Another Northern Blvd. tragedy despite changes on congested roadway

A makeshift memorial dedicated to Giovanni Ampuero, who died in a hit-and-run by 70th Street on Northern Boulevard. After Ampuero’s death, the DOT has made initial safety changes along the major roadway.
Photo by Nicholas Biondo
By Carlotta Mohamed

Just three weeks after the death of 9-year-old Giovanni Ampuero in a hit-and-run on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights that prompted the city to implement changes on the congested thoroughfare, a 47-year-old man was struck and killed Monday while crossing the corridor 30 blocks away,

Giovanni died April 30 walking with his mother at 70th Street on Northern Boulevard when he was hit by an 86-year-old driver, who fled the scene and was later charged with leaving the scene of an accident, police said. In Monday’s accident Carlos Gavilanes, 47, was run down by a 24-year-old woman operating a 2003 Honda Civic, traveling westbound in the left travel lane between 100th and 101st streets in Corona at 12:30 p.m., according to an investigation by the NYPD Highway District’s Collision Investigation Squad.

The driver remained at the scene when Gavilanes was struck. There were no arrests and the investigation remained ongoing, police said.

Following Giovanni’s death, the city Department of Transportation moved swiftly to install a Leading Pedestrian Interval at the crash site on 70th Street and Northern Boulevard. The devices give pedestrians a head start to cross the street before vehicles move.

State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), state Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (D-East Elmhurst), and other elected officials did a walkthrough along Northern Boulevard checking each intersection with the city Department of Transportation May 11 to determine where one of the devices would be placed. The devices, which give pedestrians a head start to cross the street before vehicles move, were added on more intersections on Northern Boulevard from Queens Plaza to 114th Street after Giovanni was killed.

Peralta said he looks forward to working with the DOT to make the corridor safe for all.

“We need to ensure that what happened to Giovanni does not occur ever again,” said Peralta. “It is insane to think that a boy lost his life as he was crossing the street with a walk green light. It is vital that we not only hold reckless drivers accountable and take them out of the road, but we implement the necessary road and pedestrian safety changes to protect New Yorkers.”

Initial improvements were already made on Northern Boulevard, but safe street advocates said more can be done after the recent deaths.

Since the start of the city’s Vision Zero initiative, the DOT has made numerous safety improvements along Northern Boulevard. According to a DOT spokesman, in addition to installing LPIs, there are safer crosswalks with more than a dozen pedestrian safety islands over 2.4 miles from 61st to 114th Street, and improved visibility at intersections through “daylighting,” which removes some parking space at intersections so drivers can see pedestrians.

The DOT also said it is planning to study potential traffic safety improvements including longer LPIs, “Barnes Dance” signal phases, where no vehicular traffic moves giving pedestrians enough time to cross in any direction and diagonally, and additional pedestrian islands.

“I am glad to see the DOT making these initial changes to improve safety on Northern Boulevard, and look forward to seeing additional improvements being implemented, like installing left turn calming measures and the repainting of all crosswalks,” said DenDekker. “These changes are a step in the right direction.”

Since Raul Ampuero buried his son Giovanni last month and attended a community vigil, he has become involved in community efforts to make the streets safer for everyone. Ampuero had met with Peralta in April requesting speed cameras and more crossing guards at nearby schools, but was told there was no funding.

In response to the DOT’s new safety measures along Northern Boulevard, Ampuero said, “It’s great. The lights are an improvement, but more can be done.”

“If you really want to stop this, you have to hit people’s pockets,” said Ampuero. “If there are cameras, people will reduce their speed because drivers will know if they don’t, they’ll get a ticket like Queens Boulevard.”

According to the New York Times, when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office in 2014, ordered the speed limit on Queens Boulevard to be lowered from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour. The city had invested $400 million redesigning the boulevard adding bike lanes, more crosswalks, and places for pedestrians to wait in the median while crossing; car lanes were also redesigned to reduce conflicts between local and through traffic, and cameras installed to catch speeding drivers.

Ampuero has still not heard from Mayor Bill de Blasio and is hoping to speak with him soon.

“He’s very difficult to get in touch with,” said Ampuero. “He knows he has the funds but doesn’t want to release it for the speed cameras. The least he could do is give half of the cameras, and there can be a discussion about next year’s budget. My son didn’t die for no reason. It’s devastating for the entire community and school because kids are suffering unable to see their friend.”

Ampuero is planning to meet with Peralta to discuss how to get funding for the speed cameras and school crossing guards.

“I’m not trying to do any harm to anyone. I’m just trying to prevent,” said Ampuero.

Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmohamed@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4526.

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