Neighbors march for traffic signal

By Dustin Brown

Gathering in the middle of a street many residents are afraid to cross, more than 150 people demonstrated Monday in Maspeth to demand that the city install traffic signals at two intersections they say are hazardous for pedestrians.

Police closed off 65th Place between 52nd and 53rd avenues for an hour Monday evening to provide space for the protest, the latest in a series of demonstrations that community activists have staged in an attempt to bring attention to the dangers of the roadway.

One resident was killed and two others severely injured in recent months as they tried to cross the street, where a steep upward slope creates blind spots that make it hard for drivers to see pedestrians.

“A couple of times when I started to cross the street and I looked both ways, before I knew it there was a car right against me,” said Harriet Marcus, a senior who lives in the neighborhood.

Children and their parents wielded signs with “Let there be light” and other slogans as they marched in a circle around the center of 65th Place, while a large contingent of seniors voiced their support from metal folding chairs along the sidewalk.

To render the roadway safer for pedestrians, activists are calling on the city Department of Transportation to install traffic signals at the spots where 65th Place intersects with 52nd and 53rd avenues.

“The community is a little fed up with DOT and their decision that they feel it doesn’t warrant a traffic light,” said George Mandata, resident who has spearheaded the demonstration effort.

DOT spokesman Tom Cocola said his agency rejected the community’s request for a traffic light at the 53rd Avenue intersection in early June, but agreed this month to perform a new study in light of the slew of recent pedestrian accidents at the spot.

An additional study of the intersection at 52nd Avenue and 65th Place will be undertaken in September when school opens.

“They can protest every Monday if they feel they want to, but we have heard them loud and clear,” Cocola said. “We’ve made a commitment that we’ll do another study.”

The block along 65th Place between 52nd and 53rd avenues is dominated by the Ridgewood Gardens co-op, a four-building complex with a large population of children and seniors. A row of stores — including a grocery, pharmacy and a Chinese restaurant — is across the street from the complex, but some older residents said the dangers of crossing the roadway make shopping impossible.

Many of the seniors who have lived in the neighborhood for decades remember pleading for a traffic light in the intersection as far back as 40 years ago.

“The city has failed to recognize the need to put in a traffic light for a long period of time,” said City Councilman Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside), who has petitioned DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall to re-examine the community’s request.

Among the most passionate protesters was George Kesanidis, a 12-year-old co-op resident who suffered a compound fracture of his leg when he was struck by a car as he crossed 65th Place above 52nd Avenue on June 27.

“I felt like my life was ending. Will my son ever walk again?” said George’s mother, Eleni Kesanidis. “I saw his bones sticking out. It was a terrible experience.”

Confined to a wheelchair until his leg heals, George was shouting in favor of the traffic light he believes may have prevented his injury.

His mother is considering sending George to private school, since none of the local public schools are equipped with elevators that can accommodate him.

“Today it’s my son. Tomorrow it will be someone else,” his mother said.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.