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Electeds Call for Safer Flushing Streets After Hit-and-Run Killing

Just after 1 a.m. Sunday, the driver of a black SUV struck and killed Mariano Contreras, 41, on College Point Boulevard in Flushing. The driver fled the scene and has not yet been located.

State Senator Michael Gianaris

State Senator Michael Gianaris at yesterday’s event on College Point Boulevard, with State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assembly Member Ron Kim. Photo: @SenGianaris

Yesterday, local residents and elected officials demanded accountability for reckless driving and called attention to dangerous street conditions in Flushing.

State Senators Michael Gianaris and Toby Ann Stavisky, Assembly Member Ron Kim, and a representative of Council Member Peter Koo joined residents of Bland Houses and members of Make Queens Safer at the event.

“Mariano Contreras could have been any of us — any elderly person or any family with young children who cross this intersection every day,” said Leola Wayne, president of the James A. Bland Resident Association.

Contreras was struck outside the Sky View Shopping Center, where people frequently cross mid-block.

“Over 100,000 pedestrians travel our streets daily and it is the final destination for over 20 bus and train routes,” said Dian Yu, executive director of the Downtown Flushing Transit Hub Business Improvement District. “Downtown Flushing traffic congestion has deteriorated, especially over the last three years.”

A 2015 survey conducted by the Flushing BID ranked traffic issues as the number one concern in the community.

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Richard Brown: Misdemeanor Plea for Accused Unlicensed Hit-and-Run Killer

In a deal with District Attorney Richard Brown, a driver charged with felony hit-and-run and driving without a license after fatally striking a Queens pedestrian has pled guilty to violating the city’s Right of Way Law.


Queens DA Richard Brown

Last February Valentine Gonzalez hit an unidentified woman with a box truck while turning left at Woodside Avenue and 76th Street, NYPD told Gothamist and WPIX. “Gonzalez fled, but was stopped by police a few blocks away,” Gothamist reported.

The victim died at the scene.

According to court records the top charge against Gonzalez was leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury, a class D felony with potential sentences ranging from probation to seven years in jail. He was also charged with violating the Right of Way Law — an unclassified misdemeanor — operating a motor vehicle while unlicensed, and operating an unregistered vehicle.

On Monday Gonzalez pled guilty to the Right of Way Law charge, court records say. The law carries a fine of up to $250 and a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail. Court records indicate Gonzalez was in jail for four months after his arrest, then made bail.

Richard Brown routinely pleads down cases against drivers who kill people, rather than taking defendants to trial, to the extent that he files charges in the first place. Last week he allowed a repeat drunk driver who was charged with 10 felonies for killing a man to plead guilty to two low-level felony counts.

Gonzalez is scheduled to be sentenced in November.


How Bus Rapid Transit Can Save Lives on One of NYC’s Most Dangerous Streets

Woodhaven Boulevard needs BRT not only to move transit riders faster, but also to save lives and prevent traffic injuries. Map: Transportation Alternatives [PDF]

Lives are at stake in the redesign of Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard, making the implementation of bus rapid transit on this southeast Queens corridor all the more urgent, according to a new analysis from the BRT for NYC coalition. Crash stats bring home the point that new pedestrian islands and other safety measures in DOT’s Woodhaven BRT project are critical to reducing the carnage on one of the most dangerous streets in the city.

Woodhaven Boulevard regularly appears near the top of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s list of the city’s most dangerous streets. More pedestrians were killed by motorists on Woodhaven from 2011 to 2013 than on any other street in Queens, Tri-State reported in March, outpacing notorious roads like Queens Boulevard and Northern Boulevard. Citywide, only Flatbush Avenue and the Grand Concourse saw more pedestrian deaths.

An analysis released today by BRT for NYC coalition member Transportation Alternatives pinpoints the intersections with the most crashes on Woodhaven [PDF], based on NYPD crash data from July 2012 to December 2014. They are:

  • 101st Ave & Woodhaven Blvd: 42 crashes, 62 injuries, 1 fatality

  • Jamaica Ave & Woodhaven Blvd: 38 crashes, 52 injuries, 2 fatalities

  • Queens Blvd & Woodhaven Blvd: 32 crashes, 42 injuries, 0 fatalities

  • Atlantic Ave & Woodhaven Blvd: 32 crashes, 55 injuries, 1 fatality

  • Rockaway Blvd & Woodhaven Blvd: 30 crashes, 18 injuries, 0 fatalities

Among the victims was Yunior Antonio Perez Rodriguez, 35, killed by a hit-and-run driver after he stepped off a pedestrian island near Jamaica Avenue in December 2013 — just months after another man was killed trying to cross Woodhaven at the same location.

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Campaign for a People-First Rockaway Freeway Meets Cars-First Inertia

The Rockaway Bike Parade beneath the elevated train on Rockaway Freeway earlier this month. Photo: Rockaway Waterfront Alliance

The Rockaway Bike Parade beneath the elevated train on Rockaway Freeway earlier this month. Photo: Rockaway Waterfront Alliance [PDF]

Rockaway Freeway, one of the few east-west routes across the Queens peninsula, isn’t a safe place to walk or bike. A local coalition has been trying to change that by repurposing street space, but their efforts are running up against the red tape of city bureaucracy and a car-centric community board.

Rockaway Freeway runs beneath an elevated train. A road diet more than a decade ago narrowed the street to one lane in each direction, cutting down on crashes. But poor visibility around the concrete elevated structure is still a problem, and there isn’t enough safe space to walk or bike. People are stuck using either narrow, crumbling sidewalks or striped areas in the roadway next to moving car traffic.

“This corridor wasn’t designed as a roadway. It was designed as an elevated railway,” said Jeanne Dupont, executive director of the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance. In fact, some sections of the street have already been demapped, handing ownership from DOT to other city agencies or private developers.

“There’s sidewalk on the north side pretty much the whole length. On the south side, it is spotty,” said Community Board 14 district manager Jonathan Gaska. “You do see people every now and then walking in the striped area, and the occasional cyclist.”

Clearly the status quo is far from ideal, but the community board’s idea of how to fix it would make it tougher to implement the walking and biking improvements that the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance envisions.

Gaska said the long-term plan is to widen Rockaway Beach Boulevard, which runs parallel to the elevated train and turns into Edgemere Avenue. Then, sections of Rockaway Freeway would be converted to parking. “During the summer, traffic is insane, especially going east and west… That’s a big concern here, and parking is a nightmare in the summer, especially on the weekends,” he said. “Cars are very important for the residents here, and we keep that in mind.”

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Repeat Drunk Driver Pleads to Low-Level Felony for Killing Queens Pedestrian

A recidivist drunk driver who was charged with 10 felonies for killing a Queens pedestrian pled guilty to two low-level felony counts in a deal with District Attorney Richard Brown.


Queens DA Richard Brown

At around 4:30 a.m. on July 5, 2014, Romulo Mejia drove a Ford compact into a man who was walking at Roosevelt Avenue and 92nd Street in Jackson Heights, according to the Times Ledger.

Mejia then allegedly veered into oncoming traffic and crashed into an empty, parked car, according to the NYPD.

Police said Mejia refused to take a Breathalyzer or other sobriety field tests.

The victim died at the scene. His name and age were not reported.

Mejia, who was 42 at the time of the crash, is from Bradenton, Florida. Police told the Times Ledger he had a prior DWI conviction within the last 10 years. Court records indicate Mejia has been in jail since his arrest.

Brown charged Mejia with three counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, four counts of vehicular manslaughter, one count of criminally negligent homicide, one count of aggravated DWI, one felony count of operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license, one misdemeanor count of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, and one misdemeanor count of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The top charge against Mejia was aggravated vehicular homicide with a blood alcohol content of .18 or more, a class B “non-violent” felony with sentences ranging from 1 to 25 years in jail. According to court records, this week Brown allowed Mejia to plead to one count of criminally negligent homicide and one count of aggravated DWI, both class E felonies.

Class E is the lowest felony category in New York State, with a maximum penalty of four years in jail and a minimum of probation with no jail time.

In the relatively rare instances when he brings a case, Richard Brown has a history of negotiating lenient sentences for drivers who kill people, even when they were driving drunk. Mejia is scheduled to be sentenced in October.


Hit-and-Run Driver Kills Gabriela Aguilar-Vallinos, 27, on City Island Bridge

Three people lost their lives in New York City traffic last weekend, including a woman bicycling home from her job in the Bronx. She was killed by a hit-and-run driver who remains on the loose.

Gabriela Aguilar-Vallinos. Photo via WCBS

Gabriela Aguilar-Vallinos. Photo via WCBS

Gabriela Aguilar-Vallinos, 27, was heading home to Soundview after leaving her job at Sammy’s Shrimp Box on City Island. As she was bicycling west over the City Island Bridge just after 11:45 p.m. Friday, the driver of a white 2015 Hyundai Genesis going the same direction struck her before fleeing the scene.

Aguilar-Vallinos suffered severe head trauma and was taken to Jacobi Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead. The driver remains on the loose. Police have released video of the vehicle leaving a parking lot before its driver killed Aguilar-Vallinos.

“We are devastated,” Lenin Ramirez, a cousin of Aguilar-Vallinos, said through tears to WABC. “This guy, he just ran away.”

“Gabriela, she was really, really energetic person. She was always positive in life. She had so many plans,” Ramirez told WCBS. Aguilar-Vallinos moved to New York from Mexico at the age of 16, he said.

The City Island Bridge is currently under construction. When finished, the new bridge will have two six-foot bicycle lanes on either side. At the moment, there is no shoulder on the bridge, though there is a third center lane, not used by through traffic, across the length of the span.

The crash occurred in the 45th Precinct. To voice your concerns about traffic safety to Captain Danielle E. Raia, the precinct’s commanding officer, you can attend the precinct’s next community council meeting. It is scheduled for October 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Leonard Hawkins American Legion Post, 550 City Island Avenue.

Aguilar-Vallinos was not the only person killed on New York City’s streets that night.

Read more…

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The Queens Boulevard Protected Bike Lane Celebration Ride

If Queens Boulevard can get a protected bike lane, you can probably put one on almost any street in the country.

Yesterday, the Transportation Alternatives Queens Committee hosted the first of what it hopes are many celebratory bike rides down Queens Boulevard, trying out the first 10 blocks of the bike lane installed this month by NYC DOT. When complete, this project will run 1.3 miles from Roosevelt Avenue to 73rd Street. It’s the first phase in what the city has promised will be a thorough overhaul of the “Boulevard of Death,” which is also the most direct east-west route in the borough.

Over the years, many lives have been lost on Queens Boulevard. I spoke to riders yesterday about all the hard work that volunteers and advocates put it in to make this bike lane happen.

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Before Riding the New Queens Blvd, Go Down Memory Lane With Streetfilms

A celebratory bike ride this evening will mark the installation of bike lanes on Queens Boulevard — a safety improvement years in the making.

Take a ride down Queens Boulevard in 2009 with this Streetfilm featuring the “bike pool,” organized to encourage safety in numbers for cyclists on the Boulevard of Death.

Things will look quite different on tonight’s ride. Bike lanes have been striped along 1.3 miles of the Queens Boulevard service road in Woodside, and DOT will begin planning for sections farther east later this year and next year.

For all its risks, Queens Boulevard has always provided the most direct route across the borough. That’s one reason the new bike lane — and future segments — are so important.

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Eyes on the Street: Queens Boulevard Gets Its Bike Lane

Behold the Queens Boulevard bike lane. Photo: Stephen Miller

Behold the Queens Boulevard bike lane (flexible bollards coming soon). Photo: Stephen Miller

It’s happening: DOT crews are putting down green paint and thermoplastic stripes along 1.3 miles of Queens Boulevard between Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street. The redesign is the de Blasio administration’s most significant bike project to date and includes several pedestrian safety improvements as well. It was prompted by a long advocacy campaign for safer biking on the boulevard, which intensified after a driver struck and killed cyclist Asif Rahman in 2008.

Crews are working from west to east, adding a green bike lane, widening pedestrian medians, and installing crosswalks and signals for people walking between median islands. DOT has also closed off some of the high-speed “slip lanes” between the main roadway and the service streets. The remaining slip lanes will be redesigned to slow drivers exiting the boulevard’s main lanes and crossing the bike lane.

Slip lanes are being closed or redesigned to reduce speeding. Photo: Stephen Miller

Slip lanes are being closed or redesigned to reduce speeding. Photo: Stephen Miller

The Queens Boulevard redesign is an example of how DOT can use low-cost materials to act quickly, when decision makers treat a project as a high priority. Workshops were held in January. The design was revealed in March. The community board signed off in June. The mayor held a celebratory press conference in July. Now, in August, the first changes are on the ground.

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Van Bramer to Car Dealers: Stop Hogging Northern Boulevard Sidewalks

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer isn't shopping for a new car at City Mitsubishi's dealership. He's trying to walk down the sidewalk on Northern Boulevard. Photo:  John McCarten/NYC Council

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer isn’t shopping for a new car at City Mitsubishi’s dealership. He’s trying to walk down the sidewalk on Northern Boulevard. Photo: John McCarten/NYC Council

Walking the car-clogged sidewalks of Northern Boulevard this morning with street safety advocates and press in tow, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer called on two NYPD precincts to crack down on auto dealerships that treat pedestrian space as car showrooms.

“They have a right to make money,” Van Bramer said of the dealerships. “But they do not have a right to block the sidewalks.”

Northern Boulevard regularly ranks as one of the most dangerous streets in Queens. Van Bramer, standing outside PS 152 at the intersection where 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was killed on his way to school in 2013, said parking cars on the sidewalks doesn’t help the situation. “Northern Boulevard is busy enough, dangerous enough,” he said. “We cannot accept pedestrians’ lives being put in danger in order to sell cars.”

PS 152 principal Vincent Vitolo said he has spoken with dealerships next to the school about keeping the sidewalks clear for students. But after brief bouts of compliance, the dealers put cars back onto the sidewalk, blocking the way for kids going to school. “We’re in touch with all the dealerships around us,” he said. “Nobody’s perfect.”

Cristina Furlong of Make Queens Safer said representatives of a Honda dealership told her there was an exception in state law that allows car dealerships to park on sidewalks. The claim appears to be a complete fiction, and police occasionally do ticket the dealers for appropriating sidewalk space.

Van Bramer said his office has reached out to many of the dealerships, and met with the 108th and 114th precincts yesterday about the issue. While the precincts have done some enforcement blitzes in the past, the dealerships remain defiant. The problem is worse on the weekends, when dealers put out even more display cars on the sidewalks.

“There are some problems, some community issues, that ultimately seem intractable and people come to accept them as ‘that’s just the way it is,'” Van Bramer said. “These businesses cannot accept these tickets as a cost of doing business.”