory budgeting ballot.

Concrete Jersey barriers are going in along much of Vernon Boulevard, while some sections are getting flexible plastic bollards. There will also be short sections without barriers to accommodate turning trucks or to make room for passengers boarding buses.

The barriers, which are in the process of being installed this week, aim to fix problems like this. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

The barriers, which are in the process of being installed this week, aim to fix problems like this. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Two other sections of Vernon Boulevard that won’t receive barriers are the gaps in the bikeway at Queensbridge Park and Rainey Park. With curbside parking along the park edges, cyclists either have to shift to sharrows on Vernon Boulevard or use more circuitous waterfront paths in the parks.

Installation of the barriers is currently underway and expected to wrap soon.


DOT’s Safety Plan for 21st Street in Astoria Leaves Everyone Wanting More

A street safety plan for 21st Street in western Queens has left elected officials asking for more from DOT.

Since 2009, five people have died on 21st Street in Astoria. Map: DOT

Since 2009, five people have been killed on 21st Street in Astoria. Map: DOT

The plan covers approximately two miles of 21st Street between the Queensboro Bridge and Triboro Bridge. In terms of safety, the street ranks in the bottom third of Queens’ roads. There were five fatalities on 21st Street from 2009 to 2015, including two pedestrians and one cyclist, according to DOT [PDF]. From 2009 to 2013, there were 14 serious injuries, including five pedestrians and one cyclist.

DOT’s plan doesn’t measure up to the danger on 21st Street.

The agency is proposing adding LED lights, which are already in the process of being phased in citywide, to improve nighttime visibility. It will also refresh the street’s paint, adding high-visibility zebra markings to existing crosswalks and installing a new stripe along the curbside parking lane to reduce speeding.

Earlier this month, DOT added leading pedestrian intervals, which give pedestrians a seven-second head start, to 10 intersections. An LPI was already in place at 21st Street and Broadway.

A total of 12 painted curb extensions will be added to nine intersections to shorten crossing distances. Council Member Costa Constantinides says his office will pay the Doe Fund to maintain the painted neckdowns, which could be candidates for capital upgrades funded through the council district’s participatory budgeting process. DOT also says it is seeking funds for capital upgrades to the neckdowns.

One spot that isn’t getting much attention from DOT is the complex intersection of Astoria Boulevard, 27th Avenue, and 21st Street. The Department of City Planning’s western Queens transportation study recommended neckdowns and pedestrian islands for the intersection, but they do not appear in DOT’s plan.

21st Street has long stretches without traffic signals or marked crosswalks, and DOT plans to install a new traffic signal at 29th Avenue. The intersections at 28th Avenue, 30th Road, 33rd Avenue, and 39th Avenue, however, did not meet DOT’s requirements for new signals.

Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and State Senator Michael Gianaris all had the same fundamental message: The plan is a good start, but they want more. “It wasn’t everything we were looking to get,” Constantinides said. “There is definitely more that can be done on 21st Street.”

While the elected officials seem most focused on securing additional traffic lights, signals don’t necessarily make a street safer. Steve Scofield, a Transportation Alternatives volunteer who grew up on 21st Street in the 1950s, said bike lanes and pedestrian islands could be included as part of a road diet. “There’s frequently just one lane of moving traffic,” he said, “and you’re just weaving back and forth between double parkers and left turners.”

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Two Pedestrians Killed in 24 Hours, Including Seventh MTA Victim of 2014

MTA bus drivers have killed two pedestrians since 2013 while making turns at the intersection of Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue, and Palmetto Street, but bus route modifications were not included in a DOT safety proposal. Image: DOT

MTA bus drivers have killed two pedestrians since 2013 while making turns at the intersection of Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue, and Palmetto Street, but bus route modifications were not included in a DOT safety proposal. Image: DOT

Update: The victim in the MTA crash was identified as Edgar Torres. WNYC reports that, according to a witness, Torres was in a crosswalk and crossing with the signal when he was hit.

Drivers have killed two New York City pedestrians since Wednesday. One of the victims was the fourth pedestrian to be fatally struck by an MTA bus driver in the last two months, and the crash occurred at the same intersection on the Brooklyn-Queens border where a city bus driver killed pedestrian Ella Bandes in 2013.

At around 5:10 a.m. today, a man believed to be in his 40s was crossing Palmetto Street when he was struck by the rear wheel of a Q58 as the bus driver turned right onto Palmetto from Wyckoff Avenue, according to NYPD and published reports. An NYPD spokesperson said the victim was pronounced dead on arrival at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. As of this afternoon his identity was being withheld pending family notification.

On January 31, 2013, a B52 driver making a right turn from Myrtle Avenue onto Palmetto Street struck and killed 23-year-old Ella Bandes. Last April DOT announced plans to improve visibility and shorten crossing distances at the perilous six-legged intersection where Wyckoff, Myrtle, and Palmetto meet. Rush hour turn bans, for two hours a day, were included in the revamp, but MTA bus routes were not affected. Bandes’s mother Judy Kottick noted that the turn restrictions would not have prevented the crash that killed her daughter.

Anonymous police sources told the Daily News that the victim in today’s crash “appeared to be walking in the street, outside the crosswalk” at the time of the collision. The NYPD spokesperson we talked with had no such details, and said it was unclear who had the right of way. Police are still investigating the crash, the spokesperson said. The Post reported that “no criminality is suspected.”

MTA bus drivers have killed at least six pedestrians and one cyclist this year, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog, with four fatal crashes since the beginning of September. Caroline Samponaro, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, released a statement earlier today:

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Quorum or No, Astoria’s CB 1 Votes Against Three Livable Streets Projects

Astoria’s Community Board 1 rejected three livable streets projects Tuesday night, despite questions about whether the board even had enough members in attendance to take votes on the proposals.

Queens CB 1 would rather have one parking space for cars than eight spots for bikes. Image: DOT [PDF]

Queens CB 1 would rather have one parking space for cars than eight spots for bikes. Image: DOT [PDF]

The three projects — a short bus lane on Astoria Boulevard, concrete barriers to protect cyclists on Vernon Boulevard, and a bike corral in front of a restaurant — fell victim to what appears to be leadership biased against projects that improve conditions for bus riders and cyclists.

“It was just a big disappointment for us. I just don’t understand this mentality that cars and their owners are the only rightful users of street space,” said Jean Cawley, whose husband, Dominic Stiller, was seeking the board’s support for a bike corral to take the place of a car parking spot in front of his restaurant, Dutch Kills Centraal [PDF]. “They seem to me to vote down anything having to do with bicycle safety and infrastructure.”

“I was shocked at the negativity that many on the board displayed toward bikes,” said Macartney Morris, an Astoria resident who attended the meeting. “It seemed crazy that people would get upset about one parking spot.”

When Cawley spoke in favor of the bike corral on Tuesday night, CB 1 chair Vinicio Donato asked her questions about cyclists riding against traffic and running red lights. One board member compared Donato’s line of questioning to asking a liquor license applicant about alcoholism. “I don’t know why that had anything to do with me and the bike corral,” Cawley said. “They’re supposed to have some decorum but they don’t. I think it’s an abuse of process and an abuse of power.”

There were petitions both in support of the corral and against it, but Cawley and other meeting attendees said the board threw out supportive signatures from people who did not live within CB 1, including those from residents of nearby neighborhoods like Woodside or Jackson Heights.

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DCP Sketches Out Waterfront Transit and Safer Streets for Western Queens

DCP is recommending expanded pedestrian space and redesigned streets at complex intersections like the one of Vernon Boulevard, Main Avenue, and 8th Street.

DCP is recommending expanded pedestrian space and redesigned streets at complex intersections like the crossing of Vernon Boulevard, Main Avenue, and 8th Street.

A new transitway from LaGuardia Airport to Downtown Brooklyn is the most ambitious recommendation in a draft report [PDF] from the Department of City Planning on transportation in Western Queens, which also includes a raft of smaller changes that would make the streets of Astoria and Long Island City safer and more livable.

While the transitway is the report’s leading recommendation, DCP doesn’t go into much detail other than recommending future study of curbside bus lanes or center-running light rail that would hug the East River between Downtown Brooklyn and the Grand Central Parkway before jumping onto the highway to LaGuardia Airport. The report is more specific about changes to existing transit service, recommending a realignment of bus service and bringing back express subway service to Astoria.

The report is mostly devoted to the potential for traffic calming, recommending curb extensions and crosswalks for both Crescent Street and 21st Street, which has been a priority of Transportation Alternatives. At the complex multi-leg intersection of 21st Street and Astoria Boulevard, the authors recommend curb extensions and pedestrian islands, and the intersection of Astoria Boulevard, Main Avenue, and Vernon Boulevard would also get a major redesign with large sidewalk extensions and plazas.

“None of the streets there carry a lot of traffic, but the traffic movements there are just insane,” said Steve Scofield, a TA volunteer who attended a meeting DCP hosted on Monday to present its draft findings. “Clarifying that [intersection] could help everybody.”

In a bit of a surprise, the report suggests installing a pedestrian plaza at Newtown and 30th Avenues in Astoria, a plan that Community Board 1 rejected two years ago in favor of curb extensions. Scofield said one CB 1 member at Monday’s meeting was not happy to see the plaza concept revived by DCP.

The plan also recommends pedestrian-activated flashing traffic signals on Vernon Boulevard, where crosswalks are currently up to 2,000 feet apart. At the southern end of Vernon Boulevard near Jackson Avenue, DCP suggests expanding the existing “greenstreet” to add more pedestrian space and crosswalks. A second option for that location would create a large plaza and protected bike lane.

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