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String of pedestrian traffic deaths prompts legislative action

By Tom Momberg

A rash of pedestrian deaths in Queens and around the city has galvanized borough lawmakers to call for more action to reduce traffic fatalities in addition to what Mayor Bill de Blasio’s VisionZero has already implemented.

Many Queens officials rallied outside the NYPD 109th Precinct in Flushing Monday, proposing to work with the police to do just that.

Public Advocate Letitia James announced a proposal to change the current city law, which says that pedestrians lose their right of way as soon as a crosswalk signal begins flashing, not when the light turns solid and the opposite direction of traffic has a green light.

“By ensuring pedestrians have the right of way when a countdown clock is running, we are updating the law to reflect the reality of crossing the street in New York City,” James said in a statement. “To truly achieve Vision Zero, we must continue to update and enforce our laws, and educate our drivers and pedestrians.”

Police still had made no arrests by Wednesday, following an incident in which a pedestrian, Aglaia Gouaris, was struck and killed by a private bus in downtown Flushing on the evening of Nov. 5. The bus was believed to be operating for a casino and police ultimately caught up with both the bus and its driver, the NYPD said.

An initial investigation revealed that a white charter bus labeled with the word “Skyliner” was stopped at a red traffic signal in the northbound lane of Main Street just before the intersection with Kissena Boulevard. The bus accelerated when the traffic light changed to green, then struck and ran over Gouaris, 84, of Union Street in Flushing, who was crossing against the Do Not Walk signal, police said.

After the bus tires rolled over her, the bus driver continued on without stopping on Main Street, police said.

It was the second hit-and-run fatality in Flushing in the last month. In early October, Mariano Conteras, 41, was killed after being struck by the driver of a dark Jeep who fled the scene. Conteras had stepped unto College Point Boulevard mid-block. Police said no arrests had been made.

A 59-year-old man succumbed to his injuries in the hospital Wednesday and had not yet been publicly identified by police after he was struck by a car traveling northbound on College Point Boulevard when he was running across the street Sunday, police said.

Another pedestrian fatality was reported by police in Richmond Hill Monday, when a 62-year-old man was thrown off the electric scooter he was riding on the road when he hit a car door as it opened, police said. The man whose identity still had not been released by police Wednesday, died in the hospital after being run over by a pick-up truck driving in the right lane of Jamaica Avenue, according to the NYPD. Driver Saul Herrera, 52, of Woodhaven, was arrested for an unpaid open container summons, police said.

City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) noted the Flushing incident involved the third pedestrian in the city killed by a bus last week. He added that the latest death came shortly after the community commemorated the death of a child who had been struck by a car nearby.

“Two weeks ago, we renamed the intersection of Main Street and Cherry Avenue after 3-year-old Allison Liao, who was struck and killed by a vehicle, and today our community must endure yet another senseless death caused by a vehicle,” Koo said in a statement. “The city must do more to prevent these tragedies, and private buses and bus stops must be more vigorously regulated.”

In response to yet another pedestrian death, Koo said he would work with the city Department of Transportation on traffic improvements in Flushing.

He said it is not always the driver’s fault. Pedestrians, too, must be conscious of cars and the rules of the road to avoid such tragedies.

State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing) said there should be better regulation of where casino buses stop, noting that pedestrian safety should be a priority.

“Casino buses provide a service to many people in my district and around the city, but at certain intersections, they have become less of a convenience and more of a plague,” Stavisky said in a statement. “With automobile, pedestrian commercial and public transportation traffic already creating so much congestion, having frequent stops for casino buses makes for even less of a safe environment.”

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomberg@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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