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78th Precinct: Don’t Blame Us For Deadly Trucks on Neighborhood Streets

Brooklyn’s 78th Precinct has developed a well-earned reputation for taking street safety seriously, but it wasn’t on display at last night’s precinct community council meeting, where local residents grilled police on the death of cyclist James Gregg last Wednesday and the lack of truck route enforcement in Park Slope.

78th Precinct Commanding Officer Deputy Inspector Frank DiGiacomo.

78th Precinct commanding officer Frank DiGiacomo.

Deputy Inspector Frank DiGiacomo, the precinct’s commanding officer, and Wayne Bailey, who serves in the volunteer position of precinct community council president, spent the meeting deflecting responsibility from the precinct and pointing fingers elsewhere.

A week ago, a big-rig driver struck and killed the 33-year-old Gregg on Sixth Avenue near Sterling Place, which is not a truck route. At the crash scene, officers blamed Gregg, telling passersby that he had been hanging onto the side of the truck’s trailer.

An initial NYPD statement on the crash said “no criminality” was suspected on the part of the truck driver, and that Gregg had “collided into [the] rear tire of the tractor trailer.” A second police statement said the truck driver overtook Gregg and “something like a wind force… sucked the bicycle toward the back of the truck.” The day after Gregg’s death, the department said that “for unknown reasons [Gregg] fell to the ground and was struck by the rear passenger tires of the tractor-trailer,” issuing five summonses to the driver for going off-route and various equipment violations.

It’s not unusual for police officers to jump to conclusions and erroneously blame victims for their own deaths. Gregg’s death occurred less than a week after police claimed Lauren Davis was biking against traffic on Classon Avenue when she was struck and killed by a turning driver. A witness who saw Davis traveling in the direction of traffic has since upended NYPD’s initial account.

Attendees at last night’s community council meeting chastised DiGiacomo for the false information that came out in the immediate aftermath of the crash that killed Gregg. When questioned about what the precinct could do to hold dangerous drivers accountable, DiGiacomo argued that the responsibility for investigating violent crashes lies with Highway Patrol. “It’s a highway investigation. Somebody died, they’re the professionals. It’s up to them,” he said.

Crash investigations are conducted by the Crash Investigation Squad, which, as DiGiacomo said, is part of the Highway Patrol. But precinct officers also respond to crash scenes, and it was an officer with the 78th Precinct who was telling passersby that Gregg had been hitching a ride on the side of the trailer. DiGiacomo asked for the officer’s name but gave no indication he would take steps to prevent victim-blaming conjecture at crash sites in the future.

The 78th Precinct only issued five truck route citations last year, and at the time Gregg was struck and killed, it had issued none in 2016. Then, following the crash, officers were seen ticketing off-route truck drivers.

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Off-Route Semi Truck Driver Kills Cyclist in Park Slope [Updated]

Update: Times reporter Andy Newman tweeted a DCPI notice concerning this crash. NYPD identified the victim as 33-year-old James Gregg. Police say the truck driver and Gregg were traveling the same direction on Sixth Avenue when Gregg “collided into the rear tire of the tractor trailer.”

Update: Andy Newman tweeted a quote from police indicating the truck driver passed the cyclist, causing the collision. Also, I contacted National Retail Transportation, which operates the truck. When I explained why I was calling, the person who answered the phone said “I don’t know anything about that,” and transferred me to a customer service employee’s voicemail.

A truck driver killed a cyclist in Park Slope this morning.

The victim, a 33-year-old man, was riding on Sixth Avenue at Sterling Place when he was hit at around 8 a.m., according to the Daily News. Police had not released the victim’s name as of early this afternoon.

The truck was an 18-wheeler. Sixth Avenue at Sterling Place is a narrow neighborhood street. It’s not a truck route, but big rig drivers are a problem there.

Trucks longer than 55 feet are allowed on New York City streets with a permit, but only if the load is “non-divisible,” such as construction beams. A trailer carrying boxed or other loose cargo, like the one involved in this crash, would not be permitted on surface streets if the total truck length exceeds 55 feet.

Park Slope resident Rob Underwood says locals have tried for years to get the 78th Precinct to enforce truck route violations. As of March, the precinct had issued no truck route tickets in 2016, according to NYPD data. Precinct officers issued just five truck route citations last year.

Photo: Eric McClure

Photo: Eric McClure

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Adding Curb Space for Cars vs. Space for Bikes — DOT’s Double Standard

Whenever curb space is reallocated for bike parking in New York City, the process is intensive. Getting NYC DOT to install a bike corral usually involves lots of signature gathering, and even when a business wants one by their storefront, the local community board can shoot it down. The process can take months or even years, if it ever succeeds at all.

But if DOT decides to add curbside car parking, they often do it without a second thought — or any public notice. Case in point: DOT has added curbside parking at two locations in Park Slope, taking away a loading zone on one street and hindering visibility on another. Neither change was brought to the local community board prior to implementation.

In October 2013, when this Google Street View photo was taken, there was roughly 15 yards of open curb on the northern corner of Baltic Street at Fifth Avenue. Approaching drivers and pedestrians could get a clear view of each other. But as of September 2014, DOT had removed a “No Standing” sign there. Now motorists may park to the edge of the west crosswalk. This makes it harder for drivers on Baltic, which is one-way eastbound, to see pedestrians as they approach Fifth. Likewise, people in the crosswalks can’t see approaching vehicles as well as before.

From 2009 to 2014, two pedestrians and five cyclists were injured in crashes where Baltic meets Fifth Avenue and Park Place, according to city crash data. Three motor vehicle occupants were also hurt there during that time frame — a sign of collisions occurring at high speeds. Another person was injured at the intersection in 2009, but city data does not indicate whether the victim was walking, riding a bike, or in a car.

New York City allows motorists to park to the edge of crosswalks, but as Streetsblog has reported, the National Association of City Transportation Officials recommends 20 to 25 feet of clearance around crosswalks to improve sight lines. Pedestrian deaths and injuries caused by turning drivers are frequent, and a bill pending in the City Council would require DOT to daylight 25 intersections per year. In other municipalities, it is simply illegal to park right up against a crosswalk.

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PPW Bike Lane Lawsuit Will Be Decided on the Merits — Bring It On

Brooklyn Supreme Court Judge Bert Bunyan ruled yesterday that Prospect Park West bike lane opponents did indeed file suit before the six-month statute of limitations had run out. The case will proceed after all.

The outcome is a surprise, since Bunyan reversed his initial 2011 decision to dismiss the suit. The case only had legs because an appeals court kicked it back to Bunyan in 2012. But here we are.

What this means, as far as I can tell, is that there will now be a trial to rule on the actual merits of the bike lane opponents’ case. I’m waiting to hear back from the law department about whether the city can or will appeal this decision, but even if the city can appeal, why drag this out any longer? The lawsuit has no merits.

Years before DOT replaced a traffic lane on PPW with a two-way protected bike lane, Brooklyn Community Board 6 sent a letter asking the agency to study a two-way protected bike lane on PPW. Prospect Park West had a speeding problem and people wanted DOT to fix it. The bike lane-plus-road diet was the city’s response. The redesign went through the usual community board process and has worked as advertised since it was installed.

Knowing all that, the people suing the city, Louise Hainline and Norman Steisel, need their pro bono attorneys from Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher to prove that DOT’s decision to implement the bike lane was “arbitrary and capricious.”

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Hit-and-Run Drivers Killed Three Victims in Four Hours on Sunday [Updated]


Fatal Park Slope hit and run by Gothamist

Correction: Park Slope Stoop reports that the Park Slope victim was walking, not riding a bike. The copy in this post has been altered accordingly.

Hit-and-run drivers killed three New York City pedestrians within a few hours on Sunday.

Jose Contreras, 63, was struck by the driver of a black SUV as he crossed Webster Avenue at E. 175th Street, near the Cross Bronx Expressway, at approximately 1:30 a.m., according to the Times and WABC.

A hit-and-run driver killed Jose Contreras on Webster Avenue in the Bronx. Photo via WPIX

A hit-and-run driver killed Jose Contreras on Webster Avenue in the Bronx. Photo via WPIX

WABC reports:

Contreras was celebrating his sister’s 80th birthday and pulled over his car, his family said. He was going back in to check on his family because they were taking awhile to get out of the catering hall, and was crossing the street when he was hit.

“I left my father in the car, and I figured that’s where he would be when I came back out,” Joseph Contreras, the victim’s son, told the Post. “But when I came back out, he was in the middle of the street, laying in his own blood.”

Contreras died at Saint Barnabas Hospital.

At around 4:40 a.m., 48-year-old Besik Shengelia was retrieving items from his SUV on 111th Street near 109th Avenue in South Ozone Park when he was struck by a driver who left the scene. The make and model of the vehicle that hit Shengelia is unknown. He was pronounced dead at Jamaica Hospital.

WABC, which reported that Shengelia worked for Uber, spoke with witnesses, including a woman who stopped other drivers from running over Shengelia after he was hit.

“It’s a shame that people was driving by and nobody stopped. National Grid saw me stopping traffic, and they came and helped us,” says [Sonia] Ramirez.

“The street does have a problem late at night with people speeding up and down the street, basically, and something needs to change around here,” eyewitness David Moore says.

The Post reported that Shengelia was “a former commander of the Georgian navy during the country’s 2008 war with Russia” who moved to the city with his family.

About 20 minutes after Shengelia was struck, the driver of a Nissan Altima ran a red light and hit a pedestrian in Park Slope.

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Brooklyn Electeds to DOT: Put Safety First at Atlantic and Flatbush

For Valentine’s Day, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and council members Brad Lander and Stephen Levin asked DOT to “complete” Atlantic Avenue. Photo: David Meyer

About a dozen people braved the cold Saturday morning to call for pedestrian safety improvements at Brooklyn’s Times Plaza and along the whole Atlantic Avenue corridor.

Times Plaza is the triangular public space at the convergence of Atlantic, Flatbush, and Fourth avenues. At a public meeting last month, local residents were disappointed that the redesign proposed by Barclays Center developer Forest City Ratner, which is contractually obligated to fund the project, failed to address pedestrian safety concerns.

“It was clear at the meeting from the community turnout that what we really needed at this plaza was a safer place to cross,” Transportation Alternatives Brooklyn Committee Co-Chair Bahij Chancey said on Saturday.

Chancey and TA were joined by Borough President Eric Adams, council members Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon, and representatives from Senator Velmanette Montgomery’s office and the Atlantic Avenue BID.

“How could you plan a plaza here before you make it safe?” Lander asked. “The intersection has to be safe before the plaza is made lovely. Lovely is good, safety is essential, so let’s start there.” DOT has said it plans to present pedestrian improvements for the intersection this spring.

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The Key for Park Slope to Keep Its Big Grocery Store: Less Parking

pslope_keyfood

The Park Slope Key Food site. Image: Avery Hall Investments via DNAinfo

The notion that New York City housing construction shouldn’t be weighed down by mandatory parking minimums got a combative response from some City Council members at a hearing today. Streetsblog will have a thorough round-up of who said what tomorrow morning. In the meantime, here’s a quick detour to Park Slope for a related story about how parking rules everything around us.

At issue is the redevelopment of a 36,000-square-foot Key Food and adjacent parking lot by Fifth Avenue in north Park Slope. The store sells groceries at affordable prices and is an emblem of the organizing that helped turn around the neighborhood in the 1970s and 80s. Replacing it is a big deal.

In addition to about 400 locals, Council Member Brad Lander, Borough President Eric Adams, and Public Advocate Tish James were on hand for the meeting last night where developer Avery Hall Investments presented its plan, DNAinfo reports. The project would consist of 165 apartments, ground floor retail, a car-free “piazza” between two new buildings — and 182 underground parking spots (the site currently has about 100 surface spaces).

The aspect that has people most up in arms is the smaller size of the replacement grocery store. It would only be 7,500 square feet, about one-fifth the size of the Key Food.

As Stephen Smith pointed out on Twitter, you can swap in a much bigger grocery store if you lose some parking:

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The Next Brooklyn Bike-Share Expansion Will Be the Thinnest Part of Citi Bike

cb6_bike-share

Citi Bike is coming to the neighborhoods west of Prospect Park, but the stations won’t be spaced conveniently close together. Map via NYC DOT. Click to enlarge.

DOT unveiled its latest Citi Bike expansion map last week, and the stations look significantly more spread out than stations in the rest of the system.

Spread-out stations are a problem for bike-share users because people have to walk farther to make trips, and that costs time. The National Association of City Transportation Officials recommends 28 stations per square mile — and the city’s contract with Citi Bike operator Motivate stipulates the same metric — but NYC DOT has been thinning out stations in its expansion zones. The city wants to cover the geographic area described in the bike-share contract, while Motivate doesn’t want to supply more than the 378 additional stations it’s required to. The result is a less effective system for everyone.

With 62 stations covering the 3.1 square miles of Brooklyn Community Board 6 — which includes Red Hook, Park Slope, and everything in between — the station density works out to 20 per square mile. As Citi Bike expands into Upper Manhattan, western Queens, and more of Brooklyn by 2017, these are the station densities New Yorkers can expect in the absence of a new strategy from DOT and/or Motivate.

DOT officials told the CB 6 committee that more stations can be added after the initial rollout. But it could be a long time before those gaps get filled in. When the current round of expansion wraps up in 2017, there will be a lot of ground to cover with infill stations plus huge pressure to keep expanding outward.

Ironically, the one thing Citi Bike had going for it consistently from the very beginning — a convenient network where a station was always a short walk away — is deteriorating just as everything else comes together. Citi Bike is finally on the rebound thanks to a thorough overhaul of its equipment and software. How long will the good times last if every expansion fails to deliver the convenience bike-share users have come to expect?

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DMV: Six-Month Suspension for Driver Who Killed Sammy Cohen Eckstein

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles determined that the driver who killed 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein failed to exercise due care and did not have a valid license at the time of the crash. DMV administrative law judge Marc Berger suspended the driver’s license for six months.

Sammy Cohen Eckstein

At around 5:15 p.m. on October 8, 2013, Sammy was attempting to retrieve a ball from Prospect Park West at Third Street when Luis K. Quizhpi-Tacuri hit him with a Chevrolet van. According to findings issued by Berger on June 29 [PDF], Quizhpi-Tacuri admitted that he saw the ball in the street, and saw another driver, traveling in the same direction to his left, come to a stop. Rather than slow down or stop, Quizhpi-Tacuri passed the second vehicle on the right, striking Sammy with the right rear tire of the van.

According to the DMV report, Quizhpi-Tacuri testified at a June 26 hearing that he was traveling at 25 miles per hour when the collision occurred. He also said he was late for a 5:00 appointment.

Wrote Berger:

The sight of a ball rolling into the street in a residential area adjacent to a park in the afternoon should have warned the respondent of the likely presence of children — to carefully observe his surroundings and make appropriate adjustments, including slowing down or stopping if necessary. Additionally, the fact that the vehicle immediately to his left suddenly stopped after the ball passed should have been an indication to the respondent to use extra care instead of passing that vehicle on its right.

Berger found Quizhpi-Tacuri committed three traffic offenses: failure to use due care, passing on the right unsafely, and driving without a valid license. Berger’s report says Quizhpi-Tacuri had a Washington state license at the time of the crash, though he had lived in New York for nine years. New York requires drivers to obtain a new license within 30 days of becoming a resident.

NYPD failed to send any of the officers who investigated the crash to Quizhpi-Tacuri’s DMV hearing, according to Steve Vaccaro, the attorney for Sammy’s family.

NYPD blamed Sammy for the crash and issued no summonses or charges. No charges were filed by former Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes or his successor Ken Thompson, who took office in 2014.

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Pedestrian Injuries Down 61% on Fourth Avenue in Park Slope After Road Diet

DOT text. Image: DOT [PDF]

DOT will cast the Fourth Avenue road diet in concrete after impressive street safety gains. Image: DOT [PDF]

As in Sunset Park, the Fourth Avenue road diet has yielded impressive street safety dividends for Park Slope, including a 61 percent drop in pedestrian injuries. Now, DOT is moving forward with plans to cast its changes in concrete.

Between Atlantic Avenue and 15th Street, the road diet widened medians, shortened crossing distances, and trimmed the number of car lanes from three in each direction to two along most of the street (the northernmost blocks retained the same number of lanes). The changes were implemented using paint and flexible bollards.

After the redesign, pedestrian injuries on this stretch of Fourth Avenue fell 61 percent, total crashes dropped 20 percent, and crashes with injuries were reduced by 16 percent, according to DOT, which compared one year of post-implementation crash data to the prior three-year average [PDF]. The improvements were especially dramatic at 3rd Street, where crashes fell 41 percent, and at 9th Street, where they fell 59 percent.

DOT also tracked speeding after 9 p.m. on weekdays, with the prevalence of drivers traveling above 35 mph falling by about three-quarters, from 29 percent of southbound drivers before the road diet to just 7 percent after. (The drop in the citywide default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph took effect days after DOT finished collecting its data last year.)

Car traffic levels and travel times stayed mostly steady, with southbound evening volumes falling slightly and mixed results for northbound morning volumes. Pedestrian volumes also held steady.

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